From fear to freedom

From fear to freedom

‘M. had tried to leave a few times already, but those plans hadn’t worked. Now she was reaching out to us in a last-ditch effort to change her story. It’s unforgettable how much gravity that frightened whisper managed to convey.’

BRATTLEBORO — This year will soon be history, but 2020 will leave an indelible mark. Though little felt normal or easy, there was no lack of courage and generosity, including in our own community.

As always, we at the Women's Freedom Center are deeply grateful for your support. Alongside national trauma, personal crises unfold, too, of course, and we're here to help survivors navigate those, even in the pandemic.

One recent story illustrates not just the terror some experience, but also the skillful steps they take to get free.

For the safety of M. (not her real initial), we'll share only a few details that are, sadly, all too common for survivors in the days and hours just before they finally manage to flee.

* * *

Early in Vermont's shutdown, a call came through on our hotline that was at first barely audible. The caller had to whisper, not just so her kids wouldn't hear but so she herself could hear in an instant the crunching-gravel sound of her partner's truck, which she expected to come back up the driveway any minute.

Her partner had M.'s calls and movements under strict control, and she'd been living that way long before the pandemic. Meanwhile, he was home even more than usual during the quarantine, so her few windows of privacy had become more random and rare.

She was alternating now between pausing to listen, checking a front window, then returning in tears, which she was also afraid of, because her face would betray that something was definitely up to him.

For M., there'd been violence and sinister threats over the years, and just recently her partner made suicide threats, too. He was increasingly volatile: sometimes he would be intoxicated, often paranoid, and always demanding. Nothing M. said or did had improved this downward spiral.

He also kept a weapon, which always loomed over her sense of options. Painful scenes had occurred in front of her kids, too, who were getting just old enough to grasp their mom's fears.

M. had tried to leave a few times already, but those plans hadn't worked.

Now she was reaching out to us in a last-ditch effort to change her story. It's unforgettable how much gravity that frightened whisper managed to convey.

So, together we hatched a discreet safety plan and executed it like critical clockwork: not just in its timing, but in the number of steps and pieces that had to come together without a flaw.

Soon, with the help of trusted friends who created a diversionary window of time, M. and her kids managed for once to leave the house without their abuser.

They came to a confidential shelter.

* * *

Fast forward half a year. By sheer coincidence, the same advocate who got M.'s first vivid call got a jubilant one.

After numerous scares, hurdles, and legal hoops - and after much housing help, too - M. told us how she had just found a great apartment, one where she and her kids could finally speak in normal voices again. And better yet, one where they could laugh and have fun.

M. almost didn't sound like the same person. And though as advocates we work with crises every day, we really work for inspiring freedom stories like these!

No one works harder than survivors themselves, but we're humbled and honored to be part of their healing journey.

All of our 24-hour services remain intact, and over the past year we answered more than 1,900 hotline calls. We sheltered 125 people during our last fiscal year and provided thousands of hours of individual and group support to 1,163 people of all genders who had been abused.

Like most, we've shifted a good deal of our work online, too: we now have virtual support groups and a live chat on our website, and we still offer community and school workshops and trainings online. Please contact us to learn more. The non-hotline business number is 802-257-7364, and our email is [email protected].

And may we all enjoy a safer and brighter new year!

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