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The Women’s Center was founded in 1979 to help women overcome violence, crisis, and poverty. Photo by ERIN RATIGAN

Turner’s story shows that domestic abuse is not always just physical. There are five officially recognized classifications: emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and financial.

While many couples have financial restrictions for each other –– perhaps through establishing weekly budgets –– it’s when one person is forced to be dependent that this becomes abusive. Financial abuse includes restricting access to bank accounts, demanding receipts, and requiring approval for purchases.

Financial manipulation is a common factor in abusive relationships. A recent Allstate Foundation study found that 98 percent of domestic violence relationships include some form of financial abuse. In those situations, victims face a new problem when attempting to leave their abusers: how to survive.

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“They feel like they’re kind of brand new to the outside world,” said Kathryn Jacob, director and CEO of Safe Haven, a women’s shelter with two Tarrant County locations. “I mean, how do you leave someone when you don’t have any money? It just seems impossible.”

She said domestic abuse victims usually don’t think in the long term, mainly focusing on how to escape.

“Certainly, while a victim is in an abusive relationship they’re not thinking about long-term dreams,” Jacob said. “They’re living in a war zone, so they’re living minute to minute.”

Nationally, she said, it usually takes victims between three and seven attempts to leave their abuser before succeeding. Once that happens, often they turn to shelters for temporary housing.

With that financial insecurity and lack of support, going to college becomes even more challenging. At Safe Haven, Jacob said they often provide financially struggling victims in recovery with short-term housing for up to 12 months and financial assistance through matched savings accounts. The YWCA has a similar matched funding program to help cover down payments on housing, small-business startup costs, and college tuition and related expenses.

There are also several national grants and scholarship opportunities to help survivors cover the cost of continuing their education. Among them is the Live Your Dream Award from Soroptimist, a women’s welfare volunteer group. The international scholarship offers financial assistance to single mothers who have overcome domestic violence, drug abuse, and poverty. There is also the Women’s Independent Scholarship Program, providing funding for women nationwide who were victims of intimate partner violence.

“Maybe they’ve always had the dream of returning to college or finishing college and never got to do it, and I think it’s incredibly empowering for us to say, ‘There’s a way,’ ” Jacob said.

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For Caroline Lewis (not her real name), packing up and leaving was not an option when she was first attacked. She was too young to live on her own. She was still in elementary school.

She said she had to “grow up at a very young age.”

It began in the year 2000. At the age of 8, Lewis was sexually assaulted by her stepfather. These attacks continued until she was 14, when she found out she was pregnant. Her family did not know about the attacks until she was 15 and had already given birth to her son.

The truth finally came out during an intense family argument. The fighting had escalated, and the police were called to intervene. When questioned by an officer, Lewis described what had happened to her and named the father of her son. Her stepfather was then arrested, and trial proceedings began.

After DNA testing confirmed her story, he was given two sentences of 75 years in prison in 2007.

Lewis is now 23. Her son is 9.

After having a son at such a young age, she said she occasionally feels as if her youth was taken from her.

“I sometimes just want to be a child,” she said. “I slack off in my responsibilities because I want to be young, but I have to be responsible, and it is emotionally draining at times.”

She said her experiences have taken a toll not only on her self-confidence but also on her relationships with men.

“I’ve had some friends, and I’ve dated, but they haven’t been the healthiest relationships,” she said.

What she wants is a relationship free of drama.

“I want to be more open and just enjoy the relationships more,” she said, “instead of being so serious all the time.”

Caroline Lewis was studying nursing at TCC’s Northeast campus when she heard about TCC’s Women in New Roles program and wanted to join.

“I just wanted direction and more understanding of myself and whether I was on the right track for my career,” she said.

She was also looking for a support group to help her overcome her childhood trauma. While her time in the program has helped her, Lewis said, she does not feel completely healed yet.

“In some areas, I think I need more support,” she said. “I probably need to be more open.”

Still, she said she is slowly becoming stronger. She said she is learning to understand herself better while gaining a more helpful perspective on life.

Though she does not tell her story to many, Lewis said she hopes those with similar experiences can learn from hers and find comfort in knowing they are not alone.

“Maybe sharing a little bit of my story might help people,” she said. “The advice I would give is to seek help and support and to talk about it.”

So what makes college so appealing to survivors? Deborah Caddy, the Women’s Center’s director of rape crisis and victim services, thinks it is more about the courage of the woman than anything else. While improving their confidence, college becomes more feasible during the healing process, Caddy said.

“I think it’s a point in that recovery where they feel empowered, strong and capable and worthy,” she said.

As survivors regain control of their lives, Caddy said they often open up to new possibilities –– new fields of study, new interests. This comes from a renewed security in their ability to try new things, which she said allows women to “recreate themselves.”

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