Coordinator Heidi Pyron says Family VIolence Program helps victims of domestic violence gain autonomy, safety, longterm independence
It may have been a gunshot or a stabbing or an auto "hit and run" that put "Robert Morgan" in the hospital for a week. But because his former partner and abuser is still at large, his life is in mortal danger and his identity and story of recent domestic abuse must be withheld.
Morgan, though, is able to say that he has found his "lifeline" at Resource Center Dallas, with its Family Violence Program.
Heidi Pyron, FVP coordinator at RCD, reached out and called Morgan after receiving a referral from a concerned friend, who, Morgan said, "knew I was desperate." Pyron, who has a decade of experience working with family violence issues, has been instrumental in helping Morgan get a new lease on life, he said.
Morgan said that the abusive relationship was clouded in confusion. He said he didn’t even realize at first that he was being abused and was even coerced into feeling guilty and that the abuse was his fault.
He said, "Before, I didn’t understand anything at all. Because of the cycle of abuse, you are brainwashed into thinking you are doing something wrong."
Pyron said it is common for the abuser to make the victim feel guilty, shifting the responsibility away from themselves.
"Batterers," she said, "rarely have a sense of accountability."
Morgan, who is grateful for the RCD program, said, "What Heidi helped me with was to understand the cycle and dynamic and to learn it wasn’t my fault."
Morgan, who recently has begun his transition as a female-to-male transgender man, said he was in a "butch-femme lesbian relationship with a very femme girl." Their relationship ended "once and for all" when Morgan was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening wounds.
He had come to realize to abuse was an attempt on his life.
Financial assistance is available to victims of violent crime like Morgan. Through the Crime Victims Compensation Act, passed in 1979, he was able to get 100 percent state support for the $50,000 in hospital bills he incurred.
The program is supported through court costs from convicted offenders. In order to receive the compensation, Morgan said he has had to agree to participate in the legal proceedings against his former partner.
Pyron said it is a common myth that there is little to no domestic violence in relationships with same-sex partners, because the partners are assumed to be "more equal." She said further we tend to assume the butch would be the batterer in an abusive lesbian relationship, but that assumption is unfounded.
"Size and looks mean nothing" Pyron said.
The rate of domestic violence in same-sex relationships is about the same as it is against women in non-LGBT relationships. According to Pyron, about one in four LBGT individuals will be subject to abuse in their lifetimes.
"Martin Silverberg" had night terrors every night, afraid of being choked to death by his ex-partner. Like Morgan, he, too, was led to believe the abuse was always his fault.
He said the abuse started out slowly, building after a couple of years to physical confrontations with shoving, choking and gripping that led to a continuous array of bruises.
"You don’t give up yourself all at once, but pretty soon they have complete control of your life.," Silverberg said.
He said abusers are all the same, wanting power and control, and when a victim tries to get away, the violence gets worse.
"The more I became independent, the more he went crazy," he said.
When Silverberg’s employer noticed the hand-shaped bruising on his arms, it was the first time that his abuse became readily apparent to others. But Silverberg thought he was just clumsy and didn’t at first recognize the bruises were due to the abuse.
Through professional counseling, he was able to finally realize that they were.
"I lived every day thinking I might die," he said, "and I came home one day and realized I had to get away."
Silverberg made his move and said his partner "beat the crap out of me." He was too scared to even file assault charges, even though the unspecified injuries were severe enough to take a month to heal.
Pyron said it is all too common that the abuser becomes the most violent when their partner is about to leave the relationship.
"When one stands up to that power and control, it increases the abuse by the batterer," she said.
Like Morgan, Silverberg said he is grateful to the FVP program at RCD.
"[Pyron] really opened my eyes a lot," he said.
The FVP support group that Silverberg attends has helped him to realize that abusers tend to all follow the same patterns of control and power. He said they are all "Prince Charming" at first, making you feel like they are one in a million.
But they aren’t.
Silverberg is now living on his own and is back working. He plans on going back to school and said he is slowly reclaiming his life and those things his former partner took away from him out of jealousy and the need to control.
Though Silverberg said his ex-partner continues to stalk him from a distance, he is no longer in the grip of daily fear like before.
"I’m tired of running from him, and I know that I am over it," he said, adding that he knew he was empowered when he was able to walk away from his partner saying, "All of your lies are going to catch up to you one day."
While Silverberg feels optimistic for his own future, he thinks it is unlikely that his former partner will be able to change. RCD does not currently have programs to help batterers, but they coordinate with other LGBT-friendly agencies that do. Pyron encourages both batterers and those who have been abused to reach out for help.
With education and awareness programs, domestic violence in general has been steadily decreasing in the United States over the last 25 years. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1993 to 2005, the annual rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women decreased from 9.8 per 1,000 women to 3.6. Correspondingly for non-fatal violence against men, the rate decreased from 1.5 per 1,000 men to 0.9.
The DOJ also reports that of all non-fatal intimate relationship violence against women, 3.1 percent were committed by other women. Correspondingly, 16 percent of intimate relationship violent acts against men were by other men.
Pyron said domestic abuse against transgender individuals seems to be the highest, with about 1 in 2 being abused in their lifetimes, though she said exact numbers are not known.
Pyron also said that there are no shelters available today for transgender men, transgender women or for cisgendered men. She said this is a "huge gap in service" that has yet to be filled.
("Cisgendered" is the term preferred by many to describe those whose gender identity coincides with their societally-recognized gender.)
The FVP program promotes autonomy, safety and longterm independence to primarily LGBT survivors of intimate partner abuse. Their extensive services include crisis counseling, a monthly support group, information and referrals to various agencies such as shelters, assistance with obtaining protective orders, advocacy and educational outreach.
Morgan advises others like him to get help right away. He said, "You need an experienced person to guide you through this process, because it can be so confusing."
"No one deserves to be abused," said Pyron. "We all deserve the healthiest relationships we can have. The FVP program is about saving lives and improving the quality of those lives as well."
The FVP program receives its grant funding through two primary sources, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and The United Way. HHSC requires RCD to raise a matching amount, and it needs community support to reach their financial goals.
For more information about the FVP program or to donate to the program, go online to RCDallas.org. Those in abusive relationships who are looking for help can call the 24-hour hotline at 1-866-620-9650.
Renee Baker is a licensed massage therapist and transgender diversity consultant. She may be reached on her Web site at Renee-Baker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 10, 2009.