By Anthony Schick, Contributing writer
Maria spent one week in Portland with her abuser. Her husband, who had controlled her psychologically, financially and physically for the past four years tricked her into leaving their California home together. He told her he had friends in Portland. He didn’t. He told her he wanted to leave problems behind and start a new life together. Then he struck her and their daughter within days of arriving. Then he was gone, back to California, and she didn’t follow. Maria found herself alone and abused with two children in a foreign city.
“He brought me here by deceiving me,” Maria said through a translator. She wished not to reveal her full identity for personal safety. “He had another woman in California. His ‘idea’ was for him to end the other relationship and move to Portland. But the way I understand it, he got rid of us so he could start a life with the other woman.”
Eight years later, Maria recalled that through support groups at El Programa Hispano and Human Solutions, she realized how far back the abuse went. First came the verbal abuse, usually after he drank and used drugs – crystal meth on at least one occasion. Then came the blows. Through those support groups, Maria also noticed similarities to her childhood and the real reason she wanted her abuser out of her life.
As a child, both Maria’s parents physically abused her. She was also sexually abused. She witnessed her father holding a knife over her mother (an incident all survived thanks to her uncle’s intervention). And Maria’s father, like her husband years later, withheld money from his family to fund an alcohol addiction and an extramarital affair.
“I didn’t want my children to have the life I had,” she said.
So Maria began a new life in Northeast Portland with her two children, where they shared a house with another family, and the three slept in the corner of a living room. Welfare helped them scrape by until she found a job that allowed them to find a new, safer home.
Maria accessed permanent shelter and services soon after leaving her abuser; many don’t. Despite a declining number in Portland’s reported domestic violence incidents in the past three years, shelters are becoming more crowded. Access to shelter and other resources remains most difficult in East Portland, which is at once the location of 40 percent of all domestic violence incidents, the city’s most populous precinct and the Police Bureau’s family services division. Continue reading