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What It Takes DC Blog #8: Fear, Depression and Anxiety

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Note: This is the 8th post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: #WhatItTakesDC. 

This is a guest blog from the DASH Community Housing Advocate

The biggest barrier to safety for survivors of domestic violence is access to safe housing. We hear this again and again from the survivors who come to the Housing Resource Center looking for help. They want to leave but they don’t have the financial resources to live on their own and can’t get into a local shelter. But safe housing is not the only barrier.  For some survivors the biggest challenge to finding safety isn’t tangible; it’s fear, depression, low self-worth and anxiety.

At DASH we do everything in our power to provide access to safe housing so our clients can escape abuse and move forward with their lives. We don’t require proof of abuse or residency. We work with clients who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse and we welcome survivors regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. We strive to meet survivors where they are when they need us.

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Sometimes, as hard as we try, as many resources as we offer, it still isn’t enough though. The reality is that finding safe, affordable housing in the District of Columbia is a long, difficult process that can take months of planning and waiting. Finding housing is already an exhausting process – but it’s especially difficult for survivors who often fear for their lives and have been hugely impacted by trauma. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to call us every week and just as much courage to discuss their lives with total strangers at our Housing Resource Clinic. There are clients that contact us frequently over a period of months all the while living with abusive circumstances.  Although these tasks may seem small they require levels of emotional energy that survivors must muster up from somewhere in an effort to stay consistent.

One woman who came to see me at Wednesday clinic was dressed from head to toe in black. She whispered so softly that I could barely hear her. She was in constant fear of her abuser, that he would find out she was leaving or where she was. She felt so threatened that she refused to have a phone as she believed he would use it to track her location. “I’m afraid to leave and I’m afraid to stay,” I remember her saying as we discussed her options. This was a survivor who was financially stable, but she was so beaten down both emotionally and physically that it had taken her years to reach out for help.

Most of the clients I meet with are either dealing with feelings of depression or anxiety due to their abusive relationships. Emotional trauma can manifest physically through lack of sleep or oversleeping, not eating or over eating, self-harm behaviors like substance use, digestive problems, headaches, weaken immune systems and poor emotion regulation like bursts of anger or sadness. They are often either debilitated and void of motivation and energy, or they can’t focus and seem riled up and angry.

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One man had an emotionally abusive girlfriend. She constantly berated him telling him he was worthless and would never amount to anything. His self-esteem got so low that he could barely get off the couch. He started to believe that he needed her, that he was nothing without her. He subsequently stopped taking care of himself. It took a lot of energy and courage for him to meet with me, and that was just the beginning of the process.

Another hurdle that clients deal with is sharing a child with their abuser, which is not uncommon. This can add a whole other level of complexity to leaving a relationship. One abuser had repeatedly threatened my client that if she left him he could make sure he got custody of their two children. She waited two years to try and leave because she didn’t want her children to stay a lone with him, afraid of what he was capable of. Other mothers deal with conflicted emotions, wanting their children to have a father while also needing to shield them from abuse.

Finding safety from abuse is never easy. We’ve talked about some of the reasons why like technological abuse and stalking, lack of financial resources and housing options. These are all huge barriers for survivors – but dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, fear or low self- worth are equally challenging. It takes a lot for survivors to get in the door at the clinic or to find the courage to call DASH. For those who say, “just leave” to survivors I ask you go a little deeper and try to understand some of the difficult realities of domestic violence. It’s never that easy or that simple.

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What It Takes DC #7: The Importance of Safe, Stable Housing

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Note: This is the 7th post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: #WhatItTakesDC. 

The biggest barrier for survivors trying to find safety from abuse is access to safe, stable housing for them and their children. Check out our blog from last week for more information on the shortage of housing for survivors of domestic violence in the District.  This week we are exploring this issue in a more personal way  through the story of Alice, a former DASH resident. Alice was the keynote speaker at the 5th annual Allies in Change event in April 2015 – below she explains the barriers that she faced when trying to leave her abuser and find a safe place to stay.

My Story:

Hello my name is Alice; I became a resident at (DASH) January 22, 2010. I came to (DASH) due to domestic violence, I was not physically abused but emotionally and verbally abused.

I will not forget the day I said I had enough of my abuser which was my son’s father. On 12/22/2009, my abuser came home high on P.C.P, he has been an addict since his mom died on May 25, 2007.  Back then I worked the night shift at a nursing home in upper NW. As I was getting ready for work a loud “boom” came from the living room of my home. My abuser tossed our son across the room, he was high and hallucinating. His words were “that’s not my son he looks like a monster” quickly I fought him for throwing my son, I walked into the kitchen when I turned around there was a long butcher knife to my neck. He told me if I moved he will kill me. That’s when I knew my life and the life of  my children were in danger.

I called the police and no arrest was made, they asked that he remove himself from the residence. I wasn’t able to go to work that night due to the incident and at the time I was the only one working. My son was not hurt in this attack he was 15 months at the time. The New Year was approaching and I knew I was going to leave him. I didn’t have anywhere to run due to lack of family support. I reached out to family but all seem to reject me and even my situation. Sometimes they would go as far to say “I told you so” and at that time safety and comfort was more important than criticism.

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Finally I went to the D.C. Superior Court to file a (CPO) against my abuser. The judge granted the order the same day; the court building assisted me with “Crime Victims Compensation” my daughter, son and I were placed in a shelter. The shelter I was placed in was worse than the home that I had just left. I was placed in one room, with no bathroom. It was just a room with a one full size bed, a sink and a small size refrigerator. I shared a bathroom with 7 other women many of the women got high in the bathroom. They always seem to smoke P.C.P and every time I smelled that odor it took me back to that moment.  My children and I didn’t eat a balanced meal for 2 weeks we lived off microwave dinners.

Showering at this shelter was terrible many of the women were having sex in the bathroom. There were used condoms on the floor, drug bags, and crack pipes even blood stains around the toilet seat. Me and my kids washed up over a small sink inside of our room for 2 weeks. When I left my abuser and also my apartment I left everything, I left with one outfit and my kids had 3 outfits a piece. I didn’t have any money to survive he stole what little I did have saved.

Finally on 1/22/2010 I received a phone call from DASH to come in for an intake. I rushed to gather my personal documents I was placed 2 days later. Finally I felt safe and comfortable they gave me a two bedroom apartment “It actually looked better than the apartment I was paying $1000 for” to live in. The apartment was furnished 100% my kids were so happy. I haven’t seen them smile in days at that time my kids were 1 and 3 years old.

I will never forget the first thing we did was shower for a long time and I cooked a home cooked meal “You would have thought it was Thanksgiving in January” I cried so many nights wondering how did I allow myself to fail me and my children all for one individual love. While at DASH I used every resource available to me. The first program I lived in at DASH was Huruma it was a 60 day program. I was afraid at times that me and my children would be homeless again.

I worked with my advocate every time I was scheduled. She found resources for employment, school, and permanent housing. I lost my job because I didn’t have childcare me and my children safety was more important at the time. I enrolled into school to become a (CNA) the course was a 4 week program. I completed this course successfully. One day DASH had a meeting with all residents announcing they were opening a bigger location.

I already knew I wasn’t going to be part of their growth because my time was almost up. Then when they said “ALICE  you are going with us,” I cried so hard I was more than thankful and over joyed. I picked the kids up from daycare they were enrolled full-time. I told the kids about the exciting news even though they were too young to understand. The day had come for me to move out I was packed and ready to go I signed my 2 year lease at DASH’s new location called Cornerstone.

They placed my keys inside of hand my apartment, 1D which meant to me “ONE DREAM, ONE DESTINY, and ONE DESIRE” At DASH I built a trusting relationship and also a loving one. DASH was and is really there to help women become better and do better. They had yoga, zumba, meditation, childcare “playroom”, and potlucks, cooking classes, crochet, counseling, addiction counseling, advocate support, clothes and food drives, holiday baskets and free give a ways, to basketball games, President Easter egg roll and much more.

I really enjoyed myself while living at DASH, this program has changed me as a mother, daughter and even as a person and the way I think today. When I came to DASH I was bitter, angry, frustrated, depressed and sometimes disrespectful because I was mad at myself. I had to take medication to control my behavior back then.

I advocated for myself so many times via email, phone and writing letters. I called DCHA almost every day I fought for permanent housing. I told them my story every time I had the opportunity too. One day I came home to DASH I checked my mailbox a letter from housing was sitting there. I opened the letter and they accepted my request and I danced across the main lobby floor.

I was schedule to come in for an interview 3/13/12. Everything was approved I moved into my own permanent housing 8/31/12 a three bedroom house where I live today.  I moved into my own home I promised myself no man could live with me not like my abuser again unless it was my husband.

I never knew if I would get married but I did want to marry before the age 35, I’m 28 years old now through the trials and tribulations I have been a full time college student since 3/12/12. I’m majoring in criminal justice to become a homicide detective. I’m proud to announce in 2 weeks I will graduate with my bachelor’s degree.

During my time in college in 2012, I met a wonderful man, his smile, his walk, his personality was nothing but positive. He looked passed my story he promised me a better future and we have been best friends since. This year on 1/15/2015 I married this amazing man that I admired and he also admired me I’m no longer just Alice I am now Alice, a strong survivor.


Domestic Violence Matters: 2014 Domestic Violence Counts Report Released

Note: This is the 5th post in a new blog series by DASH called ‘Domestic Violence Matters’, which discusses current events and media coverage of domestic violence. We believe that empowering, provocative, and original media and storytelling must play a critical role in helping to overcome domestic violence in our society.

In a single day last September there were 28 unmet requests for safe housing from survivors of domestic violence in DC, according to the new Domestic Violence Counts Report. This means that in the space of twenty-four hours, 28 women and men gathered the courage to meet with an advocate in an attempt to find a safe place to stay but were turned away. These 28 survivors of domestic violence were then left with two options —  go back to their abuser or become homeless.

Each year the National Network Against Domestic Violence (NNEDV) works with local organizations to gather data on the types of domestic violence services requested and provided across the United States. The 2015 report sheds light on some important trends in the DC area.

On September 10th, 2014:
  • 847 victims of domestic violence were served (53% increase from 2013)
  • 499 victims were safely housed in emergency and transitional housing (57% increase from 2013)
  • 75 hotline calls were answered (56% increase from 2013)
  • 77 victims requested services that advocates were unable to provide (48% increase from 2013)

“Each week at the Housing Resource Clinic DASH advocates work with dozens of survivors in an attempt to provide them with safe housing access. Some families however, are forced to wait for months in dangerous situations because domestic violence shelters in the District are constantly at capacity. This report shows us what we already know – there are not enough options for survivors in DC, we need to be doing more.”- DASH Executive Director, Peg Hacskaylo

At DASH we believe that having a place to stay free from abuse is a fundamental human right. No one should have to choose between living in an abusive home and being homeless. Since DASH was founded in 2006 we have doubled the number of safe beds for survivors in the District, and in the next year we will continue to work to expand our services to meet the growing need.

Support DASH today

Last Week:

Domestic Violence Matters: The NFL


Domestic Violence Matters: The NFL

Note: This is the 4th post in a new blog series by DASH called ‘Domestic Violence Matters’, which discusses current events and media coverage of domestic violence. We believe that empowering, provocative, and original media and storytelling must play a critical role in helping to overcome domestic violence in our society.

In the wake of two more domestic violence related incidences within the NFL regarding Ray McDonald of the Bears and most recently Bruce Miller of the 49ers, we sat down with the DASH Clinical Director to discuss how the NFL is handling domestic violence and, why their response even matters.

Q: In the last year the NFL has gotten a lot of media attention for the way that they internally handle domestic violence cases. Why do you think it matters how the NFL responds to domestic violence?

A: It’s important for the NFL to take action when one of their players commits an act of domestic violence because as an institution, the NFL has a lot of influence in our society. What the NFL does, in terms of the choices they make and the causes they support has a huge impact society wide. When I think about the good that the NFL could do on domestic violence – it’s extraordinary. They reach a lot of communities who wouldn’t ordinarily hear messages from the domestic violence service community including young people and men. So it’s even more important that they take a stand and say as a business, we are not going to stand for this, we are not going to have a participant who assaults their partner. It’s crucial.

Q: Aside from their influence, is there anything else that uniquely positions the NFL in the issue of domestic violence?

A: I think the big reason that the NFL has such an opportunity to impact the issue is that so much of our ideas about masculinity and what it means to be a real man are tied to being good at sports, being strong and physically aggressive. In pretty obvious ways the NFL perpetuates a culture of domination, specifically among men. And then when we look at the patterns that occur in domestic violence relationships we can see a lot of those same dynamics of power, control and aggression played out. The audience that the NFL reaches, the culture that they represent put them in a place to make a really positive impact on the issue of domestic violence in the United States.

Q: Because the NFL has received negative attention for their handling of domestic violence cases, specifically the Ray Rice case last fall, they have increased penalties for players involved in domestic violence situations. What do you think the impact of harsher punishment is on the wives, girlfriends and partners who are victims of domestic violence and their ability to speak out?

A: This is a big issue, I think that as the NFL has gotten stricter on domestic violence, it has put increased pressure on victims to not report assault or speak out for fear that their partner will be fired, their source of income gone and on top of that they face a huge amount of media attention and scrutiny. It’s already extremely difficult for survivors to seek help for domestic violence, but then when you are reporting a sports celebrity it creates all these other challenges and becomes harder for the victims to protect themselves. The dynamic is one where it’s the victim’s responsibility to report their abuse so that the individual player can be held accountable and then the NFL can take action. And it’s hard because the players should be held accountable, as all abusers should. But we need to make sure we are supporting survivors of domestic violence to be safe and empowered as well.

Q: The NFL recently instituted mandatory domestic violence training for all NFL staff and players and they have started financially supporting the National Domestic Violence Hotline. What are other ways you think they could make an impact on the issue of domestic violence?

A: I would really like to see their education efforts focused on prevention and talking about ways to communicate without being violent and how in a healthy relationship you don’t assault your partner. That would be really powerful education for the NFL to take a lead on not just for their players, but for athletes across the US. Make dating violence prevention a priority in college football, in high school sports they could even start reaching out to community recreation leagues. Think about the power of that message coming from the NFL to kids and teens, that healthy relationships, healthy communication is important. They have the money and the influence to really make that happen.

Q: You mentioned that the NFL has the ability to reach people who haven’t been exposed to domestic violence as an issue. What is one thing you would like them to understand?

A: Living free from violence is a human right and as a community we are saying we are not going to tolerate it. And if I could say 2 things, healthy masculinity and being a “real man” means you should use your strength for good and to take care of and provide for your partner and your children.

About DASH

DASH’s mission is to be an innovator in providing access to safe housing and services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families as they rebuild their lives on their own terms.

Support DC families escaping abuse today.

Learn more about DASH’s safe housing programs for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families in the District.


What It Takes DC #6: Choosing to Stay

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Note: This is the sixth post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: #WhatItTakesDC. 

When a survivor of domestic violence decides to leave an abusive relationship, it doesn’t always mean they are deciding to leave their home or community. In places like DC, survivors who decide not to move are informed of their right to have their locks changed quickly in order to stay as safe as possible.

Deciding to Stay

Escaping abuse is often an isolating experience for survivors. In order to find safety, they are forced to uproot their families, leave their community and transfer schools. Leaving an abusive relationship is already difficult; it’s a time when survivors need support from loved ones more than ever. It’s understandable that some survivors choose not to leave their home, even if they are leaving their abuser. For these men and women, a DASH advocate strongly recommends that they get a protection order and change their locks as soon as possible, “don’t just change your locks,” she adds, “add new ones on the windows and all doors, and get a security system. Do everything you can to feel safe.” There are a few ways that survivors can get financial assistance for these precautions detailed below.

Danger Assessment

Before a survivor decides to stay in their home it’s important that they speak with an advocate to assess their situation. A DASH advocate warns that survivors don’t always realize the full danger of their relationship, “when you are in a domestic violence relationship, abuse, even intense physical abuse, becomes normalized. It can also be hard for them to believe that the person they love is capable of really dangerous behavior. But the reality is that the majority of domestic violence homicides occur when a survivor is trying to leave – it’s the most dangerous time for them.” It’s crucial therefore that survivors speak with a domestic violence advocate and do a danger assessment to ensure that staying is a safe choice for them. A danger assessment will look at whether or not the abuser owns a gun, the intensity and frequency of the physical abuse, drug use and past threats of violence.

A Temporary Step to Safety

Regardless of whether you choose to stay or leave your home the DASH housing advocate recommends that survivors get their locks changed immediately. Finding safe housing in DC is a process, it can take families months of looking and meeting with advocates to find a new place to stay, “we work with some clients over a period of several months trying to get them access to safe housing so they can leave their current situation,” says one DASH housing specialist. It’s important that survivors acted quickly after they’ve left their abuser, change the locks, obtain a protection order and find a new route to work and school. For some survivors changing locks is just a temporary solution in their long term goal of stability and safety.

A How to Guide

Regardless of whether changing the locks is a temporary or long term solution; survivors are able to apply for financial assistance, check out our housing resource page for more information.

Take Action

You can learn more about what it takes for survivors to get safe at WhatItTakes.org or donate to DASH to support access to safe housing for survivors.


Domestic Violence Matters: The Point In Time Homeless Count

Note: This is a guest third post in a new blog series by DASH called ‘Domestic Violence Matters’, which discusses current events and media coverage of domestic violence. We believe that empowering, provocative, and original media and storytelling must play a critical role in helping to overcome domestic violence in our society.

Over one thousand homeless families in the DC area cited a domestic violence relationship as their current cause of homelessness.

Each year the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) partners with local communities to engage in a nationwide count of homeless individuals and families living in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered locations. On January 28, 2015, volunteers were tasked to collect this data to better understand the major causes of homelessness in the D.C. region.

This week, the 2015 Point in Time Count Report for the DC Metro Area was released by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The 99-page report is full of important information and statistics on the homeless population in region.

Below are four of the findings that correlate domestic violence and homelessness in the District:

1. Domestic violence is strongly correlated with family homelessness. Domestic violence was the most defining characteristic among homeless families. Over 30% of the families surveyed indicated having experienced domestic violence in the past, and 19%  reported their current episode of homelessness was caused by domestic violence.

2. Homelessness overall decreased. There are 11,623 homeless individuals in the region. Overall homelessness in the metro area decreased by 2.7 percent (or 323 people) from 2014.

3. Domestic violence related homelessness, however, is on the rise for individuals. Among single adults, homelessness caused by domestic violence increased 65%.

4. The increase is even more dramatic for homeless families. Among homeless families, domestic violence related homelessness rose 322% from 261 in 2014 to 1,101 this year. Over one thousand homeless families in the DC area cited a domestic violence relationship as their current cause of homelessness.


DASH’s mission is to be an innovator in providing access to safe housing and services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence and their families as they rebuild their lives on their own terms. Support families today.

Learn more about DASH’s safe housing programs for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families in the District.


What It Takes Blog Series #2: Unjust Legal Treatment – How Battered Women Get Jailed for Their Abuser’s Behavior

Note: This is the second post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: WhatItTakesDC. 

Leaving an abusive relationship is harder than you may think. People often ask: “Why didn’t she call the police?”

It’s a very logical question. After all, most of us were taught to call the police in violent situations. It would seem obvious that physical acts of domestic violence certainly merit telling the police. We picture restraining orders. A kindly police officer telling a victim: “You’re safe now. He’s not going to be able to hurt you or your children again.” Problem solved… right?

Calling the cops isn’t always safe for domestic violence victims:

If only things were so easy. In fact, domestic violence is rarely reported to the police. It’s estimated that over 70% of domestic violence cases go unreported. So why aren’t victims seeking help from the people in society we trust and expect to protect us?

The reasons are varied and complex, but some common issues that stop survivors from calling the police include:

– Shame and stigma: Many survivors feel crippling shame and stigma admitting to friends and family that they are in an abusive relationship, as well as to authorities like the police. This is due in part because domestic violence victims are so often blamed for the abuse they endure.

– Fear of getting arrested themselves: Survivors who call the police looking for help are often arrested if the officer cannot identify the aggressor in the dispute. Almost 2% of domestic violence calls end in a dual arrest. 

– Past criminal record: Calling the police may cause greater harm if the survivor has a past criminal history or if children are present during the violent incident.

But that’s not even the worst of it. One of the most harrowing potential outcomes for women abused by their partners involves remarkably unjust state laws that lock up mothers whose children were harmed—even murdered—by their partner. A new investigative report by Buzzfeed identified 28 mothers in 11 states sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for failing to prevent their partners from harming their children. In these cases, the mothers were charged with permitting child abuse, although they themselves were victims of chronic physical abuse, living their lives in fear of their partner. As a result, these women were imprisoned for their partner’s actions and their surviving children are deprived of their mother. As the article quotes: “It’s the ultimate case of blaming the victim.”

The report points out the key misconception that these cases are premised upon, and which DASH’s #WhatItTakesDC campaign is helping to overcome.

“Many judges and juries — still don’t grasp the answer to a question at the core of so many of these cases: ‘Why didn’t she leave him?’”

“Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?”

As DASH has explored in previous blogs, there are many reasons that survivors don’t leave abusive relationships. But the main reason in many of these cases was fear. As the article states, these women feared that by trying to leave they would provoke their partners to more extreme violence. Many feared for their own lives, as well as their children’s.

“I done tried to leave plenty of times,” Arlena, one of the article’s profiled survivors, testified, but he “actually called and threatened to kill my family.” The last time Arlena tried to escape, her partner came to her father’s house (where she was staying), grabbed her, threw her into his car trunk, and slammed it shut. She thought he was going to kill her. He didn’t, but Lindley moved back in with her abusive partner, saying that she “didn’t want to bring trouble into her father’s house.”

Arlena’s partner continued to assault her and her three-year-old son, eventually killing him. For this, Arlena was sentenced to 45 years in prison for failing to protect her son from her partner.

While in many states, a lot of the laws that are used to prosecute these women were originally intended to help curb child abuse, few of them recognize the complex dynamics of violent abuse involved in these cases.

Blaming women for their partner’s abuse of their children is also tied to American society’s broader notions of motherhood as sacrifice. The article explains that “lopsided application of these laws reflects deeply ingrained social norms that women should sacrifice themselves for their children.” In comparison to the 73 cases of women being sentenced to 10 years or more for their partner’s abuse of their children, Buzzfeed found only 4 comparable cases for men.

Defending domestic violence survivors from failure-to-protect laws

As abysmal as the situation is, there is reason for hope of reduced sentencing for these domestic violence survivors, as well as legal changes that protect those being abused from prosecution. When Minnesota and Iowa created similar child protection laws in the mid-1980s, “they added specific defenses for parents who reasonably feared they would be harmed if they stepped in to stop child abuse.”

The article also tells the story of a judge who had a change of heart upon realizing the gravity of abuse that a battered woman endured. The woman had been previously sentenced to 35 years in jail for failing to protect her daughter, who was killed by her husband. When the judge realized the gravity of this woman’s abuse, he imposed a strict probation plan and suspended the rest of her sentence.

DASH is leading the campaign for policies supporting domestic violence survivors in DC:

In the DC metro area, a domestic violence call is made to the Metro Police Department every 16 minutes. But for every domestic violence-related police call made, it is estimated that 70% of  incidents remain unreported.

Since 2006, DASH has doubled the amount of safe beds for survivors of domestic violence while also working to safety plan with survivors who choose to stay.

Take Action:

You can learn more about what it takes for survivors to get safe at WhatItTakes.org or register to attend our upcoming fundraiser, Allies in Change.


What It Takes Blog Series #1: Finding Safety vs. Leaving, the Case for Safety Planning

Note: This is the first post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: WhatItTakesDC. 

Most people think that in order to get safe from abuse, victims of domestic violence should just leave their abusers, that separation is the solution. The reality however, is that leaving is a complicated, dangerous process that takes time and planning.

At DASH we don’t require survivors of domestic violence to leave their abuser in order to access our services. We do this because empowerment is an integral part of our model, but also because it just doesn’t work, mandating the behavior of adults rarely does. Instead, we focus on safety, we want the victims we work with to be as safe as possible in whatever choice they make. For some this is controversial – but for us it’s a natural component of the culture of trust we’ve built at DASH.

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For this reason, we are very intentional about the language in the What It Takes campaign, we want to address the misconception that all victims of abuse “should just leave,” but we also want to push back on the idea that leaving is the best option for everyone. It’s important to acknowledge the reality that not everybody leaves – and it is just as vital for those who stay in abusive relationships to find safety. Our Clinical Director, Emma Kupferman put it best when she said,  “If we are really going to fight the epidemic of domestic violence, we have to be there to support all survivors, not just those who have left.”

Leaving is the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence, it takes planning and an immense amount of foresight. Before leaving, survivors need access to housing, stable finances, important documents and reliable transportation among others. Another big barrier for survivors who want to leave is fear – and for good reason, 75% of domestic violence related homicides occur when the survivor is trying to leave. In these situations the abuser will go to extreme lengths in order to maintain power over their partner.

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For survivors who decide to stay in their relationships – and many do – safety planning is crucial. Safety plans are based on the individual situation of the survivor, there is no one size fits all plan for staying safe. Survivors are asked to think about where they feel safe in their home, different things that trigger their abuser as well as people they trust that they can reach out to in emergencies. An example of a safety plan can be found here.

We are not advocating that survivors stay in abusive relationships – we are advocating for support and access to services for all survivors, no matter their situation.


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