Fortune: Helping Rebuild Lives Affected by Domestic Violence

Monday, November 10, 2014

By Margo Nugent, Social Work Student at Columbia University  and an intern with DRCPP

“I would take my jewelry off each night. The next morning, I could never find it. The jewelry was never where I left it. So I started putting a note under my pillow every night to remind me where I left it. I soon realized that my husband would move it each night. He wanted me to think I was crazy,” recalls Virgina Lasoski-Nepa, who directs the Family Services Program at the Fortune Society. “It’s called gaslighting–when your abuser tries to penetrate you emotionally in your head.”

Domestic violence is characterized as psychological, verbal, physical or sexual harm that is perpetrated by an intimate partner. “Gaslighting” is a tactic abusers often use to manipulate their victims, by creating reactions such as confusion, doubt and insecurity. This form of emotional abuse drives victims to question themselves and their own sanity. “Your feelings then become internalized and it becomes part of you”, Lasoski-Nepa said. According to research studies conducted by Straka and Montminy (2008), psychological abuse carries harmful and serious consequences and is often considered by victims as the most detrimental form of abuse. An abuser attempts to manipulate, criticize and attack the abused self-worth and self-esteem.

As part of their wrap-around services for clients involved with the justice system, the Fortune Society provides support services to those who have experienced domestic violence.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 12 million men and women are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. In addition, domestic abuse occurs in approximately 30 % of LGBT relationships. More than one in four women and around one in seven men have experienced domestic abuse by a partner in their lifetime. Victimization is skewed towards women, and females are considered more vulnerable to the effects of abuse. Ms. Lasoski-Nepa confirms that most clients at Fortune who are affected by domestic violence are women. She notes, however, that men in heterosexual relationships and LBGTQ community members are less likely to report domestic violence due to social stigma.

“Domestic Violence is a very stigmatized term,” laments Jim Hayes, Social Worker with Fortune’s Court-Based Intervention Resource Team (CIRT). Domestic violence crosses socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural barriers and continues to exist as an epidemic nationwide. In addition the stigma of shame and victim blaming has significant societal implications. “ Stigma is the primary reason why, at Fortune, we have changed the name of our support groups from “Domestic Violence” and instead use the term “Relationship Building.” He further notes that abuse has varying effects on an entire family; the dynamics are pervasive and complex, with children being acutely affected by violence in the home.

Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence. According to Ms. Lasoki-Nepa, for every five NYC Administration for Children cases referred to Fortune, at least three are domestic violence related. A wide number of literature indicates that children exposed to domestic violence may experience a wide range of difficulties. “Often times, a child will play at least one role, victim, perpetrator or both”, she said

The trauma of child abuse has many developmental sequela most notably in terms of increased risk of victimization and perpetration of abuse within adult intimate relationships. Social learning theory argues that behaviors are learned by modeling the observed behaviors, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. Julio Vasquez, a Counselor at Fortune’s Family Services Program adds, “A lot of family violence that we see here at Fortune is carried from generation to generation”.

Clearly, domestic violence has become a societal epidemic and the effects are harsh and deep-rooted. Fortune advocates for those who have been impacted by providing housing, counseling services and a host of classes and programs designed to promote healthy family relationships. Further developing its mission on building lives and promoting personal growth. Ms. Lasoki-Nepa, a long-time advocate around domestic violence issues observed that of the mainly female clients that are sent to safe havens, some have achieved success stories and have gained safety, self-sufficiency and self-worth after years of constant abuse. However, there are others that have been so deeply psychologically and emotionally affected by abuse that they return to their abusers. Ms. Lasoki-Nepa, herself a survivor of domestic violence, says, “ Working in domestic violence is not easy, and for me this is bittersweet.”

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