On a cold February morning, a dozen Eastside high school students arrived in Olympia. They were excited to participate in Domestic Violence Advocacy Day for the first time. The members of GOVAA (Gender Orientated Violence Advocacy and Activism), an after-school club at Interlake High School, all share a deep commitment to supporting survivors of gender-based violence and promoting healthy relationships within their school and communities. Many have experienced domestic violence in their own families or watched friends struggle with dating violence and unhealthy relationships. They were eager to tell their stories and, as one student shared, “change the world.”
In the morning, the students gathered with DV advocates from across the state to learn about legislation affecting survivors. Many of the youth were surprised by how many of the bills aimed at preventing homelessness and addressing poverty would also help survivors of domestic violence. By the time they met with their representatives, the students felt energized to “improve the lives of our community members.”
Their enthusiasm was contagious. After sharing their personal stories about gender-based violence and how violence impacted their family and friends, a legislative aide told LifeWire’s Social Change Manager, “they are powerful.”
Young people have a tremendous ability to shift culture if we empower them. The youth only spent a day in Olympia, but it had ripple effects in the community and their lives. Several of the bills the youth advocated for became law, increasing protections for survivors and low-income families. GOVAA is looking for other ways to enact policy changes on the Eastside. And one of the students has decided to run for student body office next year.
Anna started seeing LifeWire’s Mental Health Therapist because she was experiencing symptoms of severe trauma. She felt numb and disoriented, had trouble focusing at work, and was having panic attacks.
Abuse, whether physical or psychological, can affect survivors’ mental health. People who experience trauma because of domestic violence are at significantly higher risk for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Survivors may also try to escape pain and depression with substance use or consider suicide.
Throughout their marriage, Rebecca’s husband controlled every aspect of their finances. And while the lease to the house had been in both their names, he stopped paying rent to punish her. As a result, Rebecca spent many sleepless nights agonizing over the $1,800 she owed her landlord.
Ninety-eight percent of domestic violence survivors experience financial abuse. Some abusers, like Rebecca’s husband, stop making payments. Others gain power and control over their partner by limiting how they spend money, running up huge debts, or destroying their credit.
Even though she’d left him, Amira’s abuser kept coming back. He forced and intimidated his way into the home that Amira shared with their five-year-old daughter Hana. He regularly followed her to work, harassing Amira in front of her customers and coworkers. Things became so bad, the 25-year-old Sudanese immigrant was forced to leave her job. Pregnant with her abuser’s child and unsure how to support two children on her own, Amira reached out to LifeWire.
With the help of her advocate, Amira connected with local resources to help meet her basic needs. She began meeting with a LifeWire mental health therapist, who helped Amira process some of the traumas she experienced after years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Amira worked with her advocate to create a safety plan, which included seeking a protection order. LifeWire’s legal advocate connected Amira with a pro bono attorney who helped her obtain a protection plan and set up a parenting plan.
Since Amira obtained her protection order, her abuser stopped contacting her. Instead of worrying about her safety, Amira now has time to raise Hana and her infant son Abdi. Amira is working hard on her long-term goals of raising healthy and safe children, having stable housing, returning to the workforce, and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Renata was both relieved and afraid to learn her husband was behind bars. She felt safe, but knew that wouldn’t last. He could be released at any time. Renata wanted to protect herself and her two daughters, but she didn’t have any place to go. And without immigration papers, the Mexican-born woman didn’t have may options. Sensing Renata’s distress, the police officer assigned to her domestic violence case referred her to LifeWire.
With her housing advocate’s help, Renata and her kids relocated to My Sister’s Home, LifeWire’s emergency shelter. My Sister’s Home provided the family with the space and resources they needed to begin healing. After meeting with her legal advocate, Renata learned that she was eligible to apply for a U Visa as a survivor of a violent crime. If awarded, the visa would allow her to live and work legally in the U.S. LifeWire connected her to a pro bono immigration attorney, who helped Renata apply for and receive the temporary visa.
As Renata prepared to leave the shelter and move into her own apartment, she learned that she had to provide a higher security deposit due to her limited rental history. LifeWire used flexible funds to assist with her move-in costs and her first month’s rent.
Today, Renata and her kids are healing. She still attends group therapy sessions and social gatherings with other survivors. Renata wants to help other survivors the way LifeWire staff and volunteers helped her.
Bailey seemed tentative when she approached the LifeWire advocate. The sophomore health class had just finished an hour and a half training on domestic and teen dating violence. Working in pairs, the students acted out different dating scenarios designed to teach them how to recognize the warning signs of unhealthy relationships. Bailey told the LifeWire advocate that she recognized several of these signs in her own relationship.
She had been dating a boy at her Eastside high school for several months. Over time, he became increasingly controlling. He checked her texts, demanded she spend time with him, and refused to listen when Bailey tried to break up with him. But, because he had never hit her or yelled at her, Bailey hadn’t considered their relationship unhealthy.
For twenty minutes Bailey talked with the LifeWire advocate about how to approach the break-up she planned for the next day. Together, they created a safety plan, discussing where the break-up would take place and how she would get support from friends and family.
Thanks to partnerships with local high schools, colleges, and universities, LifeWire uses innovative exercises to engage students like Bailey and provide them with the skills they need to have healthy relationships. These trainings also open the door for students to talk about domestic or teen dating violence and receive the support they need to live healthy lives.