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El Refugio celebrates 25 years of helping domestic-violence victims

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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008

El Refugio

Page: 2

Down another hall, Sierra demonstrates the secure door through which victims of domestic violence enter the shelter. Women can walk in or call, she says. "When we do a phone intake, we also try to meet them," she says. In urgent situations, El Refugio will assist in getting a restraining order issued to protect a woman escaping from an abusive home situation.

El Refugio has group living rooms, too, with comfortable couches, a television and bookshelves. The walls are hung with art and the rooms are inviting.

"All of this, even much of the art on the walls, has been donated by Manzanita Ridge," Sierra says of the Silver City furniture and decor store. "They even came and did all the installation for us. They are our angels!" she says of the company's proprietors.

Further on there is a family room where the adults can relax and their children can play. Murals add an upbeat atmosphere.

El Refugio can house up to 32 people, including children, in its eight residential rooms. Sierra points out a somewhat utilitarian hallway, small lights illuminating each doorway. She says the rooms are warmly decorated and homey, however, thanks to donated efforts of groups like Women on a Mission of the Glad Tidings Church.

"I wish I could take you inside. The rooms are as nice as rooms in some fine hotels," Sierra says. "Sometimes it is the nicest place these women have ever been in."

Doubling back to go out a side door, Sierra shows El Refugio's well-equipped play yard for entertaining children who are brought to the shelter. Benches on a porch allow women residents to relax while keeping an eye on their children at play. There are chunky slides and climbing gyms in primary colors. Sierra says a big purple dinosaur on a spring is a favorite riding toy with the children.

Reflecting on the number of children who have passed through El Refugio, Sierra says, "They must learn that love is not supposed to hurt. It's so sad that some women never break the cycle. Their children learn that violence is a part of life, and they accept that kind of thinking. Some clients I've seen in the past and we tried to help them free themselves from DV but they never could. Sadly, now I am seeing their children who are grown and are in relationships in which they are suffering abuse."

She pauses, then adds, "Maybe we will be able to get through to them and they can learn a healthier way to live."

Reflecting on "success stories" that have come out of her work with victims of domestic violence, Sierra says, "Any woman, any person, who has been able to recognize the domestic violence in his or her life and to make some change, is a success story."

After another pause, she admits that there is one story that stands out in her long career.

"There is one woman I'm thinking of, and she's someone who I would say beat all the odds. She was raped and she was beaten (by her partner). She also had some mental illness to deal with," Sierra recounts. "Frankly, with all that against her, I didn't think she'd make it. I didn't think she'd survive."

Being careful to maintain stringent confidentiality, Sierra describes the woman's process without giving revealing any identifying details: How the client went through the steps of education, eventually moving away from her abuser.

"She went to work. She got a job and began establishing her independence," Sierra says with obvious pride. "She has made it! She has broken free from domestic violence. She has a new life, and she sets the terms for that life. How I wish that absolutely every woman affected by DV could have that kind of success.

"Awareness is our greatest tool, for a woman to realize that the way she's being treated is not right, it's not love. You don't have to hurt to earn love. Domestic violence is a crime — it's that simple."

El Refugio, 800 S. Robert St., Silver City. 538-2125, toll-free (888) 538-2125. Lordsburg, 529 DeMoss St., 542-8398.


For help in Las Cruces, contact La Casa, 526-2819, toll-free hotline (800) 376-2272, PO Box 2463, Las Cruces, NM 88004, www.lacasainc.org


Donna Clayton Lawder is senior editor of Desert Exposure.

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