Counseling for domestic violence available at Hill Country Community Needs Council
The statistics are not flattering: In 2016, Texas had 146 women who were killed by intimate partners. Though Gillespie had no domestic violence murders, in 2017 counselors at one local organization helped 69 women and children who were victims of domestic violence.
The Hill Country Community Needs Council hopes locals will know there is a place to go for those who have experienced abuse at the hands of a loved one. The Standard-Radio Post recently sat down with staff to help raise awareness during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Counselor Rhonda Gross said much of the time financial realities prevent women from leaving abusive situations.
“Sometimes, the women, when they leave, the financial realities hit them. And they go back because there is this hopelessness in going forward,” Gross said. “That’s another way they are controlled.”
Some women have thought about leaving but they find themselves with children, no financial cushion and little possibility of being able to support themselves.
“And where does a woman go with no job history — say she hasn’t been allowed to work — and little education?” Heifner said. “If he’s succeeded in alienating the family, they can sometimes be hesitant to help. They might say, ‘Well, you chose him over us.’ But usually families are willing to help if she’s willing to break the connection completely.”
The national average is a woman will leave her abusive spouse seven times before it is a permanent situation. “They might just leave and go to Mom’s for the weekend, or a women’s shelter before they are persuaded to return,” Heifner said.
“Sometimes they’ve burned their bridges because they’ve left and come back repeatedly, especially if he causes problems and causes disturbances where the police have to get involved,” Gross said. “
Heifner said help is always there.
“I’m really glad the Needs Council provides this service,” she said. “Maybe they came to us and decided to go back to the abuser. We want women to know our door will always be open to them.”
“We know it takes a long time,” Gross said. “It really is her choice and there are going to be consequences — the emotional, social, economic. And the children want to see their dad. And the court system can take a long time.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, children and pets can be used to prevent the woman from leaving.
“Although the control is generally financial, in one case, the father was very manipulative and he would call the younger child and say, ‘Tell Mommy to let me come back’ and ‘I love you all so much.’ That particular woman endured over 15 years of abuse, which eventually caused permanent physical damage. And who knows the emotional damage to those children?”
Other times, an abuser may threaten to kill family pets or even livestock. A few area shelters will take in animals for that reason.
“The men will use anything they can to threaten and prevent the spouse from leaving,” Heifner said. “Especially when the children are connected with the pet and they know the animal is going to die if they leave. It adds complications to it.”
And some women end up waiting out of pride or they want to take responsibility of the abuse for themselves.
Substance abuse, Heifner said, often carries over into domestic violence cases.
Sadly, it is a learned trait. When young men are abused, they often become abusers themselves. Counseling is available in those instances as well to help break the cycle.
“What’s sad is to see the second and third generation repeat this,” Gross said. “If we can intervene early and try to disrupt this cycle, we’re going to prepare them to be much more productive and healthy.”
Heifner said sometimes the children shoulder the blame themselves by rationalizing, ‘If I hadn’t had left a mess on the floor, then Dad wouldn’t be upset and have to hurt Mom.”
Fredericksburg’s image as a tourist mecca, as well as being a rural community, can often affect how women know where to go for help. But no matter where the abuse occurs, the women share a feeling — shame.
“It’s a secret,” Heifner said. “The women who are abused are very ashamed — in their choice of a mate, that they stay in and hide, especially women in a professional position. It can happen at all economic levels.”
“They’re made to feel it’s their fault,” said Denise Rizzo, director of donor and community relations. “They think, ‘Well, I deserved it and if I wasn’t so stupid or careless’ or ‘if I would have just kept my mouth shut.’”
One recent case found the abused spouse rationalizing that “It’s only when he drinks.” But after more time, counselors found she was terrified of her spouse and he had always controlled the household with his temper.
“Oftentimes, the victims look back to red flags from when they were dating, and they didn’t pick up on jealousy or constant texting — ‘Where are you going? Where have you been?’ — it is a pervasive possessiveness,” Heifner said.
Gross said initially it can even be flattering.
“Sometimes women can be flattered because the men were in hot pursuit,” she said. “But then, they start to eliminate friends and family from their circle, and suffer social isolation.”
Depending on evidence, the courts can be helpful. “In a case with little evidence, it comes down to he said, she said,” said Heifner. “We encourage them to document and get neighbors and friends to collect evidence.”
Heifner said a large part of the counseling is trying to get women to find themselves again.
“Their self-esteem and sense of value has been so beaten down,” she said. “Sometimes it can take a year or two.”
The women can be the breadwinners. Sometimes the woman is paying for a car for her abuser and feels stuck with that liability, Gross said.
“Once they make the choice to leave, the strength and their resolve is admirable,” Gross said.
“And it often comes down to wanting to make a better life for their kids,” Heifner said. “One woman’s daughter point blank asked her mother, ‘So are you going to teach my little sister to let a man beat her like you taught me?’ Sometimes it takes that bluntness to make it click.”
HCCNC also refers people to the national hotline 1-800-799 SAFE (7233).
Though much work has yet to be done, the community is working on the seeds to build its own refuge for people suffering abuse, dubbed “The Grace Center.” This would provide a space for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Its board of directors, of which Gross is a member, is applying for its nonprofit status.
“I’ve been at the Needs Council almost 10 years and at least every other month someone comes in and asks why isn’t there a shelter in Fredericksburg and what they can do to help start one,” Heifner said. “We look forward to a partnership with the Grace Center. It will definitely be a good resource.
“We want these women to know there is hope,” Heifner added. “And we are committed to walk alongside them on their journey toward healing.”
Help is here
As domestic violence and sexual abuse knows no class, HCCNC has no income restrictions for its assistance and counseling.
“The main thing for women to know is that they can trust us and we promise confidentiality,” Heifner said.
Hill Country Community Needs Council
1904 N. Llano (PO Box 73) Fredericksburg, Texas 78624
The needs council is not need-based.
HCCNC Board of Directors
Mark Peterson, president
Andy Bray, vice president
Jade Browning, treasurer
Becky Walch, secretary
Bea Aldrich, Rev. Bur Dobbins, Carla Herbig, Julianne Hohn, Laurie Jenschke and Elizabeth Rodriguez.