Our Clients

Read the powerful stories of domestic violence survivors AVDA has helped.

Andrea Thibodeaux
{The journey for victims to begin their lives again can be difficult and long, and AVDA supports its clients through the process every step of the way. Andrea Thibodeaux came to AVDA seeking legal custody of her then two-year-old granddaughter, Audrey, in November 2015. Several months earlier, Audrey’s father had brutally murdered her mother during one of the divorced couple’s visitation exchanges. Andrea contacted AVDA for assistance for legal custody of Audrey. With one parent awaiting trial for murder charges and the other deceased, Andrea wanted to give Audrey the best chance for safety and stability. Andrea was awarded custody of Audrey during the spring of 2018. As part of the healing process in the aftermath of domestic violence trauma, AVDA offers current and former clients and their children an opportunity to have a unique, no-cost camp experience one weekend each June. Camp Carefree serves as an extension of AVDA’s mission to assist victims in escaping abuse and rebuilding their lives to begin again. Pictured are Andrea and Audrey enjoying the beach at the 2018 Camp Carefree.
Crystal Ybarra
{Crystal first came to the AVDA offices on crutches and without her one-year-old daughter. Crystal had leaped for her life from a moving vehicle — her child still inside — to escape yet another terrifying assault by her husband after years of physical and mental abuse. She suffered a shattered ankle that required surgery and months of painful physical therapy for her to walk properly. She turned to AVDA to gain custody of her daughter, who was kept hidden away for several months by Crystal’s abusive husband and his family. AVDA’s legal team helped Crystal gain primary custody of her daughter as well as spousal and child support after a lengthy court battle. Crystal returned to school with the assistance of AVDA’s Education Fund and graduated from Arizona State University in December 2019. She credits AVDA with providing the strength and support she needed to create a safe home for her daughter and herself.
Dr. Rebecca Berens
{When I was a medical student, I became involved in an abusive relationship. As is often the case, the abuse started with controlling behavior and emotional abuse, and it was not immediately obvious to me or my friends and family what was going on. We married early in my third year of medical school, and it was after our wedding that the abuse escalated to become increasingly violent, including physical and sexual violence. When I attempted to leave the relationship, it culminated in a serious episode that ended in my abuser eventually suffocating me and shooting himself. I was lucky to survive this incident, as did my abuser, but this was just the beginning of years-long legal struggles. Immediately after the incident, I was terrified for my safety and unsure of what to do next. One of the police officers who took my statement handed me a resource card with information about AVDA. I reached out to AVDA and quickly was scheduled for an intake interview. The staff and attorneys at AVDA were all amazing and made me feel so supported at an extremely difficult time. They quickly helped me obtain a protective order and then worked with me over several months to secure a divorce. This was no small feat as my abuser was active duty in the military and this presented a lot of barriers to my being able to file the necessary paperwork to be able to get a divorce. Without AVDA, I am not sure how I would have gotten through this period. I was a medical student living on student loans and had a busy schedule of clinical rotations and board exams. I could never have afforded the legal help that I needed to be able to divorce my abuser on my own and would probably have had to interrupt my studies in order to work and afford these expenses. Thanks to their support, I was able to graduate from medical school on time, pass all of my exams, and move forward with my residency training to become a family physician. I have been able to support many of my patients through similar circumstances and direct them to a safe exit plan and resources like AVDA to be able to move on with their lives as well. I am eternally grateful to AVDA and I am so happy to see how much they have grown since they helped me years ago. Their services are a Godsend to domestic violence victims and it is so important for these individuals to be aware of and have access to these resources.
Gwen Martinez
{“In 25 years, I only received one offer of help. I knew my family loved me but they just didn’t know what to do for someone in my situation. AVDA gave me the hope that there was an organization out there to help me.” After 25 years in an abusive marriage, Gwen Martinez received the lifeline that gave her a new beginning in 2016. Help came in the form of a referral from her brother, a minister in a Houston church, who suggested she call AVDA and legally leave her abuser. Gwen’s abuse began just 57 days into her marriage, when her then-husband strangled her until she lost consciousness. With four boys growing up in the home, Gwen feared for both her personal safety and the safety of her sons. In addition to the physical abuse, her husband’s behavior involved other forms of abuse including emotional, verbal and economic. While she doesn’t point to one specific, final incident, Gwen knew that the behavior was escalating: “If he wasn’t hitting me, my keys were taken to prevent me from leaving. The police were constantly being called to the house, and I knew that I needed to get out – both for my physical and mental health.” Ultimately, Gwen left and stayed with her brother while she secured her protective order, received safety planning and initiated her divorce case with AVDA. Today, she is legally divorced and moving ahead with her life. In addition to her divorce, Gwen was granted spousal support, 50 percent of her ex-husband’s pension and 401k, and part of the proceeds from the sale of her marital home. She has been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the abuse, but has taken strides to heal emotionally and hopes to return to work in the coming year. An active volunteer with AVDA, Gwen wants to provide that same lifeline to others in need. While she enjoys a strong relationship with her sons, she acknowledges the impact that the domestic violence has had on their lives, with three of the four having their own struggles.
Shelina Khureshi
{“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!!” –Shelina Khureshi 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.

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