Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
As a teacher most of her life, Los Altos resident Ruth Patrick witnessed the emotional stress that abusive home environments can inflict on children. When she learned that more than one-third of all children who witness domestic violence later become perpetrators of abuse, she vowed to stop the cycle.
With a $5,000 incubator grant and guidance from the Los Altos Community Foundation (LACF), Patrick publicly launched the Women-of-Means Escape Network, Silicon Valley (W.O.M.E.N. - SV) in March.
As Los Altos’ first resource dedicated to helping middle-to-upper income women who face domestic violence, she hopes to connect victims with the resources and support they need to overcome their challenges and understand that they are not alone.
“There is a general perception that it (domestic violence) happens on the other side of town. Or that wealthy women have the resources to handle it,” Patrick said.
From her outreach in the local community, she has discovered that many affluent women in abusive situations live in shame and are fearful that reporting or leaving their partner would result in the loss of their livelihood, home or even their children. She also notes that abusers who are well educated and financially stable have powerful friends and are more likely to use coercive tactics to control their victims.
The Los Altos Police Department receives an average of one report of domestic violence a month, but Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis suspects that many other victims are afraid to call in fear that the arrest of their perpetrator would negatively affect their social status.
“When victims call to have us intervene, they are looking for help,” Younis said.
According to Younis, if and when someone calls law enforcement it is normally not the first time the victim has been abused.
Although Los Altos registers the lowest rate of reported domestic violence in Santa Clara County, at 49 calls per every 1,000 calls to law enforcement, Younis presumes that the numbers do not reflect the scale of the problem in the community. Considering that the 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey estimates that one in four women endure domestic violence in their lifetimes, there are probably many more silent sufferers in the community.
After watching the struggles of three close friends from Los Altos and Mountain View affected by unhealthy relationships, Patrick became frustrated by the lack of local resources. She saw the gap in services and created W.O.M.E.N. - SV to aid victims in Los Altos and neighboring communities who were “living in a war zone just waiting for the next bomb to drop.”
During the past five years, Patrick has solidified her vision into an organization with a board of directors and dedicated volunteers. In addition to a confidential phone number and email address for women who may be in unhealthy relationships, W.O.M.E.N. - SV’s website provides resources for victims and their advocates ranging from tools for identifying red flags of abuse to educational materials and a directory that includes information on emergency housing, financial and legal support, counseling and local self- help groups.
Jennifer (last name withheld for safety reasons), one local survivor who just celebrated two years away from her abusive partner, said that meeting Ruth and learning about the support available through W.O.M.E.N. - SV was life changing.
“The information she provided me has been integral in helping me recover and work through the aftermath of a horrible three-year marriage,” Jennifer said. “Ruth helped me realize that I was minimizing the physical, emotional and sexual abuse I had endured.” Inspired to give back, Jennifer currently volunteers for Ruth by collecting women’s stories of domestic violence for W.O.M.E.N. - SV.
Since its official launch in March, the organization has assisted nine women, including six from Los Altos. Patrick said the organization is growing quickly and that she is starting to receive referrals from local psychologists.
Although all materials are available online at losaltoscf.org/womensv, individuals can also obtain informational brochures at the Los Altos Police Department. Younis said that making information available to the public is important.
“We want them (domestic violence victims) to know that there is hope and support, and that there are services available,” he said. “We want to make sure that the abuse stops and that the victim is protected.”
Through the work of W.O.M.E.N. - SV, victims in Los Altos have one more resource to relieve them from abusive situations.
“Women need to leave on their own time and own terms and have to be ready to fight,” Patrick said. “I hope we can connect women with resources so that they know they are not alone anymore.”
For more information, call 996-2200 or visit losaltoscf.org/womensv.