Helping the Abused Find Safety

La Isla Pacifica, a local battered women’s shelter, offers
needed hope to victims
n By kristen munson Staff Writer

Gilroy – The intimidation and ridicule have stopped. The physical and verbal attacks are no more. For the first time in more than five years, “Tanya” feels safe.

The 45-year-old California native took an early morning flight from Arizona to escape the man who had been verbally and physically abusing her on and off for years.

Tanya, who requested anonymity to protect her safety, arrived empty-handed at the steps of the La Isla Pacifica shelter 30 days ago – the only safe haven shelter in the South Valley.

“When it went from verbal to physical abuse – that was the last straw,” she said. “I thought, ‘I got to get myself out of this.'”

Tanya called an old childhood friend she hadn’t spoken to in years – she was too embarrassed. Her friend answered her call for help and purchased a plane ticket for Tanya.

“I left with nothing,” she said. “I had to sneak. He suspected something. He kept unplugging my phone or taking the battery out.”

She left her belongings and her abuser behind. Without children, the relationship was easier to leave.

Life at La Isla Pacifica (Peaceful Island) has been a positive change. Still, Tanya is looking forward to leaving the shelter and moving on with her life.

“My goal is just to take care of myself and be independent without a man,” she said. “The services that I’ve had here have helped me get back on my feet and get pointed in the right direction.”

Last year, 77 women and 85 children lived at La Isla Pacifica – a women’s shelter established in 1976 and run by Community Solutions. South County’s 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline received more than 450 calls, with 60 percent requesting shelter.

Law enforcement officials, doctors and social workers sometimes refer women to contact the shelter.

However, not all requests are granted. A shelter social worker evaluates a client’s needs to ensure they match its resources.

Fourteen beds are available at one time and the shelter is in an undisclosed location to protect the women and children living there. Stay is limited to about 45 days and males older than 14 are prohibited.

Between 30 and 40 percent of the women there speak only Spanish, so a bilingual staff member is always available for translation.

“When the women are served at the shelter, we provide them not only a safe place to stay but emergency assistance,” said Cecilia Clark, a spokesperson for Community Solutions. “A lot of times when women flee, they leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs and on the children’s backs.”

Women are assigned a case manager who helps them devise a safety and goal plan, and both domestic violence abuse victims and their children receive counseling services.

In addition, women have access to general life skills classes and support groups, an emergency stash of new undergarments and socks, and food. They have access to legal assistance and may obtain restraining orders as well.

For those women who continue working while at the shelter, transportation is available to and from their vehicles as an added safety measure.

Since Tanya started living at the shelter, the staff helped her get identification cards for work. She has also been back in touch with her family.

“They had been avoiding me for years because they didn’t know how to handle it,” Tanya said. “They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t want him knowing where they lived.”

She tried leaving once before, but ended up returning to live with her abuser.

“I didn’t know there were battered women shelters,” she said. “I went to a regular shelter … A lot of women don’t know … All you have to do is pick up the phone. There’s a 1-800 number you can call and they can get you to a safe house. Call the police and they will get you to where you feel safe.”

Many women choose to stay in an abusive relationship out of fear of deportation, fear of losing their children or fear that they cannot survive financially on their own.

Domestic violence is the use of emotional, financial, physical, psychological or sexual force to gain power and control over someone in an intimate relationship. It is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States and 4,000 women are killed each year as a result. Statistics indicate that one in three women will be battered at some point in her life.

Often, women do not even realize they are in an abusive relationship, said program director Perla Flores.

“The worst thing you can do is to ask, ‘Why? Why do you stay?’ Because that puts the blame on the victim,” she explained.

Support services are also available for family and friends of abuse victims who call the hotline.

“What you can do is ask, ‘Is everything OK?’ and not be judgmental because not everybody has the same resources.” Flores advised. “And be supportive.”

All services are confidential.

“It’s better (to leave) later than never,” Tanya said. “It was like a cycle in my life. I came from that background. There was abuse in my family too. But I don’t think it’s too late for me to change my life.”

Getting Help

• 24-hour bilingual crisis lines:

• South Santa Clara County: 683-4118

• San Benito: (831) 637-7233

• South County Rape Crisis: 779-2115

• Women’s Empowerment Day:

Today from 6 to 9pm at the Morgan Hill Cultural Center, 17000 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Various service providers will be on scene discussing healthy relationships, self-defense, parenting, family planning, sexually transmitted disease prevention and housing opportunities.

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