.
My cameras and a dog-eared note pad are usually found in the war-torn wastelands of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and the like. Apart from the usual suspects of various news outlets, I work extensively with the United Nations and their agency UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. But there are small NGOs all over the world also doing brilliant work without the headlines and on tiny budgets. With the number of staff you can count on the fingers of one hand and sometimes not even that. Winged Hope, (www.wingedhope.com) in the town of Gilbert, Phoenix Arizona is one such NGO catering to the needs of domestic violence, child abuse victims and all its variants. Potential suicides, gender based violence, bullying, self-harm, neglect—they are there for their community 24/7. I came across Winged Hope purely by accident while researching a story on child trauma. After many e-mail exchanges with their effervescent and workaholic founder Jessica Nicely, (former Miss Arizona and a victim of child abuse herself) I was convinced to try and maybe give a voice and a little volume to a few silent heroes. As a so-called conflict photographer, I am used to, but not inured to the immediate trauma of war victims.  But the endemic and often institutionalised horror that lurks for generations behind closed doors in the form of violent domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, all too often leading to the deaths of vulnerable women and children is new and terrifying to me. The family home is supposed to be the mother and child’s safe and happy place not a torture chamber… Molestation and abuse are very much in the news at this present time and that’s a good thing as many a skeleton has fallen out of many murky closets. The behaviour of Harvey Weinstein and the like has made us all look a little closer at what is acceptable and what is not. And maybe go a little way to lifting age-old taboos. But it’s not just movie stars and celebrities that suffer at the hands of such predators. It seems, albeit incredibly and terrifyingly woven into the very fabric of our so-called civilised society. Most child molesters molest children because they are sexually attracted to them. There are some who molest because they are psychopathic and just feel entitled to do as they wish. Some use children for the intimacy they are too fearful or timid to obtain from an adult relationship. Then there is the category of men who molest children who, psychiatrists describe somewhat disturbingly, “We just don’t understand at all.” Whether men molest because of a sexual preference or anything else that crosses the deviant mind, their predatory and unchecked, uncontrollable desires will certainly be life changing to the victim/survivor. In the following interviews, I let the women tell me in their own words of their abused lives. At times, I have paraphrased and condensed in order to fit in with the publishing medium. I have also made some judgement calls as to what to leave in or take out for the protection of these brave women. This does not in anyway diminish the horrors they have suffered at the hands of craven individuals. In these candid interviews, I feel there is no need for me to put into print any detailed description of sexual abuse. This may strip away any light armour of dignity, confidence and bravery these women have managed to accumulate since extricating themselves from their very real nightmares. Although every person interviewed for this story has agreed wholeheartedly to have his or her story being told anyway that I see fit. Seeing their words in the public domain may cause more undue distress of which would be unforgivable. Also documenting violent sexual acts in print, I fear would excite brooding predators. We all know what sexual abuse is or could be. VALERIE’S STORY On March 14th 2017, 18-month-old toddler Valerie Frias was sexually abused and finally beaten to death with the blade of a ceiling fan. The unconscious child was airlifted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where concerned medical staff reported suspicions of child abuse. The blunt force trauma to the little one’s skull caused catastrophic bilateral retina haemorrhaging, a brain bleed, and blood was found in her stomach. On March 15, a day later, Valerie—a child that had barely known the spark of life—was pronounced dead. The male perpetrator was arrested and charged with manslaughter. During the court hearing, there was also evidence of repeated and violent sexual abuse. The perpetrator, to the shock of Valerie’s family and the despair of the police department, was found not guilty and released. He (the perp) has since gone on to coach children in a little league baseball team in a town not far from the scene of the crime. Valerie’s mother 33-year-old Delilah Frias, a nurse from Florence, Arizona, copes from day to day as best she can—sometimes unsuccessfully—with the burden of guilt she feels for not seeing the warning signs that led to her baby’s brutal slaughter. The alleged killer was her sister’s then boyfriend, who quite unbelievably went on to become her husband after the killing of baby Valerie. The two sisters not surprisingly have not spoken since. “My biggest sadness is not having any more memories of my baby,” Delilah says, bravely trying hard not to cry. “Valerie loved to dance, she was always happily dancing, always.” Her sister’s boyfriend had been babysitting and day-caring on many occasions. After a time, Delilah noticed that when she picked up Valerie from his care she was becoming more and more introvert and always seemed to be ill or sickly in some way. “I took her (Valerie) so many times to the hospital but nothing was ever definitely diagnosed. They kept saying it’s just one of those children’s things. Even then I didn’t suspect any wrong doing by anybody. How could I have not seen this, but we trusted him, he was family. I hate myself and will never forgive myself for not noticing my child was being abused and in such great danger. I am her mother how was that possible I just didn’t notice?” Delilah stopped talking and her eyes welled up with tears as she stared blankly and shuffled her feet in the chalky ground—the ground being the cemetery were baby Valerie is buried. With Delilah at the cemetery is her husband Robert, a security guard at an immigration centre, a gentle giant of a man, and their two other daughters Adriane aged 10 and Jasmine aged 12. All the way through Delilah’s interview Robert is respectfully silent, letting his wife tell this tragic story as only a mother possibly can. Robert, while placing a comforting hand on Delilah’s shoulder, says: “I come out here to see Valerie at least once a week. Just to talk to her, but I cry every time. Of course, I want to kill the man who did this to my baby, of course I do but my family have helped me contain my anger, my rage and frustration. I don’t want any more children, I let my baby die, I feel responsible, it won’t happen again, I wont let it happen, no more children.” Delilah: “I could not have another baby; a new baby would never replace Valerie. I don’t want my few short memories of Valerie to lessen at all and a new baby would do that to me.” I tentatively ask Jasmine, the older daughter, what were her memories of her baby sister. She does not speak more than three words then bursts into floods of tears. The passing of nearly three years is not nearly enough to soften the pain. At Valerie’s tiny graveside Delilah instinctively, protectively hugs Adrianne her youngest daughter; a hug that says I will never let you go, I will never let you down, never. JOYCE’S STORY Joyce McLaren aged, 70 is a volunteer with Winged Hope. Everyone at the charity knows that Joyce has been abused in some way but she has never spoken a word about that part of her life. Joyce has chosen this moment and this interview to release almost 65 years of the dark secrets she has hidden away for so long. “My mother died when I was 15 months old and I had three older brothers and my father didn’t know what to do with us, so we were all sent to different places to live. So, at 15 months old I was sent to a strange home, and I lived with a family who had a grandfather who lived in the home with them. The grandfather would lure me into his work shed to sexually assault me. I lived with that family until I was maybe five or so, and no one ever knew.   I can tell you the smell of that shed, the smell of dirty grease, and his smell I still remember” Joyce married several times; the first three being violently abusive. As a young girl of twenty-one Joyce was violently raped at a party. I had been drinking. I had been sexually active. Honestly, I had been looking for love in all the ways I could find and all the wrong places obviously. So anyway, I ended up pregnant from the rape but gave birth to a wonderful son. There was another man that I had been with, who told me he would marry me when he came back from fighting in Vietnam and that I would have his military benefits for myself and my child. He lived through Vietnam war and comes home. Of course, we are strangers to each other and he comes home with lots of terrible issues from the war. But we married anyway I was with him for 7 years, he was an extreme alcoholic. He was never cruel until he drank, and when he drank, he was so cruel. Eventually we separated.” Joyce was so desperate for love and a happy home for herself and her young son she fell prey this time not to an abusive alcoholic, but to a very violent controlling psychopath. “On the night that I married this man he said, ‘You are now my property’. We had a wedding in town and he said, ‘You are not allowed to dance with your brother, you are not allowed to dance with your father, you are now mine now’. And that is the way that marriage began. It was all control and violence. I stayed with him also seven years. There was so much violence in that relationship. It did not matter if he was drinking or not, he was still violent.  I lived on eggshells for those seven years. I had a child with him; my daughter. I was working, and I did well at my job, and that was because he insisted I was ‘sleeping with the boss’.   I wanted to go to school, and that was just because I wanted to mess around. There was just no winning with him.”  Joyce breaks off from speaking as if her words from the past had created tangible smells and sounds in this moment. Joyce looks down at her hands then back into my eyes and says:  “When I was a teenager I did try to commit suicide when I was in high school. I tried to slit my wrists. It is strange sitting here with you and I want to cry. But the reason that I want to cry is because it is a relief to tell it. And in such a safe environment, and to not be judged.” All I see sitting in front of me is a gentle, soft, lovely woman who has so much love to give and a craving to receive a mountain of love in return. I am honoured, as I am flattered that this woman, has, in the autumn of her years has chosen me to confide in. All she received was utter cruelty from the men in her life up until now. This craving in the past had been her downfall, but now with her new husband Steve she has finally found happiness. Joyce goes on to tell me about her work with Winged Hope. “I have no degree in counselling, I am a volunteer. I am a victim advocate. I also volunteer with the Gilbert Police Department Prosecutor’s office; they also have victim advocates that work with women and I help there too. It’s so sad that I found this in the last chapter of my life, but I am so happy that I found it, all available through Winged Hope. The premise that there is no judgement, that there are no questions asked, we are here for you and you are not alone. That is so huge. These women are feeling so isolated, their abusers make them feel so isolated, they make them feel crazy. We are here to say none of that is true, and we are here for you. It’s so important at this time in their lives. Imagine if I had a Winged Hope for me when I was a child, when our kids went to live in all different places. What if my dad had Winged Hope? LEANNE'S STORY I meet one of the nicest gentle people it has been my pleasure to encounter. In between the tears I let Leanne tell her story. “It started as more of a control issue. He was so sweet and loving when we were dating. Then the very night that we got married, he said ‘I won’t do this with you and you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ It was an absolute instant change. We went on our honeymoon and if I wanted to see something or go somewhere, anywhere he said, ‘You won’t, no, you can’t I won’t let you’. I was only 19. I didn’t really have any experience; maybe I thought this was normal. I was also pregnant and terrified. We had only been married a month and my husband said you got pregnant on purpose, you did this to me.  But I didn’t do it on my own. When my son was born my husband wouldn’t pick up me and our newborn son from the hospital, he refused. Then when I got home from the hospital with my son he said, ‘you can’t use the air conditioning if I’m not home, you can’t turn it on’. But we live in Arizona and it is summer, and it’s so hot. I remember I would just lay my baby on the floor, and I would get a wet towel to keep him cold, because it was so hot in the house and I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to get in trouble with my husband, and I didn’t want to hurt my baby. So, I would do things like that. But I didn’t realize that was not normal. Then the terrible yelling started, like getting really close to my face, or hitting the wall then the wall eventually became me. He constantly told me I was stupid. One day after years of this he pushed me out of the car then stopped, took the three kids out of the car, set them on the side of the road by me, and drove away. I remember thinking this isn’t okay or normal.   The last time he punched me in the face I remember thinking, I am lucky he came back home. He had punched me in the face, and all I could think was. I am so lucky he came back home to eat the meal I had cooked him. He also had various threats. His favourite was, ‘I am going to destroy you’. ‘I will leave you in the gutter, you are not going to have anything, and I am going to take your kids away from you’.  Then one day he threw me so hard against the wall I thought my head would burst and I would die. It was then I thought I must do something.”  Leanne finally picked up the courage to leave her husband and file for divorce, which is still ongoing. Even after so much counseling and trying to accept that she had a terribly abusive partner, sadly, in the darker corners of her mind Leanne still thinks it’s all her fault. DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD [caption id="attachment_8568" align="alignleft" width="600"] Commander Dave Levoy 48-years-old, of the Criminal Investigation Unit Chandler Police Department and a Board Member of Winged Hope: “We have 300 open cases at the moment. We have to be psychiatrists, counselors and therapists. Much more than just a police officer.”[/caption] There is also a double-edged sword to some victims of abuse, possibly with an ambiguous immigration status. All too often domestic violence abusers use their victim’s immigration status as yet another means of controlling them. Many of those who abuse their partners threaten deportation if their victim reports the abuse to law enforcement.  This often works, and scares the victim into silence. Ironically what most abusers don't know is that by making their partners victims of a crime, they are actually helping them attain their status in the U.S. As a victim of many crimes, like domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation (sex trafficking) to name a few, victims are entitled to apply for a ‘U’ Visa which will protect their status in the U.S. and allow the victim to stay in the U.S. and cooperate with the police investigation of their criminal case. Another threat often made by abusers is that if a victim reports her abuse, and the couple has children, the abuser threatens to take the children back to wherever their homeland is. Abusers will often also threaten to, or actually follow through with threats to, destroy their victim’s legal immigration paperwork, and/or birth certificates and other legal documents that victims feel they need to stay legally in the United States. On my last night in Gilbert, Arizona I had dinner with Joyce her new husband Steve, Leanne and Jessica, Winged Hope’s founder. ### I am not one to gush or to be given to outpourings of emotion, but that evening as I looked around at those smiles and listened to the laughter from two gentle women who had suffered so much by the hands of such cruel men, I had two overwhelming emotions every time they looked at me with eyes that now smile with hope. A huge admiration for their courage and a deep shame for my gender. Editor’s Note: This was one of the most difficult pieces we have had to publish on Diplomatic Courier during this happiest of seasons. Senior photographer Sebastian Rich has written and covered about war, conflict, refugees and other grim topics many times for our magazine. As a global affairs publication, we don’t usually publish pieces about domestic issues in the United States alone. However, we believe our audience needs to read these stories wherever they may be. To learn more about the important work of the organization featured in this essay, please visit: www.wingedhope.org. Photography: All photos by Sebastian Rich.  

About
Sebastian Rich
:
Sebastian Rich is Senior Contributing Photographer at Diplomatic Courier. Sebastian has been a photographer/cameraman in hard news, documentary and current affairs for over thirty years.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Behind Closed Doors, A Photo Essay

|Robert and Delilah Frias comforting each other at the grave of their daughter Valerie who was just 18 mnths old when she was allegedly beaten to death with the blade of a ceilng fan by her carer. Valerie Lynette Frias is buried at the Heritage Valley Memorial Park in Coolidge, Arizona.|Delilah Frias at home in her murdered baby's bedroom that has not been touched since the day she was murdered. Valerie Lynette Frias was just 18 mnths old when she was allegedly beaten to death with the blade of a ceilng fan by her carer. at some point every day Delilah smells the blanket that Valeri was made to feel cosy in at bedtime.||||
December 20, 2017

My cameras and a dog-eared note pad are usually found in the war-torn wastelands of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan and the like. Apart from the usual suspects of various news outlets, I work extensively with the United Nations and their agency UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. But there are small NGOs all over the world also doing brilliant work without the headlines and on tiny budgets. With the number of staff you can count on the fingers of one hand and sometimes not even that. Winged Hope, (www.wingedhope.com) in the town of Gilbert, Phoenix Arizona is one such NGO catering to the needs of domestic violence, child abuse victims and all its variants. Potential suicides, gender based violence, bullying, self-harm, neglect—they are there for their community 24/7. I came across Winged Hope purely by accident while researching a story on child trauma. After many e-mail exchanges with their effervescent and workaholic founder Jessica Nicely, (former Miss Arizona and a victim of child abuse herself) I was convinced to try and maybe give a voice and a little volume to a few silent heroes. As a so-called conflict photographer, I am used to, but not inured to the immediate trauma of war victims.  But the endemic and often institutionalised horror that lurks for generations behind closed doors in the form of violent domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, all too often leading to the deaths of vulnerable women and children is new and terrifying to me. The family home is supposed to be the mother and child’s safe and happy place not a torture chamber… Molestation and abuse are very much in the news at this present time and that’s a good thing as many a skeleton has fallen out of many murky closets. The behaviour of Harvey Weinstein and the like has made us all look a little closer at what is acceptable and what is not. And maybe go a little way to lifting age-old taboos. But it’s not just movie stars and celebrities that suffer at the hands of such predators. It seems, albeit incredibly and terrifyingly woven into the very fabric of our so-called civilised society. Most child molesters molest children because they are sexually attracted to them. There are some who molest because they are psychopathic and just feel entitled to do as they wish. Some use children for the intimacy they are too fearful or timid to obtain from an adult relationship. Then there is the category of men who molest children who, psychiatrists describe somewhat disturbingly, “We just don’t understand at all.” Whether men molest because of a sexual preference or anything else that crosses the deviant mind, their predatory and unchecked, uncontrollable desires will certainly be life changing to the victim/survivor. In the following interviews, I let the women tell me in their own words of their abused lives. At times, I have paraphrased and condensed in order to fit in with the publishing medium. I have also made some judgement calls as to what to leave in or take out for the protection of these brave women. This does not in anyway diminish the horrors they have suffered at the hands of craven individuals. In these candid interviews, I feel there is no need for me to put into print any detailed description of sexual abuse. This may strip away any light armour of dignity, confidence and bravery these women have managed to accumulate since extricating themselves from their very real nightmares. Although every person interviewed for this story has agreed wholeheartedly to have his or her story being told anyway that I see fit. Seeing their words in the public domain may cause more undue distress of which would be unforgivable. Also documenting violent sexual acts in print, I fear would excite brooding predators. We all know what sexual abuse is or could be. VALERIE’S STORY On March 14th 2017, 18-month-old toddler Valerie Frias was sexually abused and finally beaten to death with the blade of a ceiling fan. The unconscious child was airlifted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where concerned medical staff reported suspicions of child abuse. The blunt force trauma to the little one’s skull caused catastrophic bilateral retina haemorrhaging, a brain bleed, and blood was found in her stomach. On March 15, a day later, Valerie—a child that had barely known the spark of life—was pronounced dead. The male perpetrator was arrested and charged with manslaughter. During the court hearing, there was also evidence of repeated and violent sexual abuse. The perpetrator, to the shock of Valerie’s family and the despair of the police department, was found not guilty and released. He (the perp) has since gone on to coach children in a little league baseball team in a town not far from the scene of the crime. Valerie’s mother 33-year-old Delilah Frias, a nurse from Florence, Arizona, copes from day to day as best she can—sometimes unsuccessfully—with the burden of guilt she feels for not seeing the warning signs that led to her baby’s brutal slaughter. The alleged killer was her sister’s then boyfriend, who quite unbelievably went on to become her husband after the killing of baby Valerie. The two sisters not surprisingly have not spoken since. “My biggest sadness is not having any more memories of my baby,” Delilah says, bravely trying hard not to cry. “Valerie loved to dance, she was always happily dancing, always.” Her sister’s boyfriend had been babysitting and day-caring on many occasions. After a time, Delilah noticed that when she picked up Valerie from his care she was becoming more and more introvert and always seemed to be ill or sickly in some way. “I took her (Valerie) so many times to the hospital but nothing was ever definitely diagnosed. They kept saying it’s just one of those children’s things. Even then I didn’t suspect any wrong doing by anybody. How could I have not seen this, but we trusted him, he was family. I hate myself and will never forgive myself for not noticing my child was being abused and in such great danger. I am her mother how was that possible I just didn’t notice?” Delilah stopped talking and her eyes welled up with tears as she stared blankly and shuffled her feet in the chalky ground—the ground being the cemetery were baby Valerie is buried. With Delilah at the cemetery is her husband Robert, a security guard at an immigration centre, a gentle giant of a man, and their two other daughters Adriane aged 10 and Jasmine aged 12. All the way through Delilah’s interview Robert is respectfully silent, letting his wife tell this tragic story as only a mother possibly can. Robert, while placing a comforting hand on Delilah’s shoulder, says: “I come out here to see Valerie at least once a week. Just to talk to her, but I cry every time. Of course, I want to kill the man who did this to my baby, of course I do but my family have helped me contain my anger, my rage and frustration. I don’t want any more children, I let my baby die, I feel responsible, it won’t happen again, I wont let it happen, no more children.” Delilah: “I could not have another baby; a new baby would never replace Valerie. I don’t want my few short memories of Valerie to lessen at all and a new baby would do that to me.” I tentatively ask Jasmine, the older daughter, what were her memories of her baby sister. She does not speak more than three words then bursts into floods of tears. The passing of nearly three years is not nearly enough to soften the pain. At Valerie’s tiny graveside Delilah instinctively, protectively hugs Adrianne her youngest daughter; a hug that says I will never let you go, I will never let you down, never. JOYCE’S STORY Joyce McLaren aged, 70 is a volunteer with Winged Hope. Everyone at the charity knows that Joyce has been abused in some way but she has never spoken a word about that part of her life. Joyce has chosen this moment and this interview to release almost 65 years of the dark secrets she has hidden away for so long. “My mother died when I was 15 months old and I had three older brothers and my father didn’t know what to do with us, so we were all sent to different places to live. So, at 15 months old I was sent to a strange home, and I lived with a family who had a grandfather who lived in the home with them. The grandfather would lure me into his work shed to sexually assault me. I lived with that family until I was maybe five or so, and no one ever knew.   I can tell you the smell of that shed, the smell of dirty grease, and his smell I still remember” Joyce married several times; the first three being violently abusive. As a young girl of twenty-one Joyce was violently raped at a party. I had been drinking. I had been sexually active. Honestly, I had been looking for love in all the ways I could find and all the wrong places obviously. So anyway, I ended up pregnant from the rape but gave birth to a wonderful son. There was another man that I had been with, who told me he would marry me when he came back from fighting in Vietnam and that I would have his military benefits for myself and my child. He lived through Vietnam war and comes home. Of course, we are strangers to each other and he comes home with lots of terrible issues from the war. But we married anyway I was with him for 7 years, he was an extreme alcoholic. He was never cruel until he drank, and when he drank, he was so cruel. Eventually we separated.” Joyce was so desperate for love and a happy home for herself and her young son she fell prey this time not to an abusive alcoholic, but to a very violent controlling psychopath. “On the night that I married this man he said, ‘You are now my property’. We had a wedding in town and he said, ‘You are not allowed to dance with your brother, you are not allowed to dance with your father, you are now mine now’. And that is the way that marriage began. It was all control and violence. I stayed with him also seven years. There was so much violence in that relationship. It did not matter if he was drinking or not, he was still violent.  I lived on eggshells for those seven years. I had a child with him; my daughter. I was working, and I did well at my job, and that was because he insisted I was ‘sleeping with the boss’.   I wanted to go to school, and that was just because I wanted to mess around. There was just no winning with him.”  Joyce breaks off from speaking as if her words from the past had created tangible smells and sounds in this moment. Joyce looks down at her hands then back into my eyes and says:  “When I was a teenager I did try to commit suicide when I was in high school. I tried to slit my wrists. It is strange sitting here with you and I want to cry. But the reason that I want to cry is because it is a relief to tell it. And in such a safe environment, and to not be judged.” All I see sitting in front of me is a gentle, soft, lovely woman who has so much love to give and a craving to receive a mountain of love in return. I am honoured, as I am flattered that this woman, has, in the autumn of her years has chosen me to confide in. All she received was utter cruelty from the men in her life up until now. This craving in the past had been her downfall, but now with her new husband Steve she has finally found happiness. Joyce goes on to tell me about her work with Winged Hope. “I have no degree in counselling, I am a volunteer. I am a victim advocate. I also volunteer with the Gilbert Police Department Prosecutor’s office; they also have victim advocates that work with women and I help there too. It’s so sad that I found this in the last chapter of my life, but I am so happy that I found it, all available through Winged Hope. The premise that there is no judgement, that there are no questions asked, we are here for you and you are not alone. That is so huge. These women are feeling so isolated, their abusers make them feel so isolated, they make them feel crazy. We are here to say none of that is true, and we are here for you. It’s so important at this time in their lives. Imagine if I had a Winged Hope for me when I was a child, when our kids went to live in all different places. What if my dad had Winged Hope? LEANNE'S STORY I meet one of the nicest gentle people it has been my pleasure to encounter. In between the tears I let Leanne tell her story. “It started as more of a control issue. He was so sweet and loving when we were dating. Then the very night that we got married, he said ‘I won’t do this with you and you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ It was an absolute instant change. We went on our honeymoon and if I wanted to see something or go somewhere, anywhere he said, ‘You won’t, no, you can’t I won’t let you’. I was only 19. I didn’t really have any experience; maybe I thought this was normal. I was also pregnant and terrified. We had only been married a month and my husband said you got pregnant on purpose, you did this to me.  But I didn’t do it on my own. When my son was born my husband wouldn’t pick up me and our newborn son from the hospital, he refused. Then when I got home from the hospital with my son he said, ‘you can’t use the air conditioning if I’m not home, you can’t turn it on’. But we live in Arizona and it is summer, and it’s so hot. I remember I would just lay my baby on the floor, and I would get a wet towel to keep him cold, because it was so hot in the house and I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to get in trouble with my husband, and I didn’t want to hurt my baby. So, I would do things like that. But I didn’t realize that was not normal. Then the terrible yelling started, like getting really close to my face, or hitting the wall then the wall eventually became me. He constantly told me I was stupid. One day after years of this he pushed me out of the car then stopped, took the three kids out of the car, set them on the side of the road by me, and drove away. I remember thinking this isn’t okay or normal.   The last time he punched me in the face I remember thinking, I am lucky he came back home. He had punched me in the face, and all I could think was. I am so lucky he came back home to eat the meal I had cooked him. He also had various threats. His favourite was, ‘I am going to destroy you’. ‘I will leave you in the gutter, you are not going to have anything, and I am going to take your kids away from you’.  Then one day he threw me so hard against the wall I thought my head would burst and I would die. It was then I thought I must do something.”  Leanne finally picked up the courage to leave her husband and file for divorce, which is still ongoing. Even after so much counseling and trying to accept that she had a terribly abusive partner, sadly, in the darker corners of her mind Leanne still thinks it’s all her fault. DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD [caption id="attachment_8568" align="alignleft" width="600"] Commander Dave Levoy 48-years-old, of the Criminal Investigation Unit Chandler Police Department and a Board Member of Winged Hope: “We have 300 open cases at the moment. We have to be psychiatrists, counselors and therapists. Much more than just a police officer.”[/caption] There is also a double-edged sword to some victims of abuse, possibly with an ambiguous immigration status. All too often domestic violence abusers use their victim’s immigration status as yet another means of controlling them. Many of those who abuse their partners threaten deportation if their victim reports the abuse to law enforcement.  This often works, and scares the victim into silence. Ironically what most abusers don't know is that by making their partners victims of a crime, they are actually helping them attain their status in the U.S. As a victim of many crimes, like domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation (sex trafficking) to name a few, victims are entitled to apply for a ‘U’ Visa which will protect their status in the U.S. and allow the victim to stay in the U.S. and cooperate with the police investigation of their criminal case. Another threat often made by abusers is that if a victim reports her abuse, and the couple has children, the abuser threatens to take the children back to wherever their homeland is. Abusers will often also threaten to, or actually follow through with threats to, destroy their victim’s legal immigration paperwork, and/or birth certificates and other legal documents that victims feel they need to stay legally in the United States. On my last night in Gilbert, Arizona I had dinner with Joyce her new husband Steve, Leanne and Jessica, Winged Hope’s founder. ### I am not one to gush or to be given to outpourings of emotion, but that evening as I looked around at those smiles and listened to the laughter from two gentle women who had suffered so much by the hands of such cruel men, I had two overwhelming emotions every time they looked at me with eyes that now smile with hope. A huge admiration for their courage and a deep shame for my gender. Editor’s Note: This was one of the most difficult pieces we have had to publish on Diplomatic Courier during this happiest of seasons. Senior photographer Sebastian Rich has written and covered about war, conflict, refugees and other grim topics many times for our magazine. As a global affairs publication, we don’t usually publish pieces about domestic issues in the United States alone. However, we believe our audience needs to read these stories wherever they may be. To learn more about the important work of the organization featured in this essay, please visit: www.wingedhope.org. Photography: All photos by Sebastian Rich.  

About
Sebastian Rich
:
Sebastian Rich is Senior Contributing Photographer at Diplomatic Courier. Sebastian has been a photographer/cameraman in hard news, documentary and current affairs for over thirty years.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.