May 8, 2024

Letters From Survivors

I hate the question, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” I have learned that we can’t affix a level of hardship to someone else’s journey. Every journey through and out of domestic violence is extremely hard. Some people do not survive. Some are left with lasting scars, physically and emotionally. Families are split, physically and emotionally. For the last 7 years of my 20-year marriage, I had tried many times to safely separate from my ex-husband. Each time, I realized that there was another piece that I needed to have in place to be safe.

When I tried to separate from my ex, he moved into an apartment in the same complex. He was constantly around, even going as far as breaking into my home multiple times. I eventually gave in and decided it was safer to stay with him. I had tried so many ways to be safe and free, and each time I had failed. I realized that to leave safely, I would need to go into hiding, leave the state I was in, and start over from scratch. With 3 young kids and no job skills, this felt impossible. I thought I would never make enough money to pay for daycare so I could work, much less pay for rent, food, clothing, and the costs of day-to-day living for a family of 4 on my own.

My ex-husband was a master of emotional abuse and intimidation. I felt like no one was ever going to believe me. He was very convincing as a ‘caring husband.’ No one believed that he was capable of threatening and hurting his family. No one believed how hard I had to work to keep the kids and myself from making him upset.

I was totally isolated and felt I had nowhere to turn for help. Finally, in my desperation, I called the National Domestic Violence hotline. I wish I could thank the person on the other end of the line. Even though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, she recognized just how dangerous my situation was. She put me in touch with a lethal threat DV shelter in Seattle. They took me and my kids from out of state.

I finally had a plan! My first hurdle was getting halfway across the country with my kids and no money. Previously, I had a part-time job with an airline, and by sheer miracle, I was still able to fly myself for free and use buddy passes for the kids.

We flew across the U.S. on 80 bucks! I felt confident that in Seattle, I could stay under the radar until I got the rest of my safety plan accomplished. I was wrong. I did not know that my ex-husband’s brother, a retired police officer, lived less than 50 miles away. My driver’s license still had my married name, and his brother contacted me after I got a seatbelt ticket. Seattle was no longer a safe place.

I called YWCA Spokane and was told I would be welcome and that there was space for us. I arrived with the last 16 dollars to my name. We were treated to some of the most considerate and intuitive advocacy I had experienced throughout my journey. The advocates at the YWCA Spokane shelter were amazing to my family and me. The food the shelter provided saved us from going hungry that first month. They also had a crafting group for the kids that was phenomenal! The kids got a huge amount of therapy through crafting and being with other kids in the shelter going through similar circumstances. It was a huge deal to them to make something they were proud of. That means a lot to kids who have nothing.

The advocates helped me start a new life from scratch. I had to enroll in an address confidentiality program, change my name, social security number, and enroll my children in school under aliases. Within a month I had food stamps and applied for housing assistance. I came up with a plan on how to start over. A big part of my safety plan was to have many people involved in our journey. People who knew me. My advocate understood my need for community involvement and was able to connect me with many people and programs who could support me if he found me again.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but it is finally a safe road. I am 10 years out now and do not have a single regret about leaving my ex. I have a good job that pays more than minimum wage. I pay full rent, am off food stamps, and all other aid. It took several years to get where I am now. But I got here. This is where I hoped I’d be when I first left. It was by no means easy, but it is attainable.

I fully believe that I would have been killed if it weren’t for the shelter system. YWCA Spokane was instrumental in keeping me and my family safe while helping us on our journey to establish a new, better, and safer life.


A Former YWCA Spokane Shelter Resident

Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual violence. Prior to writing this message, this survivor had come to the YWCA. An advocate here made sure she got to the hospital, which gave her the strength to report the crime and her abuser was arrested. This was the letter she sent in after working with officers in the Family Justice Center at YWCA Spokane.

After being beaten and raped by my partner, I was beyond scared and embarrassed. I was terrified to report the crime. The thought of talking about what happened with a policeman with a gun sounded too much to me. The day after I got out of the hospital, the officer came to my mom’s house to talk with me. I immediately felt safe to speak with him and felt like he actually cared about what happened to me and my baby. He didn’t make me feel embarrassed or scared and was extremely professional throughout the interview. As a result of the attack, I had a traumatic brain injury, so I was having a hard time remembering and talking. The officer sat with me for an hour while I made sense of what happened. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that he was so kind and professional to me during this time.

From my baby and me, thank you so much for helping me make my report and for hiring officers who care and want to help people. This officer went above and beyond to make sure I stayed strong for myself and my child and gave me the time to tell my story.

They were so kind and gentle while dealing with the sexual assault piece of my experience. I didn’t feel embarrassed at all while talking with them. I was terrified of men at the moment, and I was just so happy they didn’t make me feel scared or uncomfortable. I cannot tell you how much that is helping me heal from this trauma and constant fear of my partner retaliating.

I will never forget their kindness and I truly hope that my kid turns out like them someday.

These are real letters we received from mothers who used YWCA Spokane’s services. They’ve been anonymized to preserve each survivor’s identity. I chose to share these with you so that you can not only see your support at work but also see the strength and resiliency of these women. Each of them is on their own unique path to justice, forging their way through obstacles and setbacks to create a better future for themselves and for their children.

55% of YWCA Spokane clients are parents. Childcare, providing food and clothing for their children and keeping them healthy – physically and mentally – consumes many survivors’ minds as they navigate leaving their abuser and managing life on their own. YWCA staff are often the only people they share these struggles with.

The world can judge a mother so harshly for the choices and sacrifices she makes without ever fully knowing her truth and her story.
With Mother’s Day this month, I can’t help but think of all the mothers out there making sacrifices just to survive. How many of them are silent, not sharing their story, not reaching out for help for fear of shame or judgment?

There are three ways you can help a mother like this in Spokane today. I hope that you will help a woman in need in whatever way you are capable of.

1. Will you give honor of a mother today?
That could be in honor of your mother or the mother of your children, nieces and nephews, or grandbabies. Or it could be in honor of the mom you just passed in the grocery store, who is silently sacrificing but has a safe place at the YWCA to ask for help without judgment or pressure. You will likely never know her story, but know that your gift is helping empower her.

2. Will you save the YWCA’s 24-Hour Emergency Hotline number in your phone?
Please keep it for when someone trusts you to help. Hotline: 509-326-2255

3. Will you write a message of hope and encouragement to a survivor?
Please print this card, write your message, and mail it to:
YWCA Spokane
c/o Development Dept
930 N. Monroe St.
Spokane, WA 99201

We want to end domestic violence in Spokane, and we can’t do it without you. Will you give your best gift today, in whatever way that may be? Your support can make an enormous difference for a mom in need.

By: Claire Schueman

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