With the help of ACH’s Families Together program, Abigail has taken back control of her life after experiencing domestic violence.
You, your kids, and the clothes on your back. That’s all most mothers have when they are escaping a violent abuser.
In Texas, one in three women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence alone affects more than 12 million people each year and can affect anyone regardless of race, gender or income.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so do the challenges it brings. This year, it’s especially important to highlight intimate partner domestic violence as a growing issue in Dallas-Fort Worth. With more families feeling the stress of the pandemic, instances of abuse can arise or worsen. In 2020 alone, 19 adults and two unborn babies were killed in domestic violence homicides in Tarrant County.
Abigail experienced years of physical, and mental abuse from the father of her children before she was able to escape. And just when she was on the verge of independence, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed her recovery.
ACH’s Families Together program helped Abigail take back control of her life and put her on a better path for herself and her children.
What is Families Together?
Families Together provides transitional housing for single mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness due to intimate partner domestic violence. The program offers a safe and stable living environment while they work to overcome the trauma that led to their homelessness and return to independent living.
This is Abigail's Story.
When Abigail first met her partner, Ben*, she already had a young daughter from teen pregnancy. Becoming a mother so young gave Abigail pride, determination, and a strong sense of independence.
After just a few years into their relationship, Ben started to become more controlling. Abigail mistook his actions as caring.
His jealousy led to him asking Abigail to quit her job and become a housewife.
“I thought he just wanted to take care of me, but it slowly started to become more and more of a pattern.”
Abigail soon wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Ben also took away her phone and social media, so she didn’t have a way to ask for help.
“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I was walking on eggshells every day,” she said. “He was becoming more and more controlling.”
With promises to change and be a better man, the two got engaged. However, Ben’s grip on Abigail intensified when she became pregnant with their son.
“Once I had my son, it started to become physical,” said Abigail.
With no family in Texas, Abigail had no one to turn to. She and Ben were living with his mother, who refused to help Abigail, even though she witnessed the abuse.
“I was under his eyes at all times. And not just under his eyes, his mom would tell him when I took too long at places,” said Abigail. “I felt like I was always being watched.”
Both Ben and Abigail grew up with abusive fathers. For their families, this was just their way of life. When Abigail confronted Ben’s mom, she would blame Abigail’s disobedience for the cause of the abuse.
“I knew that she would not protect me if anything happened,” Abigail said.
One evening after a fight became physical with Ben, Abigail tried to leave. Ben locked her in the garage and wouldn’t let her out.
“I went out through the garage and ran out, and he dragged me by my hair from the driveway back inside in broad daylight,” said Abigail. “That’s when I knew that this was going to end with me being killed.”
That’s when Abigail planned to make her escape. She would ask Ben for his phone so that she could pay bills online, and she would use that time to contact her friends on Facebook and ask for help. One friend had experienced abuse as well and told Abigail, “You don’t need to tell me what is going on. Just tell me when you need me to pick you up and I will be there.”
After their next explosive fight, Abigail took her kids and left to stay with her friend. However, it wasn’t long before Ben started to show up at her friend’s home and became physical once again.
Feeling unsafe in her own home, Abigail’s friend asked her to leave. Abigail and her kids were now homeless and living in her car. A counselor at her daughter’s school helped get them into a shelter, where she was connected to the ACH Families Together program.
Families Together Provides a Safe Space
When Abigail first entered Families Together, she was very anxious and felt hopeless. She was now a single mother of two children with no job and no plan.
“The staff at ACH were very welcoming, and they gave me the space I needed,” she said. “They didn’t make me feel overwhelmed.”
Abigail hit the road running on the path to recovery. She quickly started counseling, attending group sessions with other mothers, and began applying for benefits for her and her kids. She eventually got a job and finished her cosmetology degree.
“When Abigail entered our program, she was determined to make a change and make a better life for her kids,” said Sharla Hosford, Families Together Family Care Specialist. “She didn’t want her daughter to repeat the same cycle that she saw her go through.”
After entering the program, Abigail started to see changes in her daughter. Her daughter witnessed a lot of the abuse and understood what was happening. ACH started to provide counseling for her as well.
“I do believe that it is a cycle that has been broken. She was seeing the same things I was seeing and that is why I felt I needed to help her,” said Abigail. “I saw myself in her so many times and I knew I needed to get help for both of us.”
Overcoming Hurdles from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Abigail entered Families Together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which made getting a job increasingly difficult. At the time, only essential workers were being hired and there was a waitlist for rideshare and food delivery services.
On a whim, Abigail saw that a daycare center was hiring and applied. She got the job but every time there was a COVID-19 exposure the daycare was shut down and she had to apply for unemployment.
Only two months into the program, Abigail hit another bump in the road. She was driving on the highway with her two kids in the car when it caught on fire. This totaled her car and she had to save up even more to get another.
Then, when Abigail tested positive for COVID-19, the staff made sure she had everything she needed. They brought her a refrigerator and provided all her meals.
COVID-19 also brought more loss to Abigail’s life. While in the program she lost three close friends to the virus. One of those, she didn’t find out about until Christmas morning.
“Staff in Families Together always knew what to say and how to calm me down,” said Abigail. “It was a scary time, but the staff was always there for me.”
Because of her strong motivation and hard work, Abigail was able to complete the Families Together program early and move into an apartment.
Although she does have a degree in Cosmetology, Families Together showed Abigail that she could help women with similar experiences. Today, she is in college, working to become a social worker.
Abigail also has dreams of writing a book about her experiences with domestic violence to help others who are going through it.
“When she left ACH, she was empowered,” said Sharla.
Abigail’s Message to Mothers
Abigail is still close to the staff at Families Together and is very thankful for the help she and her children received. For her, the most beneficial part of Families Together is time—the time they give you to save money and work to rebuild their life.
“Being able to have that time to process while they are here in a safe environment and look at what they went through and address that trauma and heal from that trauma and learn to recognize red flags,” said Sharla, “They see who they are and what they can do and go from there.”
For other mothers or partners who are experiencing domestic violence, Abigail said to listen to others when they are seeing the signs and expressing concern. If no one is expressing concern, ask questions to others about what you are experiencing. “Is this normal?”
“An outside perspective can be a really big help,” said Abigail. “They can be what prevents your family from having to plan your funeral.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please do not hesitate to contact ACH at 817-335-4673. (Call 9-1-1 for emergencies.) To learn more about ACH’s Families Together program, visit ACHservices.org/Families-Together.
If you would like to support ACH in our fight against domestic violence, please visit ACHservices.org/get-involved/give-now/
*Name has been changed.