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Dulce M., BASTA! Domestic Violence

April 4, 2011

In 2007, as part of an assignment at school, Dulce M.’s daughter composed a letter to Santa. What she wanted for Christmas, she wrote, was help with her father—she wanted the violence at home to stop. Dulce’s sadness at what her daughter had seen and experienced was compounded by a frightening piece of information: social workers from the Department of Child and Family Services, alerted by her daughter’s teacher, conducted a home visit. They found no evidence of physical harm to her children, but Dulce learned that she could lose them if the abuse continued.

Although she was desperate to provide a better life for herself and her children, however, Dulce was unsure how to proceed. She had been with her husband since 1992. “The abuse started right away,” she says, “but I didn’t realize what it was at first. People think of domestic violence as physical violence, but it can also be verbal and emotional.” Dulce’s husband was physically abusive, but he was also belittling and controlling. He forbade her to work or study. He criticized her constantly. He was sexually abusive. He was also very strict with the children and became angry when Dulce showed them affection.

Dulce knew she should leave, but she was undocumented and her husband frequently threatened to have her deported and take the children. After the visit from DCFS, however, Dulce knew that she had no choice. She began saving money, and she went to Mujeres Latinas en Acción for help. The agency helped Dulce file an order of protection. They also referred her to the domestic violence program at HAS.

Now separated from her husband, Dulce has full custody of her children. She has faced several challenges—her ex-husband informed her employer that she was undocumented, costing her her job, and put sugar in her gas tank. He has also physically assaulted her. But the support she received from individual and group counseling at HAS helped her persevere. “Little by little,” Dulce says, “I changed. I was worried at first, not sure how I would pay for things, not sure I did the right thing. Now, I feel stronger. I know I can do it.”

Dulce believes that the counseling she received has increased her self-esteem and taught her to be more assertive: she has learned to value herself as a woman and to demand the respect of others. “Sometimes people are disrespectful to single mothers,” she says, “but I’ve learned that the way you speak and carry yourself influences the way they treat you.” Her children have also thrived since she left her husband. Their family therapist at Casa Central has told Dulce that they are doing very well and do not need additional counseling. Dulce has also noticed dramatic changes: “the pictures they draw now are different,” she observes. “Before, my daughter wasn’t able to draw herself smiling. Now, they’re happy. They draw rainbows, our family—nice things.”

Dulce, who is now employed at her daughter’s preschool, loves working with children and plans to continue studying English so she can eventually meet her goal of becoming a pediatrician. She plans to have healthier relationships in the future: “a lot of women think it’s only the man’s opinion that matters, that their husbands can tell them what to do. Now I see how different it should be. Both people’s opinions and decisions should matter” Perhaps most importantly, she wants to give back. “I see women all the time who are like I used to be,” she says. “I always try to talk to them. I want them to know how much better it can be. It’s a mistake to feel ashamed and keep it a secret. I feel really good now, and so can they if they’re willing to ask for help.”