by Kendra Craighead
photography by Janelle Kluz
When she arrives, she is scared. She parks her car across the street in the church parking lot and then helps her children out of their car seats. She gathers her bags and clutches her purse. She has been thinking about this day for months. A spousal incident pushed her over the edge this morning, and she made a split second decision that brought her here. She walks up the path, reading the engraved stones that lead to the entrance. One reads, “Enter in peace”; another reads, “Each day is a journey, and the journey itself, home.”
At the door, there is an intercom button, which she presses. The receptionist greets her with a question, “How can we help you?” Through the intercom, she tells her name, and why she is there. Immediately, the door unlocks. She steps inside, takes a seat and waits.
This first day, she could speak with a case manager or a counselor, attend a class or ask for specialized counseling. She could even request social service advocacy or pro bono legal assistance. She could also tell them that she is ready to go to the shelter. Here, she has options. Here, she is not alone. While she waits, she thinks about the last stone along the pathway, the final engraving before the door, which read, “House of Ruth is the home of love.” This is the opening experience for the many women who have come to the House of Ruth seeking help, guidance and safety.
The House of Ruth, in the city of Pomona, was founded in 1977 and has since been dedicated to providing relief and aid to victims of domestic violence across eastern Los Angeles and western San Bernardino counties. The House of Ruth serves women and men from heterosexual and same-sex relationships who have become victims of physical, mental, emotional and financial abuse. House of Ruth defines domestic violence as any act or pattern of behavior that attempts to establish dominance by one person over another through tactics of fear and intimidation. The House of Ruth also recognizes that domestic abuse can be emotional, mental, verbal, sexual and financial—any way that allows the abuser to control his or her victim.
Pat Bell has led as the director of development at House of Ruth for 10 years. “Domestic violence is a hard subject for people to talk about,” Bell says. “The stigmas surrounding violence and abuse make it a very taboo topic, especially when there is so much confidentiality surrounding our clients. For safety reasons, we can’t put our clients in front of people and say, ‘We need you to help her.’ She has to remain anonymous.” Bell says that the anonymity of clients can make fundraising difficult, since putting a face to a problem can often be a huge advantage when asking for donations. “It’s hard to fundraise for domestic violence because a lot of organizations would rather support a ‘happy campaign,’ and not something they think will depress people like domestic violence.”
While domestic violence can be a hard subject to engage people in, there are many layers to the issue that go much deeper than physical abuse. “Abuse is all about control,” says Bell. The abuser will isolate the victim from friends, family; even keep the victim from going to work. The abuser will even go as far as to make the victim feel as if she or he deserves the abuse. She says victims will often feel ashamed of their abuse, or ashamed of their inability to stop it. They are often afraid to talk about it for fear of being judged. This dynamic is how the abuser keeps the victim from reaching out for help.
During domestic violence awareness month in October, House of Ruth ran a week-long campaign, partnering with the University of La Verne with “Run 4 Ruth.” The week of events kicked off in Morgan Auditorium with a set of speeches meant to bring awareness to the local community about domestic violence. Bell gave an introductory speech, followed by Pixie Green, a survivor of domestic violence, who sought help through House of Ruth, and William Rowbotham, a ULV alumnus and domestic violence advocate. “In the time we’ve been here, 1,200 women have been hit. In just one hour, 1,200 women have suffered from physical abuse,” says Rowbotham as he took the stage. “That’s why I am here. I want to put House of Ruth out of business. I want to end this.”
Green, who took the stage before a full Morgan Auditorium and told the story of her abuse, delivered a memorable speech. It was her first time speaking about it publicly, rather than in closed conversations with loved ones and with people she trusted. The crowd sat at attention as she began. “When I met him, he was perfect. He was funny, smart, a good dad; he was perfect,” says Green. “And it didn’t change over night; but now, looking back, I don’t know if he was changing so much as settling in.” Green detailed her relationship with her ex-husband. She explained how it was when they were just dating, and how they quickly married and moved in together, and how, overtime, verbal abuse became physical.
Green said that their arguments always ended in tearful apologies and promises, and the repetition of the phrase, “I love you so much; I have never loved anyone as much as I love you.” The words always came at the end of every big fight. “The first time he hit me, he told me how sorry he was, that he would never do it again, and that he had never cared for someone as much as he cared for me,” says Green. “The second time he hit me, I hit him back . . . and again it ended with him repeating, ‘I’m so sorry, I love you so much.’”
Green says that the abuse was not just hurting her, but that it was changing her into a person she did not like. Then a friend sat her down and told her, “Pixie, you’re better than this.” That was when Green decided to get out and get help. Green’s speech explains that an abusive relationship is not always obvious to the people who are in it, and that it can become normal, comfortable, familiar, and, therefore, hard to break away from.
“People feel like it’s a dark, dirty secret left at home, like, ‘It’s her problem, not mine,’ but I feel like the more we talk about what’s going on, and the more we open up those doors for conversation, it really helps people feel more confident and comfortable to say, ‘Hey, it’s not OK; you can’t abuse her,” says Bell.
House of Ruth’s services are free of charge and open to anyone in need. The non-profit’s vision is to ultimately end domestic violence and to promote healthy relationships. Their mission is to be dedicated to the safety and well being of anyone victimized by domestic violence, which is based on a belief that people deserve to live violent-free lives, especially in their own homes.
The organization helps an estimated 5,000 victims each year, and provides domestic violence prevention, awareness and education to more than 13,000 children, teens and adults through classes hosted by local schools and events put on by the organization.
House of Ruth provides victims with the option to stay at their 55-bed emergency shelter. The shelter is how House of Ruth combats one of the leading reasons why victims often remain in abusive relationships—their fear of homelessness or simply not knowing where else they can go. The shelter provides food, clothing, personal care items, as well as counseling and legal and social services at no cost. It is open and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Susie Salcedo-Ramirez, a Calworks case manager and donation coordinator at the House of Ruth, assesses the victims who come seeking help. She tells the story of one woman who came to her as a victim of domestic violence, whose line of work had been in social services. “When I met her, she was so smart and very articulate; she had her bachelor’s degree, and she said to me, ‘Susie, I just don’t know how I got to be here.’” Salcedo-Ramirez says that many of the clients whom she sees have limited resources, limited education, limited income and little to no support from family. “She had two daughters and was in a long-term marriage,” she says. The client told Salcedo-Ramirez that there was much verbal and emotional abuse, and that she was tired of it. “In the process of her and her daughters leaving, she found out that her husband had a different family—a wife and children—in Mexico. When they left, he brought them into the home to replace them,” says Salcedo-Ramirez.
The case manager helped her through the legal process of separation and divorce and transitioning into a whole new life. “Here she was, this woman who had a degree, an education and a career, and now she was on the receiving end of domestic violence, which forced her from her comfortable home, her comfortable paycheck, to living on the couch at her parents’ house, and living on a few hundred dollars a month,” says Salcedo-Ramirez.
If the process was difficult for this woman, imagine the process for women or men who do not have an education, who do not have a degree or a career to eventually fall back on, says Salcedo-Ramirez. Without any of those things, she says, and without family support, a woman can easily feel as though she has no choice but to remain in her abusive relationship. “Domestic violence has no preference of whom it affects,” says Salcedo-Ramirez.
Like any non-profit, the best way to support the House of Ruth is through donations. Donations can include supplies for their shelter, such as linens, toiletries, gift cards for the women and their children, and other generous gifts and basic necessities listed on their website. The House of Ruth could also use volunteers to help with their 24-hour hotline and childcare. Information on how to get involved can be found at houseofruthinc.org.
Reaching out is easier than you think…
Victims of domestic violence may not even be aware of their situation. The House of Ruth suggests asking yourself 12 simple questions if you are worried that your relationship may be abusive:
• Are you scared of your partner’s temper?
• Are you afraid to disagree with your partner?
• Has your partner kicked, hit, slapped or shoved you?
• Do you avoid seeing friends or family because your partner gets jealous?
• Has your partner ever forced you to have sex and/or have you ever been afraid to say no to sex?
• Are you forced to explain everything that you do?
• Do you need to explain everywhere you go and every person that you see?
• Do you believe that you cannot live without your partner?
• Do you believe your partner will change for the better or will be less abusive if you get married?
• Does your partner make you feel worse about yourself?
• Do you have fewer and fewer happy times together?
• Do you spend a lot of time on apologies, promises, anger, guilt or fear?
Asking for help can be hard. When it comes to domestic abuse, victims will be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed of their abuse, making it difficult for them to speak up, even to their closest family members or friends. If that process is difficult for victims, imagine how much more difficult it must be for them to reach out to organizations like House of Ruth on their own. If you are a family member or friend who suspects that someone you know is a victim of an abusive relationship, there are many different ways that you can help.
“The issue of domestic violence is not selective in who experiences it; the majority of the people we see are women who are the victims, but we know that women abuse and can be the perpetrator, and we do have male clients,” says Bell. “The thing with men being victimized is that there is a lot of stigma around that in society, and men are not as apt to disclose that they are being abused because it can be perceived as weakness.” Men in the House of Ruth program are given access to the same help as the women clients.
Shirley Cabrera, a therapist at House of Ruth, has a Q&A on House of Ruth’s blog defining the many ways “bystanders can become advocates for victims of domestic violence.” As a therapist, Cabrera counsels women and children who have experienced violence first hand, whether at home or in their community.
Cabrera estimates that 75 percent of the time a family member or a friend plays an active role in getting the victim to reach out for help. “One time, a client mentioned that her abuser left her home, and she thought her neighbors were unaware of the situation. So, she approached her neighbors, even though she was embarrassed and ashamed, and explained the situation. She always kept her back porch light off, and she asked them to call the police if they ever saw it turned on,” says Cabrera. “Sure enough, the abuser showed up one day and after entering her home became abusive. As she was trying to get away, she managed to turn on the backlight. Her neighbor called the police, and the abuser was detained.”
If you are in need of support, counseling or pro bono legal guidance, contact the House of Ruth today. The House of Ruth website (houseofruthinc.org) is made safe for victims to view by including a “hide this page” button, which, in case of an emergency, immediately closes the website’s home page and redirects the viewer to a Google news page. The 24-Hour Toll Free Hotline is (877) 988–5559 and the Pomona office phone number is (909) 623–4364.
The biggest way that bystanders can become advocates for their friend or family member who has become the victim of an abusive relationship is simply by showing unconditional support and never judging them for the decision they make, even if that decision is to go back to the abuser repeatedly. “We have a saying here [at the House of Ruth]: don’t be a bystander, be an up-stander,” Bell says. “Stand up for the victim, acknowledge that abuse is not OK, and say something.”