This article is part of a series of stories from women who’ve escaped domestic violence at Springs Rescue Mission. While handled gently, the content is heavier than many of our previous blogs and may not be suitable for all readers.
Roughly half of the women in homeless shelters are there because they’re fleeing domestic violence (source: DoSomething.org). In fact, more than 90% of homeless women are victims of physical or sexual abuse (source: BreaktheSilenceDV.org). These strong women have often exhausted every alternative to sleeping on the streets, such as staying with friends or family or sleeping in cars, before going to a shelter. Some even stay with past abusers. This makes a bad situation worse, and sometimes even tragic.
This month, Springs Rescue Mission and Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence are working together to share powerful stories of healing and restoration for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Stories like Maria’s, who can finally say, “I will never be a victim of abuse again.”
Maria’s journey to Colorado Springs—and a new-found strength and determination—has been a long and painful one. Growing up in a small town near San Antonio, Texas, Maria’s introduction to sexual abuse began at age 11.
After being raped by a classmate, her stepfather began to molest her regularly. “At that age,” she says, “I didn’t even know what sex was. I didn’t know what a period was. I didn’t know anything.” But she did understand the deep pain and humiliation of her experience. “I never told anyone. I was living a terrified life that I thought I’d never come through.”
Maria’s attempt to escape this situation was to marry at age 14. But her husband, 33 at the time, continued the abuse, even hitting her in the head with a hammer at one point. When she was several months into her first pregnancy, her husband, in one of his daily rages, kicked her down the stairs of their apartment.
The injuries to the baby—a little boy—were fatal. Maria recalls through her tears, “We couldn’t even afford a casket for him, so we buried him wrapped in a white sheet.”
But even after that unspeakable trauma, Maria stayed with her abuser. “What other choice did I have? I couldn’t go back to my mother and stepfather’s house because it would have been even worse.”
Within the following six years, Maria had five more children, all boys. And it wasn’t until her husband died of cancer, after 11 years of a violent marriage, that she finally felt free to leave the home with her children, the youngest only 2 years old.
After that, Maria fell into a life of heavy drinking. “I just didn’t care anymore.” When a man she met at the neighborhood bar convinced her to move with him to another town, she found herself, along with her children, “living in a dirt house in a cave, and eating out of trash cans.”
Continually devoted to her children, Maria knew that for their sake, she had no choice but to move back to her hometown. “No matter what I did in life, no matter what situation I was in, my kids always came first, and I protected them the best way I could.”
Things then began to look up for Maria. She found a place to live, and her children were all doing well in school. She even met another man who, unlike the men in her past, was truly caring and kind. “I cannot say anything bad about him. He was an angel!”
Maria moved in with Guillermo and soon afterward, found a job. “I liked going to work so I could get more things for my kids. I enjoyed it,” she says. Things were going well until Maria learned some devastating news: Guillermo, who was much older than she, had had an affair with her mother years before.
The revelation of that terrible secret was the last straw—Maria had finally had enough. She loaded one of Guillermo’s rifles and stuck it in her mouth. “I was about to pull the trigger,” she says. “But Guillermo and the kids ran in and stopped me.”
Over the 10 years that Maria and Guillermo were together, her four older sons graduated from high school, one as valedictorian and one as salutatorian, and went their own way. Then tragically, Guillermo died suddenly, and his family took the house and all the property away from Maria. “And there I go,” she says. “I’m on the streets again.”
After that, Maria spent time living with one or another of her sons in Texas until this past July, when once again, she decided she had had enough. “I wanted to prove that I didn’t need them anymore. I was determined to learn to live by myself with what I have and stop depending on them for a roof over my head.
“So I came to Colorado,” she says. “I just got up and left. I didn’t even know where I was going. I just got a bus ticket and left.”
After spending her first night in the Springs on the street, Maria accepted a ride from a kind lady to Springs Rescue Mission. “I can tell you, I have never, ever in my entire life been in a shelter,” she says. But with the caring support of the Mission staff, Maria has found the courage to say, “I will never be a victim of abuse again.”
During the month she has spent at the Mission, she says she has finally been able to, “take a deep breath, take it day by day, and start asking for help.” She has also made close friends at the shelter and joined a supportive local church.
Maria definitely doesn’t see the shelter as a long-term solution and is already making plans for an independent life. “I’m doing fine right now,” she says. “My life has been a pretty incredible journey, and I would say to someone else like me, if I can do it, anyone can!”