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CBS News Texas reporter gets interactive lesson in domestic violence awareness: "In her shoes"

CBS News Texas reporter gets interactive lesson in domestic violence awareness: "In her shoes"
CBS News Texas reporter gets interactive lesson in domestic violence awareness: "In her shoes" 03:33

DALLAS – Ruth Guerreiro sits on the Conference on Crimes Against Women advisory council. She said an estimated 3,000 people from various professions attended the conference to learn about criminal offenses against women and ways to support victims through their journey.

"The majority of victims of intimate partner violence are female. And the majority of the abusers are male," Guerreiro said. "There are some males who are – who do experience intimate partner violence. The majority of the male victims have male partners."

Guerreiro is the chief clinical officer at the Genesis Women's Shelter & Support. Unfortunately, a lot of the conversation about domestic violence remains unchanged, like temporary/emergency packed with victims, assisting and supporting women as they make choices about their journey in the cycle, and providing insight into the needs of those who get caught in physical, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and emotional abuse.

"There are so many different ways that he can use money to abuse her," she said. "One would be threats. If you spend this much money, I'm gonna do X, Y, Z, right? Or if you tell anybody that I abused you, I'm not gonna give you any money for child support."

According to Guerreiro, women who have children with the abuser may never feel freedom with graduations, weddings, and life events that continue to connect them.

 "That doesn't mean that she has to suffer forever. She can find healing still," Guerreiro said. "She can get to the point in counseling and through trauma processing and through coping skills and safety planning so that when he's still being abusive, she can notice it. She can respond the way she needs to, but she doesn't have to go in her emotions and enter into the cycle of violence."

Like financial abuse, she said, a newer subtopic under the umbrella of emotional abuse called spiritual abuse needs more research.

"How he's using scripture or faith to kind of excuse his behaviors," she said.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline said spiritual abuse may not get discussed because many are not aware of it. They describe it as a church or faith leader and even intimate partner who uses spirituality to shame, control, and abuse a victim.

"So he's not allowing her to go to church, or he's not allowing her to go to church alone,' Guerreiro said. "She has to take the kids, and he knows those kids aren't going to sit still, so she's not going to get any spiritual upliftment."

She said they've had clients who got forced to pray out loud in front of the offender---asking God for forgiveness after getting hit for what she'd done wrong.

Some of the spiritual abuse, she said, comes down to doctrine.

"So it's common in Christian families for him to say, well, I'm the head of the household, and you're supposed to do what I say, and here's the scripture for that," she said.

To make the burden even heavier, Guerreiro said as victims try to navigate the system, it can become frustrating.

"One thing that we know at Genesis is that she's got to come to us for counseling, but then she goes somewhere else for a different appointment," Guerreiro said. "Then she's got to go over here to CPS---and then she has to go over here for a housing appointment."

Guerreiro took CBS News Texas through an exercise developed in Washington, "In Her Shoes," to illustrate how cyclical a victim's journey can be.

Professionals who work with domestic violence victims take the drill like staffers at Genesis. Its goal is to provide more empathy in service.

Tables are labeled with services, places, and even people a victim might choose in the cycle of violence. Each participant gets a character with a script of events on cards. Some have children. Others do not. Their common bond, sadly, is domestic violence.

"Tasha" is our assigned character. She is an African-American attorney who fell head over heels with Curtis. He spoke at her law school.

In the exercise, the two become involved with Tasha swept off her feet until the evening she comes home to find Curtis kissing another woman.

As the woman leaves, the card says Tasha is assaulted and choked out of consciousness. When she wakes up, per the activity, Curtis packs and reminds her who's in charge. Her choices: See a doctor or go to a friend.

Tasha seems lost from friend to mother, to burying herself at work so deeply a cleaning woman spots the signs. She goes on a ballon ride with Curtis only to have her head slammed into a bedpost for not giving him $10,000 for a yacht.

During the exercise, Tasha's stylist gets her to call a domestic abuse advocate, who urges calling the police. According to the exercise script, Tasha doesn't trust the police. That's where CBS News Texas stopped.

"You're experiencing the frustration. I can see it in your face," Guerreiro said.

While vast, Tasha's choices were limited. However, the options were printed on cards in a room with table labeling possibilities. 

Guerreiro said victims sometimes have to escape homes where they get tracked on their cell phones, or the abuser may even pay children to disclose their mother's whereabouts and activities.

Genesis Women's Shelter & Support offers free help 24/7 in English and Spanish. Victims who need assistance can also go to other groups in the north Texas area.

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