Sabrina, a mother of three, came to The Center for Family Justice for the first time four years ago seeking crisis and supportive services after more than a decade of suffering the physical, emotional and verbal abuse of her husband. She took shelter in CFJ’s Kathie’s Place safe house, which provides a temporary home to individuals and families seeking protection from their abusers.
“I suffered for a long time. You name it, my husband did it. And I kept hoping he would change, because there was a time I truly loved him,” she said of the abuse she experienced throughout their marriage. “But I knew I needed help because I could see what this was doing to my daughters. I didn’t want them growing up in a home where they watched their mother get beaten and abused.”
When Sabrina sought CFJ’s free, confidential services, she did so with a great deal of fear and trepidation. As an immigrant from a foreign country in Southeast Asia, her now ex-husband routinely made deportation-related threats whenever she attempted to leave or report her abuse. “So, I didn’t call the cops on him,” she explains. There were also cultural barriers which kept her from seeking help too. “I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to be subservient to men. Some of my siblings had arranged marriages. We were raised to be obedient.”
Guilt also kept Sabrina in her abusive relationship. She met her ex-husband, who shares her culture, when he was visiting her native country. They quickly began a long distance romance. “I really thought, “This is the love of my life,’” she explains. He soon persuaded her to join him in the United States, against the wishes of her family. “I literally left in the middle of the night,” she explains. “And because I did that and alienated my family, I felt like I had to make the marriage work and justify my decisions. When things got bad, I felt alone and I didn’t really have anywhere to turn.”
Her ex-husband, who was eventually diagnosed with several mental health disorders, was volatile and erratic. “We could be like a normal couple for weeks,” she said. “But then something would set him off. When you live with someone who is that unpredictable and thinks it is okay to beat his wife there’s nothing you can do to control the situation. It’s fine one minute and crazy to the point where you are being punched and kicked the next.”
Eventually, she says, the emotional and physical toll of the abuse put her in the hospital. “He even beat me when I was pregnant with my youngest,” she says. “For hours I couldn’t feel the baby move and I was terrified he had done something to hurt her.” While the baby was eventually born healthy, the escalating abuse helped convince her to call CFJ.
Working with CFJ helped her gradually rebuild her life and maintain her independence. “I started in the safe house, because I had nowhere else to go,” she says. Her counselor also connected her to CFJ’s community partners including LifeBridge Community Services and The Workplace. She received long-term therapeutic counseling from LifeBridge and career counseling and training through The Workplace. “My counselor connected me to all these places that helped me move on,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known where to find them or get that kind of help without CFJ.”
Sabrina has recently earned an associates’ degree in the healthcare field and is working toward a long-term goal of becoming a registered nurse. “Some of my experiences have inspired me to want to work in medicine,” she says.
As she pursues her education, she is working full-time in the service industry and lives with her three children in a modest apartment. “It is very small and I want them to have a better place to live go to better schools, but we are on our own and safe,” she says.
Besides the help she has received here, Sabrina is also grateful that her two youngest children were amongst the first campers to attend Camp HOPE Connecticut, New England’s first trauma-informed camp and mentoring program for children impacted by abuse. Sabrina’s 12-year-old daughter, Karen, attended the overnight session of Camp HOPE held last June at YMCA Camp Hi-Rock in the Massachsuetts’ Berkshires. Her younger daughter, Lily, attended the day version of Camp HOPE, held in partnership with the Lakewood-Trumbull YMCA at Camp Tepee in Monroe.
Karen says she was grateful for the Camp HOPE experience. “It helped us all a lot just to deal with some of the emotions we had experienced because of the different things we’ve been through,” Karen said of the week she shared with her fellow Camp HOPE campers. She hopes to return for a second session of Camp HOPE Connecticut in summer 2018.
“I think Camp HOPE was great for Karen,” Sabrina says. “I think it really helped her process some of the things she experienced. She’s always been someone who spends more time worrying about others and she showed a lot of concern for the other kids, but I think it also helped her understand the things that happened to us were not her fault.”