This is how Brooke Galloway of the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVCC) began her presentation to a gathering of American women in İstanbul last month. Of these 5.5 million American expats, it is estimated that over 100,000 of them are victims of domestic violence.
As an American expat married to a Turk, I have often been subjected to many questions from well-meaning friends and family back home in regards to my relationship. Movies and books like “Not Without My Daughter” have imprinted the abusive image of the Middle Eastern male onto the American psyche. Despite my protests to the contrary in my personal case, many of my acquaintances still worry. When preparing to marry Can, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t investigate my rights should things turn sour. When I got pregnant, I also checked what rights I would have over my child as a resident married to a Turkish citizen while living in Turkey. Thankfully, I have not had to test the system. However, some women are not in as good of circumstances as mine. After nine years of living in Turkey, I have seen and heard many things. I had no idea that an organization like the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center existed, and I only hope that someone who was wiser than I referred them to it.
Founder Paula Lucas, an American expat with three children who managed to escape her overseas abusive relationship, created the AODVCC 10 years ago. Her struggles to leave and the ensuing legal issues back in the US led her to form the organization to help other American women and children in similar circumstances. The Center’s mission is: “The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center works with abused Americans and their children in foreign countries to provide domestic violence and child abuse advocacy, resources and tools so that they can navigate the complicated jurisdictional, legal and social international landscapes, to be able to live their lives free of abuse either in the foreign country or back in the United States.”
Violence is never a comfortable subject to talk about. When I was in high school, I remember our neighbor used to beat his wife. Sometimes, either we or another neighbor would call the police. We never went over there to help or try and put a stop to it. It seemed taboo. When we would see her out walking with her son, everyone would say hi to her as if nothing was wrong. When they would start fighting, my mom would close the windows despite it being summer and reopen them once it was quiet again. It bothered me that no one did anything else. This was America, and she was American, and yet we didn’t help her find resources that could help. After awhile, they moved away. We don’t know if they divorced, if they are still married, nothing. She may have faded from many people’s memories, but not mine. I feel guilty that I couldn’t help her. That I couldn’t offer some kind of comfort.
When I first moved to Turkey, I met an American girl my age in Turkish class. She had come to Turkey with her boyfriend, an American guy temporarily here for work. He started to become very abusive to my friend, and she made plans to leave him and go back to the US. She was devastated both at the loss of her relationship and also that she had so little support “back home.” Her family was angry that she had left a good job to follow her boyfriend to Turkey and was not willing to fully support her financially upon her return to the US. She stayed with me a few days until she could work some things out, before I finally dropped her off at the airport with great relief.
According to Development and Policy Director Brooke Galloway, this lack of support and help from friends and family back home is unfortunately quite common. Most people don’t understand why a woman can’t leave her abusive situation immediately. What do you do if the abuser has your passport hidden? If there are children involved? Each individual case is uniquely dangerous. The Center assists these women with support and resources. There are several ways a woman can contact the AODVCC. The website is www.866uswomen.org, and it even has tips on how to erase the website from a computer’s browsing history for added privacy. By phone, you can reach their crisis hotline toll-free internationally by first dialing the AT&T USADirect access number for the country the call is originating from, followed by 866-USWOMEN (866-879-6636). The crisis hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is also live chat available via the website, and emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Galloway, in the past 10 years, the AODVCC received 13,175 crisis calls, emails and live chats. They assisted 2,848 female callers residing in 101 countries. “Flights to Freedom” were provided to 81 families. The AODVCC provided 49 legal consultations and 24 legal retainers to enable battered mothers to file for custody of their children. Sixty-two families were given funds for emergency needs and counseling was provided to 56 families. While Brooke proudly states these figures, she also is quick to remind what the AODVCC cannot do. “We work from an empowerment-based philosophy. We cannot, however, break international laws while assisting a survivor. We do not ‘rescue,’ but we assist survivors in making informed decisions.” They do this through long-term case management, safety planning, advocacy, legal assistance, counseling and assistance with basic needs.
People wishing to help the Crisis Center and the women involved at the local level can do several things, according to Galloway. First, be patient with the victim. As stated above, she most likely will feel cut off from support back home. Things may not be solved immediately, so be patient, supportive and understanding. Help guide her to the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center via the channels listed above, and raise awareness of the Center in general amongst the American expat community. People can also assist the Center at the local level as an outreach and education volunteer. “By raising awareness of the existence of abuse in your community and of AODVCC, you can empower a survivor of abuse to seek resources to live their life free of abuse,” says Brooke Galloway. To volunteer, please contact her at email@example.com.
Even though I am not in a violent relationship, it is comforting to know that an organization like the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center exists. I think as expats, it is easy to feel alienated from assistance from “back home.” The fact that this organization exists to specifically help Americans residing overseas in a difficult situation shows how great the need truly is. If you are in a bad situation, or know someone who is, please check out the Crisis Center. You are not alone. There are people who care and can help. There is hope.
Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer and mother living in İstanbul. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments or questions.