How Can Women Escape Cycle of Domestic Violence?
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
For more, we're joined by the executive director of Jenesse Center, Karen Earl. She's in the Big Apple attending Glamour magazine's Woman of the Year awards, and this past June in Glamour, actress Halle Berry named Earl as one of her personal heroes for the work that she's done helping victims of domestic violence.
Ms. KAREN EARL (Executive Director, Jenesse Center): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So you're a busy woman, about to actually have a moment where you can bask in the spotlight, but usually you're behind the scenes. What I was impressed by when we spoke to Annie was the way that she came to view her whole life differently, not just whether or not she was with a specific abusive man, but just her whole sense of self-worth. What does your program do step by step to try to bring women into a fuller understanding of themselves?
Ms. EARL: I think the first thing is to let that woman know that she is not alone, that someone cares about her children and that her children - we see them as - I have a problem with that word, victim - but we see them as equals in this struggle. And what I think our job is, to help the women to make good decisions for their lives. And we do that with assessment, with case management in providing all of this in a nurturing, non-threatening environment, and just letting them know how special they are every day.
CHIDEYA: You have all sorts of programs, whether it's emergency housing, transitional housing, jobs and education programs. What do you do, for example, for a woman who's never worked outside the home to support herself and her children before?
Ms. EARL: Jenesse was one of the first agencies to start an onsite educational vocational program when the women came into emergency shelter. We relied a lot on census data and of course assessments to find out exactly where this population is. And you know, it's easy for me to say, you know, come on to the shelter, you know, you can do better.
But if you have no job skills, not worked outside of the home, and no finances, then it's a revolving circle. It is our responsibility to introduce the woman to opportunities to lead her to financial stability. And again, our job is to help her make good decisions. So we introduce computers and even how to turn a computer on and have people come in who've made it, and just share their stories. And you know, it's like if I see you do it, then I can do it. And that is the approach.
CHIDEYA: Do you worry sometimes about the people who call the hotline but then say, you know what, I don't want to do anything right now, I really can't leave?
Ms. EARL: I don't know if I worry. But when I have that person on the phone, I try my best to be as comforting, as supportive, and to listen and to share and to let her know that that hotline is open 24 hours a day and there's always going to be somebody there and she can call back. And the first question we're going to ask: Are you safe? Can you talk? So I have to put my worry into action.
CHIDEYA: That's what you've been doing, you know, for years. How did you get into this work?
Ms. EARL: It was all an accident. I had no idea that there were places where women and children could come. I had a corporate job and I took a leave of absence. And one day I was talking with Dr. Marguerite Archie-Hudson, and she told me about a group of women in South Los Angeles. She says they have a good idea, but they need some help. And I went over and I started volunteering and working. And there were shelters and programs and possibilities. Back then, it was more a possibilities. And it struck me so much because my mom was an evangelist and a missionary, yet there was violence in my home. And we - it was just family business. Who knew that there was a way out?
CHIDEYA: What would you say to someone who is afraid that they might be an abuser, and they are actually abusing someone who they say they love?
Ms. EARL: At the end of the day, my job is to strengthen families, and we don't want to - we're not batterers of men. I'm intrigued by what makes someone who says he loves his family batter them. What's going on with him? So, if we're truly serious about ending domestic violence, we're going to have to start working with that population so that families can be together. Because what we know, in the majority, is that women don't want their husbands in jail. They don't want to leave them. They want them to stop hitting them.
CHIDEYA: And finally, what would you say to someone - you know, as if you were talking on the hotline - someone's out there listening, and they are going to have to make a decision about whether or not they are in an abusive relationship and what to do about it - what would you say to that woman?
Ms. EARL: First thing I always ask is how are the children? I believe when we know the impact of this violence and the trauma, domestic terrorism on our children, we look for better ways. But I'm not a clinician. My job is to provide vehicles for women to call, and that when they do call that a trained, compassionate caring person is on that phone to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it so that this person is not re-victimized, but to say, you know, I deserve better. My children deserve better, and I'm going to do something to change my life.
CHIDEYA: Karen, thank you very much.
Ms. EARL: Thank you very much. I'm honored for the opportunity.
CHIDEYA: Karen Earl is the executive director of Jenesse Center, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to helping women and children escape domestic violence. She joined us from NPR's New York bureau.
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