“A woman I admire a lot posted something very true on social media. The message: “A woman can be passive for years. She will accept abuse and misuse BUT there will be ONE moment, ONE word or ONE action that transforms her into the FORCE. Now all of the chains of the world cannot stop her. Suddenly the years of hardships will become her tools…her strength!’ That one word for me was AVDA!!”
In April of 2010, after several years and three failed attempts to leave her abusive husband, hope finally came to Shelina in the form of a kind police officer and a business card in the ER. Prior to this episode, the police had been called to her home a few times for domestic disturbance, but no one had ever offered this card before. If they had, maybe the situation would not have escalated to the point that it did.
Due to a side effect of lupus, Shelina had just had abdominal surgery. Exactly five days post-surgery her abuser violently used her as a punching bag. He then left the house as if nothing were wrong and went to work. She waited for her children to come from school and then called a friend to drive her to the hospital. The police were called immediately as soon as the hospital staff saw her condition. The very first thing the young officer asked when he walked into her room was “Who did this to you?” He then asked if she was going to leave him. Shelina told him that she could not afford to divorce him. She had an entry-level job and less than $600 to her name. Her abuser had ensured that she would not have the funds to divorce him.
The police officer handed her a card for AVDA and briefly explained what AVDA did for people in her situation. He said if she were serious about the divorce, then this organization would help, and it would not cost her anything.
With hope and trepidation, Shelina went to the AVDA offices a few weeks later and was assigned an attorney. She really wanted to believe what the officer had told her but feared that the divorce would not be completely free and, thus, would not be possible.
The very first thing AVDA did was issue a protective order because her abuser had figured out where she and her daughters were living. Of course, he knew where she worked. He had visited both places to threaten her.
Then the divorce was filed. At the very first hearing, the opposing party asked for an extension because they were (supposedly) not ready. They were granted the time. The next hearing, the same excuse was given by the opposing party. Again, they were granted the extension.
Shelina dealt with repeated extensions by her ex-husband’s attorney, aimed to prolong the divorce by three months each time an extension was granted. Each time they asked for an extension, she panicked. She reasoned that AVDA could not possibly continue to waste its resources on her for these never-ending court hearings. She thought that she would never be free of her husband and his abuse. Her fears were unwarranted. She was an AVDA client, and her legal team stayed by her side to help her gain her freedom.
Over a year and many hours of negotiations later, she was granted her divorce and full custody of her children. AVDA also assisted with another 24-month protective order; through the interactions with the opposing party, the AVDA attorney thought it to be a safety necessity.
Her entry-level job at that time paid $1600 a month. She asked for overtime and worked 50 to 60 hours weeks just to be able to survive. Eventually, an opportunity came up for a position that she was not qualified for, but knew she could do with some guidance and hard work on her part. She begged her manager to give her a chance at that position. She volunteered to work at her same pay rate. She wanted THAT experience for her resume. Two and half years later, she was finally given the pay rate she deserved. It didn’t matter that it took that long, all she saw was that she was finally moving up the ladder.
During this time, her family and community were very supportive. Normally in her culture divorce is frowned upon – BUT so is abuse. They saw her physical appearance after her release from the hospital. They saw the bruises – the swollen, disfigured face. They embraced her situation and stood by her and her daughters. The moral support alone was an inspiration.
Her daughters were her biggest encouragers and inspiration! They continued to work hard and thrive in school. When it was time for high school, they both made the decision to apply to an Early College High school. They worked hard, sacrificed summer and Christmas vacations by taking extra classes BUT graduated with high school diplomas and associate degrees combined. Both young women attend Texas A&M.
Today Shelina and her children have hope for a future—based on a path made possible by AVDA.