Loving Hands Mother and child holding hands St. Louis, Missouri, 19 January 2017 | 03:00 PM America/Chicago A Mother’s Poem One Mother’s Story of Escaping Violence and Finding Strength My name is Strength My voice is strong Knowing what I know now I would never have gone Into the arms of a man who had never grown As Dawn read aloud her poem, her words were punctuated by painful sounds only she could hear: a car door slamming, tires screeching. She offered to share her story, “Because by doing so I can help to break the cycle of abuse.” Violence comes home Not long after her marriage, Dawn began to notice frightening changes in her husband’s behavior. “He would come home from work and you could just feel the tension,” she says. “Suddenly you had a drill sergeant in the house.” “All of us, but especially the children, experienced a lot of verbal and physical abuse,” Dawn continued. “My older kids (from a previous marriage) were only seven and eight then, but he whipped them and made them do push-ups to punish them. He tied my son to the bed with plastic handcuffs. It was like a nightmare.” This part of Dawn’s story reached its end on a quiet Saturday morning in San Antonio, Texas. Dawn’s husband was already in a rage. “I don’t like to argue, so I just let him talk,” she says. “Then I walked outside to get something out of the car and he followed and jumped into the driver’s seat. I was reaching into the passenger’s side of the car, with our two-year-old son on my hip, when he slammed the car in reverse. I thought he was going to run us over so I took off for the house and locked the door.” As Dawn’s husband pounded on their patio door, she waited for the police. “That was the last straw,” she says. “I packed a duffel bag of things and we never looked back.” No more bullying or fights before my sight . . . Finding hope and the right help After moving to St. Louis, Mo., Dawn found family support and the strength to begin a new life. She connected with Family Resource Center’s Redevelopment Opportunities for Women (ROW) programs. ROW is a comprehensive set of programs providing the tools domestic violence survivors need to regain control of their lives and break the cycle of abuse and financial hardship. ROW's Economic Action program, supported by State Farm, includes financial literacy, budgeting, saving, credit counseling, as well as a variety of family and emotional counseling support services. ROW "ROW helped build my confidence so I could get back on my feet and hold my head high." “Dawn is definitely a survivor,” says Suvekshya Joshi, a former ROW Family and Economic Advocate. “She took our parenting and finance classes and qualified for our Individual Development Account (IDA) program. She put her job earnings into a special account where we matched her savings two-for-one so she could purchase a car. Now we meet regularly to work on budgeting, and then we talk about her children.”The toll of domestic abuseDomestic abuse has a profoundly widespread, damaging effect. In the U.S. alone, more than 38 million women have experienced physical violence from partners. (CDC). Men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to commit it themselves as adults. (Source: World Health Organization). National Domestic Violence Statistic One in four women and one in seven men will experience severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes (National Domestic Violence Hotline) Financial hardship plays a large role in perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Eighty-five percent of women who leave an abusive relationship return (Forbes), with financial issues being a leading factor in those decisions. Studies have shown women who connect to programs such as ROW are better able to leave their abusive relationships and feel safer, more independent, and more in control of their own lives. (Huffington Post) Addressing the Problem Breaking the cycle of abusive family environments is vital to addressing this problem. Strength finds a new homeMy bruises are goneMy thoughts are clearMy inspiration is always near . . .Looking into those little eyes gave me hopeDawn’s children have been in counseling for depression, but they are doing well, she says. “My kids keep me motivated. They see how I struggle with finances and keeping our family together, but I tell them, ‘As long as I have air in my lungs, I am going to keep on fighting.’”And fight she will – not just for herself, but for all women. “My dream,” she says proudly, “is to open a non-profit to help women return to independence after living with an abuser.”My name is Strength.Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).