The questions and exchange of ideas between the four women flowed steadily. One smiled and nodded knowingly, another gently offered a piece of advice. They could have been part of a sewing group or book club, except that the conversation focused solely on how each was coping with an abusive partner and with the life-altering fallout from living with and then leaving that partner.
Once a week the women come together in the DVCC Stamford office with Counselor Advocate Karen Ifert to talk and support one another. The group varies in size depending on the week and each woman’s schedule. Even though it was the week before Christmas and no shows were not a surprise, the women who managed to get there clearly appreciated the experience. There was full consensus that the support group, maybe more than anything else, helps to dispel the isolation that so often is a part of being a victim of intimate partner violence.
“It’s comfortable to be with other women who have similar situations and it’s comforting to know I am not alone,” said Naomi*, a young woman who had left her abusive husband and who later described problems she had had retrieving her belongings from their shared home. Another group member advised her to ask the police for a liaison who would work with her and accompany her to the home to collect her things.
Although the women differed in background and ranged in age from their mid-twenties to early sixties, and the advice flowed more from older to younger than vice versa, there was an easy rapport and trust between the members.
Marcia*, who has been slowly recovering from her husband’s horrific physical and emotional abuse and has filed for divorce and custody of their child, vented that afternoon about her recent court experience, describing it as “brutal”.
“There is nothing that prepares you for actually being there, facing your abuser and being challenged by the opposing side,” she said. “My lawyers have been great in preparing me, but it’s not the same when you are there. There should be a court support group where women who have been through this also counsel you about what to expect.”
The conversation focused momentarily on ways in which victims of domestic abuse are often re-victimized by a court system that can be very cut and dried and impersonal, then moved on to other matters.
DVCC counselors offer approximately 15 support groups at any given time, both within the agency and in partnership venues. Besides the group in the Stamford office, Ifert leads groups at each of the DVCC SafeHouses, at St. Luke’s Lifeworks’ Families in Recovery Program, at a shelter for homeless women, at a half way house for women, and she recently started a group for Haitian women. Other counselors offer a self-esteem workshop in English and several support groups for Spanish speaking clients. In conjunction with one of the Spanish groups, DVCC offers weekly classes in ESL and in basic computer training.
Counselors always see DVCC clients individually before suggesting they join a group. Some join readily and others never join at all, Ifert said, although she thinks it is ultimately very beneficial to have peer support. Members of her group that day readily agreed.
“I love one-on-one,” Naomi said. “I love Karen very much. But I also love group. We help each other by talking about our experiences and about ways to help.”
“These are people who care about you, even though it’s not their job to do that,” added Sandra*, another member of the group. “I used to think groups weren’t as helpful as individual counseling, but I don’t feel that way now.”
*Names have been changed for privacy