[Editor's Note: The following piece contains descriptions of graphic violence.]
The language of leaving an abusive relationship rarely focuses on what women who are being abused need in order to become autonomous. As my nose and face bled from being assaulted by a man I married, a detective said, “You just want him to change.”
I told her I didn’t care whether this man changed. I just wanted him out of my life.
This was the wrong conversation. I needed people to ask me what my plan was, and I needed resources to make it happen. My only option was to go to a shelter, and my experience with shelters was hardly positive. I didn’t feel like I’d be safe there. I didn’t have many options.
The last fight I had with the man I’m now trying to divorce started over money. I struggled for months to use my limited funds from two part-time jobs to pay bills and feed my children and myself, and I had finally had enough. With $60 to my name, I asked him for money for food. He said no. I told him I was moving and started packing things up, and in response he slammed me onto the floor, bloodying my nose and cutting my face and lip. I called the police, and while it was not the first time the police had come to our home for domestic violence, it was the first time he was arrested.
But it didn’t get much easier once he was arrested and out of the house. I needed help, but when I asked, people told me to get a job or spoke to me as if I were an idiot. (I have two jobs and care for my children, which in and of itself is a full-time job.) When I became indignant at being treated so poorly when I asked for help, some people said that my anger was the reason I had been abused in the first place.
Even without help, I knew that my next step had to be a divorce.
Getting divorced is difficult for anyone, but it’s extremely hard for women who are physically, psychologically, and financially abused. And while there are options for women who are impoverished to apply for divorce, none are without sacrifices that some of us can’t afford.
Where I live, in Philadelphia, a person who cannot afford to pay for a divorce — which costs a few hundred dollars without a lawyer — can apply to have the fee waived. The process involves filing a form and waiting for a judge to decide if you’re impoverished enough to merit a waiver. This alone can take two months. Once you get that waiver from a judge, you can begin applying for divorce yourself, which involves filling an abundance of paperwork, with no one to assist you. That can mean missing days of work to handle the process, spending nights completing paperwork that’s difficult to understand, and moving the documents back and forth between yourself and the very person you’re trying to escape.
I had been trying to divorce my abuser for four years. I filed two different times, but he was able to stop the process each time. All he needed to do was consult a lawyer, who filed affidavits saying I didn’t have grounds for divorce. It cost him a few hundred dollars — money I did not have. In my previous attempts to move out and at least separate, he would come to my new home, follow me, or steal my car. I couldn’t get away from him.
But a few days after my last assault, I knew something had to change. Having exhausted all my options, I started to crowdfund my divorce. I made a GoFundMe page with a goal of $5,000, to pay a lawyer and get on my feet.
It was frightening to go public, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. I received donations from people who understood situations like mine, who were used to seeing women blamed for being abused and tired of hearing people talk as if leaving an abusive relationship was a matter of simply walking away. Moreover, they understood that financial freedom leads to personal freedom. In just four days of fundraising, I’ve nearly reached my goal.
This money will help me finally be free of the abusive relationship and keep myself and my children safe. We sleep better at night knowing we will not have to leave our home immediately because I can’t pay the bills. It relieves me from the possibility of being separated temporarily from my children to arrange my financial situation.
Before the fundraiser, my son was not met with compassion at school when he’d mentioned our situation to his classmates, and he was devastated. When I explained the fundraiser to him, he began to see that there are kind, giving, and compassionate people in the world who do not fault us for our situation and see us without judgment or pity — people who are willing to help us focus on living a better life, people we can turn to, laugh with, who know that we’re not broken. This is about so much more than money; it’s about people hearing us and truly listening.
Whether or not my abuser agrees to divorce this time around, I now have recourse to respond to his legal moves. I can also relocate my family some place safer and farther away from him. Once legally divorced, I won’t be linked to this man any longer. We’ll finally have a way out of something terrible and a way into a life we’ve always imagined for ourselves.