When Dolores Villaseñor decided to get out of an abusive relationship she was not thinking about herself, she was thinking about the example she had set for her daughters throughout the years.
“For me, the realization that I needed to leave was seeing my 10 year old daughter and my 6 year old daughter and thinking, ‘I’m telling them that this is OK, I’m showing them that this is what a woman should be and this the kind of relationship that is accepted,’ that was a big eye opener for me, I can’t do that to my kids,” she said.
Villaseñor had to go to the hospital once after her ex-husband kicked her face, and years later she was kept hostage in her own home for a weekend.
“After that, I was living in fear more than I ever had,” Villaseñor said. “It was a terrible time.”
About a month after, “one of the worst incidents” with her ex-husband, Villaseñor told her mother about the abuse, packed up and left.
“I got an order of protection, I had him put in jail and filed for divorce,” she said. “That wasn’t until years after the abuse started, it took me that long to call the police, and honestly I think it was my mom who made the call it wasn’t me.”
There are many different reasons why women all over the United States do not leave their abuser, said Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, CEO of Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse.
“There could be cultural or religious values that might say they need to stay in relationships, there’s the children, the isolation that has left them without a support system, and then the financial dependency that often exists,” he said.
In recent years the level of violence has escalated and the number of domestic violence deaths in Pima County has increased recently, Mercurio-Sakwa said.
Law enforcement in Pima County received 13,000 domestic violence calls last year and Emerge helps about 4,500 women each year, according to Mercurio-Sakwa.
Villaseñor is one of them. She first contacted Emerge when she decided to leave and continues to receive support from the nonprofit.
She now volunteers her time talking to law enforcement, court officials and anger management counselors to help them understand what happens behind close doors.
“My ex-husband was on probation and had to go to anger management classes,” Villaseñor said. “And a lot of them focus on substance abuse, which he didn’t do, so other issues (need) to be addressed.”
Villaseñor has talked with facilitators in Tucson who teach anger management classes “and they’ve gotten to see what happens on this end of it.”
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