By Christian Torres - Wichita Kansas
In the United States, domestic violence affects millions of men and women each year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of four women experience a domestic violent crime such as physical or sexual violence, partner stalking, among others. In Kansas, 36% of women struggle with domestic violence. Such was the case of Maria Dominguez, a Wichita, KS resident who was the victim of domestic abuse for many years.
Dominguez, who is of Hispanic decent, was married for 10 years and had two boys. During her marriage, she fell victim to domestic violence and separated herself from her ex-husband as the result of it.
“At first, everything was beautiful,” said Dominguez. “He [her ex-husband] would give me gifts like flowers, chocolates and we would go on different vacations often.”
It was not until several years into their marriage that Dominguez’s ex-husband started drinking alcohol daily, which affected their relationship greatly. He started becoming more hostile towards her and oftentimes would verbally abuse her. Towards the end of their marriage, Dominguez was physically assaulted by her ex-husband once. Which is when she decided to leave the abusive relationship and seek help.
Many victims of domestic abuse do not realize their mental health is being affected as well. Some of these individuals are too afraid to speak up and ask for help. Dominguez was one of these people; she started experiencing anxiety and depression during her abusive relationship.
“I am a very talkative and friendly person – I would focus on my family and friends in order to avoid my mental health problems,” said Dominguez.
Like many people out there, Dominguez would be afraid to speak up about her problems due to the stigma of being seen as weak and feeling judged. Victims of domestic abuse are often afraid of seeking help, whether it means speaking up about these issues with their loved ones or a professional, speaking up is an important step towards bettering their mental health.
Wichita has several organizations available to help victims struggling with domestic abuse, most of them are focused on the physical well-being and the support of basics needs to help the survivor leave. An organization aiming for a longer-term support to domestic violence survivors is Women’s Initiative Network, also known as WIN Wichita. This organization’s mission is to “execute a holistic learning approach, focusing on the physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of life while advocating, mentoring, and educating women on their path to healing and economic stability.”
Amber Beck, WIN’s Executive Director and advocate for victims of domestic abuse, encourages victims of domestic abuse to reach out for help.
“Reach out to us [WIN Wichita] – we are a really great resource,” said Beck.
WIN Wichita is an eight-months program focused on helping victims of domestic abuse get back on their feet by employing them. When a person leaves an abusive relationship, oftentimes, they struggle to find employment which affects them in various other aspects like housing, childcare, etc.
Beck encourages anyone to reach out to them for help, although she believes the person must be ready to make a change.
When it comes to measuring success, Beck sees it in many ways. She believes it’s important to understand how a client entered their program, and how they left.
“When this client came to us, how did she feel about herself?” said Beck. “Maybe she was sad, lonely, but when she left us, she was more confident, she found friends, she found her network of individuals.”
WIN Wichita is making a significant difference for many survivors of domestic violence, and just like many other organizations in Wichita, is limited in providing services in other languages. Another limitation is the requirement of a Social Security number to be able to provide employment opportunities, which leaves out the undocumented community from qualifying for this opportunity, although WIN Wichita is always willing to help these individuals by connecting them with other organizations that can provide the support they can’t.
Although many organizations like WIN Wichita help numerous of individuals get back on track, some of them struggle to stay afloat. Oftentimes, funding is the biggest obstacle non-profit entities face and cannot overcome. Such was the case for Thrive ICT; a non-profit organization meant to help long-term trauma survivors, which unfortunately closed its doors in 2019.
Janet Maurantonio Federico, a renaissance woman and domestic violence survivor moved to Wichita in search of a safe place. She tried to make a difference when she founded Thrive ICT.
Most grants supporting domestic violence survivors require immediate or crisis support, while Thrive ICT was focusing on the long-term run. Going through domestic violence herself, Federico realized that every organization try their best to help domestic violence victims especially in Wichita where they do a great job with handling crisis.
Federico understands the long path domestic violence survivors face to regain their mental health. She believes many places like Wichita, are still deficient in long-term survivorship.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence regardless their economic or social status.
Many people believe that once domestic violence survivors are out of the abusive relationship everything is resolved, but according to Federico, this is not always the case. After leaving her abusive relationship of 22 years, she realized she had a lot to work on herself.
“I really thought I was losing my mind, I was having panic attacks, I was unable to concentrate,” said Federico. “I was having violent nightmares – I was having rages that were out of control.”
At the time she was going through her abusive relationship, she did not seek help due to her previous experiences with mental health professionals, which were not positive. It took her three years to realize the PTSD she was experiencing was the result of the domestic abuse she was under. She read many books about mental health, which helped her realize she needed to focus on healing.
Federico believes many organizations like Thrive ICT and others face similar challenges.
“Systemically, we are not addressing the causes of Domestic Violence,” said Federico.
There are many women out there who are in great physical danger. Some of these women face a great threat as they try to leave their abusive relationship. Oftentimes, organizations focus on the immediate need like getting the person out of the abusive relationship and their physical well-being but overlook the long-term needs such as mental health.