October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the prevention of domestic violence through counseling and educating victims is one of our major program areas. In the United States, one in three women and one in four men have experienced physical abuse by an intimate partner. In a single day in California, shelters service over 5800 women and children victims.

We recently were asked by a local shelter to provide counseling services for a young woman in her early 20’s with two small children who had multiple issues in her life, resulting in homelessness and an addiction problem. She had been physically and sexually abused as a young child in her home. After leaving home, she got into an adult relationship where the abuse continued, and her addiction drove her and her small children to a life on the street. The shelter was able to provide her and her children a place to live while getting her into an addiction treatment program and her kids into school and a day care program.

JFCS counselors worked with her to understand the history of abuse in her family that went back for generations. They taught her parenting skills while counseling her and her children separately, as well as the whole family as a group, to be able to teach them new ways to communicate in a healthy fashion and to help them to deal with the traumas of life. Once this client realized that she didn’t want her children to experience what she had endured, she had the motivation she needed to start to work on all of these issues. The counselors at JFCS gave her a safe space to be able to vent and share her anger, shame and guilt in a way where she was never judged for her actions.

As her kids were going to school, so was she. Within a year she was able to get a full-time job and move out of the shelter into an apartment. When she started her work with JFCS, she felt that relationships only brought pain, but she learned how to set boundaries and ask for what she needed. From here, she was able to re-connect with her parents and start to build a healthy relationship with them. She also started a new healthy adult relationship that was a source of love and positive support.

Thanks in large part to generous donors and grants from two foundations, JFCS provides a 14-week court-approved program, “Healthy Relationships, Healthy Kids”, free of charge for women who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, we partner with A Window Between Worlds to provide “Healing Through Art,” a monthly therapeutic art circle for female victims of trauma, ages 15 and up. Eva Kuncewicki, our Manager of Community Based Services here at JFCS, leads both of these programs and is our in-house expert on domestic violence.

Many of our counseling clients are also victims of abusive relationships. Abuse can take several different forms, including physical harm. Verbal abuse can eventually cause its vulnerable victim to believe the accusatory and demeaning comments of the abuser, and to question his or her self-worth. Emotional abusers will prey on the weaknesses of their victims, hoping to exert power and control within the relationship. Financial abuse is another way that one partner may try to control the behavior of the other partner. By withholding monies needed to provide basic needs for the household or family, the abuser’s actions impact the entire dynamic of the relationship and all members of the family.

Domestic violence and abuse are difficult to ponder and beyond difficult to endure. Once the victim has found the courage to take the first step, it is possible—although not easy—for him or her to learn about the cycle of domestic violence, recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship, and make choices to protect themselves and their children. JFCS is here to help all along the way, providing counseling, programs, and support services to people like the client in our story.