The story of how Entre Amigas and DC SAFE changed my life
By Silvana Quiroz
While I was still very young, I remember he brought her flowers and even had mariachis serenade her. She sat there, with only her sunglasses to hide her black eye, too quickly smiling by his gestures of kindness. She hugged him and forgave him as he knelt with a stuffed animal in his hand and told her he loved her.
I was dumbfounded, how was it possible that after such a beating she would get back with him? Shame and anger rushed over me. How could a woman as strong as my mother fall for this again? She herself condemned the beatings that her father gave my grandmother until she was even deaf, and now, she was doing the same.
In 2019, Dilcia Molina, Manager of La Clinica’s Entre Amigas Program, invited me to be the Master of Ceremonies for Entre Amigas annual vigil against Domestic Violence during October’s Domestic Violence Awareness month. While hosting the vigil I shared this story about my mom, yet I stopped there, I couldn’t yet continue with my own.
For years, I told myself I would never let it happen to me, but it did. I married young, in love, and over-the-moon happy.
It took me two years to realize that what looked like a perfect life from the outside, was truly me living in a golden cage, with my husband controlling my every move. Despite living a life that many women envied, I decided to leave, which meant fleeing my country. He had already threatened me with the haunting message, “if I left him, he would kill me.” He had a gun and he loved wine, a bad combination for moments of anger.
I convinced him to let me go visit my family; I arrived in the United States in December 2003 with a suitcase and my 2-year-old son, ready to start over.
For years I ran away from relationships, I was afraid of falling again. I thought I was strong, but deep down I knew that at any moment that chain of domestic violence that my grandmother and my mother lived through, would find me again.
Domestic violence can come in various forms and with many faces; it is not always physical and violent, there can be threats, emotional, and sexual abuse. Abuse can start in a subtle way and get worse over time, here are some signs and the stories of women who had suffered in their own flesh:
According to studies on domestic violence, abusive relationships always lead to an imbalance of power and control. Control is used to create an isolated environment. The abuser takes advantage of his/her partner's vulnerable moments to exercise power.
The story of "Maria"
When I met him, he was romantic, kind, and caring. I was vulnerable and ready to fall in love, and although I saw some "red flags" I did not want to pay attention, I was in the clouds, I wanted a family. I was struck by how I felt like I couldn't live without him, even though we were totally incompatible.
He convinced me to live with him, that we would get married, that everything would be fine. But it was not like that. Without realizing it, I became completely dependent on him. I had sold my car to help him pay off some debt he owed, leaving me without a way to get around, and putting my schedule in his hands. I quit working and accompanied him all the time. He took over my bank account, I lost having any of my own money on my person and depended on what he gave me. When he got angry, he would withhold money from me and literally throw everything he was giving me at me, like ammunition.
Soon, I was completely isolated – even my friends were distanced from me due to his manipulation of my friendships by speaking badly about my friends and to them.
In many cases, jealousy can be the first sign of an abusive relationship since one person in the relationship seeks to possess the other person and often by justifying that it is done out of love.
The story of "Ana"
Jealousy was constant, I couldn't talk to any man without being accused of flirting. I had to quit jobs because he said my co-workers looked at me too much. When we went out to dance, I couldn't go to the bathroom because he told me I was going to secretly talk to someone.
On several occasions, he “punished” me by leaving me in places to find my own way home. One of those times, I didn’t have any money for a cab or bus, and his friend offered to drive me. His friend ended up touching me inappropriately – which then, I remember walking alone through the night, so scared of what my boyfriend might do to me if he found out.
Finally, it was due to photos of me with ex-coworkers that he found on my social networks, that he accused me of having relationships with them. He abruptly kicked me out of our house, telling me to go live with them. I had nowhere to go, I ended up sleeping in my car for a week.
Abusers tend not to assume their own fault or doing; instead, they blame the victim that certain behavior is causing them to react that way. This is a form of emotional blackmail to make the victim stop questioning what is happening and believe that she/he is the reason for the abuse.
The story of "Emiliana"
For many years I lived thinking that everything happening to me was my fault. He repeated that so many times that I believed it. Every time he hit me, and came back asking for forgiveness, he told me “It was your fault, if you hadn't answered me in that way, I wouldn't have lost it. You made me lose my patience." His words made me question my own actions. Maybe, I am the one who should have shut up, I went too far. Each time, I’d end up asking for his forgiveness. That I’d try and do better. The guilt he pushed me to feel, shaped me to be me more submissive, more complacent. I hoped not to set him off.
In many cases, abusers tend to placate victims of domestic violence by threatening them, making them feel that they have no option to report because this would bring the consequences. These threats can pose challenges for different communities such as undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
The story of "Paula"
When I arrived in this country, I thought that I would never be able to pursue my career again. Yet, I got there. I was working at a national level and feeling proud and stronger, and consequently less dependent on my partner. While praise was ample in the workplace, at home I was the brunt of insults and offenses. I tried not to let it affect me, but it was hard not to feel pissed on by the person that was supposed to love me. He was applying for my residency in this country and each time he got angry, he threatened to call the lawyer and remove the immigration application. My immigration request was linked to my son’s case whom I had not seen for many years. Knowing that not only me, but also my son depended on him made me bow my head and surrender to his reasoning again. Once during an argument, he threatened to call immigration and say that I was being abusive. In my head I knew these threats were unfounded, but in the head of an immigrant mother, fear flooded my being.
The story of "Lupe"
As part of the LGBTQ community, I never thought that my fight would also be against domestic violence, but it was. My partner constantly threatened to tell my family that I was a lesbian. They didn't know that I was gay, and I wasn't ready to tell them. I worked and paid for things around the house, yet every time I demanded something from my partner, she threatened me with the same thing. I lived in fear for many years until one day I decided to disclose my sexuality to my family – I freed that threat.
The abuser usually uses intimidating and hurtful words and behaviors, making the recipient feel inadequate and unworthy to a point of losing self-agency.
The story of "Mary"
When my little girl would cry, something would unleash in him. He would hurl accusations at me that I was neglecting her, that I was an unfit mother. He called me every scornful insult towards a woman possible. On one occasion he wrote me a message calling me “serrana,” I discovered that this was an insult in his country it was how the bourgeois class referred to the indigenous people. I replied that yes, it was true, I was proud to be "serrana."
DENIES YOU ACCESS TO HEALTH
In some cases, abusers are afraid that their partner will see a health provider because they know that as part of the evaluation it may be asked if they feel safe where they live.
The story of "Analis"
My pregnancy was not easy, I went into a strong depression, I did not eat nor sleep. My baby was not planned. My partner forced me to have sex and I got pregnant. I did not have medical access until I was 12 weeks pregnant because he refused to take me to the doctor, and I did not have the money to do it. I was finally able to apply for state insurance and was able to start prenatal checkups. When I gave birth, I entered the operating room with severe anemia, I needed an urgent blood transfusion. The doctor requested my partner’s authorization, but he did not want to sign and opposed for two days to do it. I was dying, he was letting me die.
Many wonder why victims of abuse do not leave sooner or why they would return to their abusers?
Imagine being in a whirlpool of water, spinning while you look around, you know that at any moment you will start spinning hard and then the waters will calm down, but you are still there, spinning because you don't know how to get out and you are afraid because you think that you depend on that whirlpool to keep moving forward.
That vicious circle that some do not understand goes hand in hand with co-dependency. In my case, as in that of many survivors of domestic violence, the circle began by looking for a reason why he had to threaten me. Then it would go on to verbal abuse, yelling, and name-calling. In some cases, physical violence. Then the reconciliation stage followed, he justified the actions by making me feel guilty. Then he would fill me with gifts, apologies, and promises that it will never happen again.
However, in the majority of cases, the cycle repeats itself, and the abused is pulled into the current of abuse without a clear exit, turning into a vicious circle.
In 2017, while I was taking care of my baby girl, I found some photos of one of the Entre Amigas Vigils of La Clínica del Pueblo I had attended. I had compared my own story with so many others that I had heard, but I kept looking for excuses for the behavior of my abuser and forgiving his actions.
I felt like another woman, he had completely subdued my spirit.
At that moment, I realized that I was in a vicious circle, a chain that came from my grandmother and my mother. I had to break that chain. I couldn't let my daughter grow up in a home where there was domestic violence.
I began to empower myself by attending therapy with Dr. Claudia Campos, I had to find myself. I attended the Entre Amigas sessions under the premise of doing a story as a reporter; I was ashamed to say that I was also a victim of violence. I heard so many stories that were very similar to mine, one day I shared my story with Dilcia. Her words were encouraging and provided unconditional support. She provided resources and shared contacts in case I needed to leave the house in an emergency.
While living with my abuser, I was healing. I started my program to find that brave journalist that was inside of me. I created my own Television program on my own digital platform. In addition to therapy, I began to train with my friend and fitness expert Jenny Osorio, many times looking in the mirror I believed everything he told me and I thought about all the changes that my body had after giving birth.
In 2018, I received the pleasant surprise that I had been nominated for an Emmy Award, I celebrated by hugging my little girl since she had been my co-worker while making the nominated piece, and my inspiration to get back up again. It was incredible to know that despite so much pain, I had achieved something so important in my career.
I was regaining my self-esteem, but on the day of the awards, I was also very scared. When they called my name, I just closed my eyes thinking about everything that had happened in recent years. That Emmy has a lot of meaning to me. When my partner found out about my success, there were no “congratulations”, instead he cut off the banking card I used to buy food and my daughter's things.
ENTRE AMIGAS AND DC SAFE
This year during a gala, Dilcia received the DC Safe Innovation Award for the work of Entre Amigas during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Domestic violence in times of COVID-19 intensified due to job loss and difficult access to housing. The work of programs like Entre Amigas were impacted, but even so, they continued with virtual meetings helping hundreds of women dealing with circumstances I too have lived.
It took me a while to decide that I was done with the abuse and in one of those turns of the “circle”, I was ready; I had my "life preserver" on. I plucked up the courage to call one of the contacts Dilcia had provided me and called Natalia Otero from DC Safe to tell her what I was experiencing. I still had my doubts, or simply did not want to accept, that I was a victim of domestic violence. During the questionnaire all my answers were positive; I was undoubtedly in an abusive relationship. Besides this fact, my life and that of my daughter were in danger.
DC Safe offered me housing and everything I needed. It took me 4 days to decide to place the protection order. When I came before the judge and told her what was happening to me, she immediately issued an emergency order. I left the house where I lived with my abuser, without looking back, I was taking my little girl and I was ready to start over. It took me years to get out of that abusive relationship where I was subjected to all the signs of violence, each of the stories in this article is mine.
Today, I write my story from the porch of my own house, while I wait for my son with whom I have recently reunited after 9 years apart. My immigration case is still in limbo because I left my partner who applied for my residence, I cannot apply for the U visa because I never called the police during the years of abuse, I have a deportation court order for March 2022, but I am not afraid.
I feel that I am in the hands of all those women, who with tears in their eyes, told their stories in the Entre Amigas group. I feel that each of women's words are the inspiration I need to move forward. I am now grateful for life, empowered and strengthened.
I share this very personal story, my journey, to show that domestic violence can affect anyone and has many faces to how it can manifest. There is support and away beyond the continuous vicious cycle. I found the support and healing through La Clinica’s Entre Amigas and DC Safe programs to whom I am eternally grateful. Through their guidance and refuge, I am here with my heart in my hand telling my story and hoping it will help another.