"I was spit on, beaten while pregnant, pushed down stairs and shot at," says Ieta Kimbrough, a caseworker at Coburn Place Safe Haven in Indianapolis, which provides housing for women and children escaping domestic violence. "An ambulance did come once, the time he hit me in the face with brass knuckles." She points to her left eye, which still has impaired vision 20 years after that final beating.
"I didn't call the police because I just thought it was a family issue. My grandmother and mother and aunt were all victims of domestic violence themselves, and none of us called the police. I twice tried to kill myself. I thought that since I was married to him, that was the only way out."
B.J. Jackson, a resident of Coburn Place, lived her own domestic violence nightmare, the padlocked-in-the-bedroom, slapped-upside-the-head because "you just won't shut up" kind. Jackson's victimization was much more recent than Kimbrough's, but the theme is the same. "I thought it was love, and love conquers all, right? If you just love each other hard enough, it will be OK. I kept waiting for the happily ever after."
Kimbrough nods. "A lot of times we think we can help them."
"And it will all change tomorrow," Jackson says.
"But we are lying to ourselves," Kimbrough says.
Both women stress that the most powerful force keeping victims with their abusers is financial pressure. "I had a condo, I had a car, I had a wardrobe. I had a patio I could barbecue on. I went from that to sharing one room with three strangers and keeping all my stuff in a single drawer," Jackson says. "It crossed my mind to go back to him, and I saw other women go back. Especially for those who have small kids, it's hard."
Kimbrough agrees. "Some women go back to their abusers because at least there they have food and a roof over their head. They go back because of the finances and because of the children."
Both women talk about the need for job training and child care and more counseling for children who have witnessed the abuse. But Kimbrough and Jackson agree that the No. 1 priority is affordable housing, especially for the rocky time when a woman must re-invent a life for herself and her family. While she was being abused, Jackson knew there was emergency temporary shelter out there, but wondered where she would go after that. "People keep telling me to leave, but where? Are you going to let me stay with you?"
It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Ieta Kimbrough and B.J. Jackson want you to be aware that a lot of women like them are still out there, still getting brutalized and still living with their abuser. They stay because they don't see a financially viable alternative to living with the violence, a concern that is not unfounded. Studies show that at least half of all homeless women and children are fleeing abuse and 50 percent of the women receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cite domestic violence as a factor in their need for welfare help.
Coburn Place provides a safe and affordable home to the women and children filling the 35 apartments where they are allowed to stay for as long as two years. "Twenty years ago, we didn't have anything like Coburn Place," Kimbrough says.
Twenty years later, we still don't have enough places like it.
Kimbrough is getting help from her employers at Coburn Place as she tries to establish her own transitional housing program called The House of Refuge ( ... ). She could use your support, as could Coburn Place itself ( ... ).
And the next time you hear a politician refuse to invest in affordable housing because it's too expensive, ask them how much it costs to leave all those Ietas and B.J.s still out there.
If you or someone you know needs to escape a situation with domestic violence, call 1-800-332-7385 (Indiana) or 1-800-799-SAFE (national).
Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared - ...