According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence. To better comprehend this statistic and undiscriminating problem, and to learn how to help prevent it, we sat down with Debra Nixon-Bowles, founder and president of Women Called Moses. When first setting eyes on Nixon-Bowles, it is evident that she does more than just sit at a desk and go to luncheons to raise awareness. This presence to be reckoned with is on the frontlines, trying to single-handedly put an end to this rising epidemic, one woman at a time.
At times emotional, Nixon-Bowles elaborates on her own experiences as a survivor of domestic violence, while giving a voice to these battered women. From her first-hand accounts, the complexity of this issue begins to unravel, it is a problem that festers over time and eventually, involves everyone who comes in contact with it. Often compared to her hero Harriet Tubman, Nixon-Bowles found a way to create her own rescue network, bringing women from imprisonment to a position of hope. But, we learned that leaving the situation is the hardest thing for a victim to do and only the first step in breaking the emotional and physical restraints established by their abusers. On average, it takes about one year for these victims to reach a place of stability, and there is plenty more involved with moving forward.
And if anyone knows this, it’s Nixon-Bowles. After freeing herself, she vowed never to allow another woman to go through what she did, and that meant tackling this problem from every possible angle. In 2004, Women Called Moses was born and her life’s mission would finally come to fruition. Over its nine years in existence, Women Called Moses has helped bring more than 1,100 women to freedom. The mission is to help women of all races and social and economic backgrounds in the Dallas area, to leave their abusive circumstances and get to a safe place where they can start to rebuild their lives, through continued support and counseling. But, this is just one layer to peel back over the many years of abuse. Nixon-Bowles realized that targeting the abuser was just as crucial as helping the victim recover.
Check out the rest MB’s interview with Debra Nixon-Bowles.
MB. What are some of the misconceptions about domestic violence?
DNB. The first misconception is that women go back because they want to, but they go back due to a lack of resources. And another misconception is that there isn’t as much domestic abuse as reported, but in fact there’s more. Many instances are left unreported and you only hear about the high profile cases. Domestic violence happens everywhere everyday.
MB. How can we bring awareness and help stop the cycle of abuse?
DNB. We need to work together to address the needs of these victims, and this means building more shelters. Also, we need more people in powerful positions to take a stand against domestic violence. There needs to be a movement.
MB. What can women do to protect themselves from potentially abusive partners? Are there early warnings signs that they can watch out for?
DNB. Abuse isn’t just physical. It can be financial and emotional as well. Be leery of someone who wants to control you by taking over your finances, alienating you from your friends and family, and demeans you by calling you names. Really pay attention to that, because mental abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse. And most importantly, if you grew up in an abusive household then you may be at risk to suffer abuse as an adult.
MB. Once a woman finds herself in an abusive relationship, what are some of the biggest challenges she’ll encounter when trying to leave?
DNB. There aren’t enough resources out there and not enough safe places to stay. A lot of shelters are at capacity. At this point in the situation, the woman is broken emotionally and physically and needs time to get back on her feet. We need more money to build more shelters, in order to give her that time. But it is hard to get funding because people neither want to hear nor talk about domestic violence. It’s swept under the rug. It’s important that we give these women a voice.
MB. Is the most volatile time when a woman is ready to leave?
DNB. Yes, and she’s at the highest risk of getting murdered and becoming another statistic, especially, if she files for a restraining order. And their biggest fear is that no one can protect them. They’re fearful either way, whether they stay or they go. They often say, “I can’t leave him, because he’ll kill me.” But, if she stays, he’ll more than likely kill her anyway.
MB. Once she leaves, what happens next?
DNB. After she leaves, the police are called and the abuser is arrested. She will then file a restraining order and be placed in a safe house, where we will check in regularly to ensure that he doesn’t contact her. Distance is very important. And the next step is what I call detox. In my experience, it takes a woman about one year to get back on track, and she can begin feeling better about herself and possibly get a job. But it’s still difficult, because it’s hard to find a job when you’re always looking over your shoulder.
MB. How often are restraining orders unsuccessful?
DNB. Sadly, it happens all the time. Just this past month, four women were killed in Desoto. The abuser performed with the Dallas Mavericks Maniaacs (the all-male dance team). He killed his ex-girlfriend and her daughter and then, drove to his estranged wife’s house and killed her and her daughter with a grenade. In 2011, she left him and filed for a restraining order, but the system still failed her.
MB. Have you ever feared for your life doing this work?
DNB. Twice. Once, I picked up a victim and the abuser was in the house with a weapon. Luckily, the police arrived at the same time. Another time, I picked up a woman and the abuser had poured boiling water on her little boy and had broken his legs. The abuser was still in the house and before we made a run for it, we said a little prayer. The little boy pointed and said, “Look, the angels are watching us.” Then, we grabbed him and ran. I told the victim to run and not look back. When we all got inside of my car, the abuser called the victim and said, “I see you guys.” There’s nothing worse than seeing children involved in the abuse and their fear. It just breaks your heart.
MB. Take us through the steps once these women are put in a safe house.
DNB. When a woman comes to Women Called Moses for help, we take her to a hotel for seven days to get her to a safe place to regroup. We partner with licensed counselors who give on-site treatment. On the eighth day of their stay, we have a conversation about the next steps. Depending on the circumstances, we either set her up in a safe house, apartment, or an extended stay hotel for thirty days. She could stay in a safe house anywhere from one month to a year.
MB. We know that funds are needed to keep these women from going back, but what exactly are they used for and how much does it cost per day to keep these women safe?
DNB. The funds are used to keep them in these safe houses, while we figure out their next steps. We have partnerships with some extended stay hotels, and for $300 per week we can place one victim and two children in a room. Other than the room, we need to supply them with food and transportation.
MB. What are some ways that men prone to violence can help stop the cycle of abuse?
DNB. Abuse is a learned behavior. Men can help stop the cycle of abuse by going to counseling to deal with their anger. But, the problem is that men don’t like to talk and they don’t like talking to counselors. They don’t trust them and they see talking to someone as being weak and losing control. That’s why we encourage churches and companies to talk about domestic violence. It has been noted that men respond better to their bosses and pastors. We all need to work together to get to the root of this problem.
MB. October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, how can people help you and the cause?
DNB. Give these women a voice. Be a part of the movement to stop domestic violence. And please donate money to more shelters. If they have a safe place to go, they have a chance. My goal is to open a temporary safe house, so that when the shelters are at capacity, these women aren’t turned away and forced to go back to their abusers.
In support of October being Domestic Violence Awareness month, Model Behaviors has chosen Women Called Moses to be the recipient of 40 percent of the proceeds earned from our Commerce & Kindness consignment store for the next six months. It is our sincere hope to help shed a light on this problem and give a helping hand to an extraordinary woman driven by this extraordinary cause.
If you need immediate help, call:
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
National Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474
Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-4673