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Shelter helps abuse victims break free

Chicago Tribune/MCT--If domestic violence victims are lucky, they reach a breaking point before the damage is irreparable.

This is what happened to Elise about six years ago when she and her boyfriend took their toddler son to his pediatrician's office. The boyfriend started screaming at her in the elevator and punched her on the arm.

Elise, who asked that her last name not be used, said that when the elevator door opened onto the crowded waiting room, she could tell everyone had been listening.

“He had been abusing me at home, but that he did it in public woke me up,” Elise said. “I could see the look on the people's faces, and suddenly I had enough.”

Elise sought help from South Suburban Family Shelter, which she said saved her life by not only assisting her in filing an order of protection against her boyfriend but also providing counseling services for herself and her son — who had begun to handle confrontations with her by lashing out, like his father.

The children's counseling program, which provides weekly therapy sessions to child victims of domestic violence, receives financial support from Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation fund.

Vicki Meilach, community outreach coordinator for the shelter, said this is the time of year when women (and sometimes men) decide they're not going to take it anymore.

Although the organization is based in the south suburbs, people go there from around the Chicago area and northwest Indiana.

“Often they just don't want their abuser to know that they're seeking help,” Meilach said. “Or they're ashamed their neighbors or friends might find out they're being abused.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Meilach said no community is immune. The shelter's clients come from affluent communities as well as poorer ones. Some of the women have college degrees, and others haven't finished high school.

Meilach said the shelter also is working with more victims who are younger.

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A woman with her upper body painted poses as she takes part in a protest against violence against women in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during the celebration of International Women's Day on March 8.


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