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'The Experience Was Like a Horror Movie'

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“In group, it’s good to talk about feelings. I felt so bad and didn’t want to talk to anybody. But when I heard other stories, I realized I wasn’t the only one to suffer abuse and felt more comfortable sharing.”

As she made her way to Norwalk from her native country in South America, Nola* was excited about rejoining her boyfriend and certain she was starting the life of her dreams. Instead she was plunged into a nightmare. From the moment she arrived, her boyfriend brutally beat, sexually assaulted and virtually imprisoned Nola for over a year before she finally found the opportunity and the courage to go to the police. They took her to the hospital and referred her to the DVCC office in Norwalk, where she has received assistance from legal and counseling staff since January. Nola said she feared not only for her life, but also for the safety of her family in South America, whom her abuser had continually threatened to harm.

“The experience was like a horror movie,” she wrote in a letter describing her ordeal to the judge presiding over her boyfriend’s court case. “He should never be free. What he did to me, he could do to someone else.”

Despite her fear and the brutal treatment she received, the diminutive 25-year-old displays a resilience and quiet determination that has allowed her to move on and embrace her life even though it is a far cry from the one she anticipated. She attends weekly group counseling at DVCC, has found a place to live, works full time at a variety of jobs and is applying for a U-visa, which gives legal immigration status to immigrant victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and other criminal activity. And thanks to the persistent advocacy by Katie Pawlik, DVCC’s  Director of Court and Legal Services for Norwalk, and Jennifer Cerezo, DVCC Victim Advocate, her abuser faces a prison sentence for sexual assault rather than the lesser charges associated with domestic violence that are usually dismissed if the offender attends a Family Violence Education program.

Despite Nola’s initial reluctance to talk about her abuse in a support group setting – she came to the first one with her head and most of her face covered by a scarf – she has since come out of her shell.

“In group, it’s good to talk about feelings,” she said. “I felt so bad and didn’t want to talk to anybody. But when I heard other stories, I realized I wasn’t the only one to suffer abuse and felt more comfortable sharing.”

Nola added that she is grateful to the police for introducing her to the DVCC and for the ongoing support she has received.

“It’s a good thing this organization provides support to women even though they are immigrants and undocumented,” she said.  “I want to thank DVCC on behalf of all women in similar situations.”

*Names have been changed for safety.