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Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Guest Blog from Shirley Clark, Executive Director of the Women’s Center

This week we welcome Shirley Clark, Executive Director of the Women’s Center, to share her thoughts on the importance of looking beyond outcome measures when evaluating nonprofit performance. The Women’s Center works to improve significantly the psychological, career, financial and legal well being of women, men, couples and families, regardless of their ability to pay.

As any nonprofit ED receiving foundation or government funding will tell you, it is easy to get caught up in metrics and reports as requirements for specific outcomes increase. There is good reason for the attention, as donors and funders need to know that they are prudently allocating funds to organizations that can effectively leverage them. Last week, however, I was repeatedly reminded that we need to tell the rest of the story the heart of the story. The story that underscores the importance of the work we do.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as The Women’s Center provides advocacy and counseling services to hundreds of victims each year, we were meeting to talk about those numbers and the measures that would go into our report when my phone rang. The caller was a former victim that had shared her horrific story with me several months ago. I had reached out to her and after several weeks, thought she may not have received my message. What she said told a different story. Even though it had been 15 years since she last had contact with her abuser, she said she needed a strong day to call me back that because she had shared her story with me, she felt it might come up and she needed to be ready to talk about it and on most days she didn’t feel brave. In that moment, the how many we serve dissipated as I felt her fear and also her will to be strong. Two hours later, while handing out wristbands to increase awareness, one woman looked at me and said, I can’t wear one that hits too close and I am not ready to talk about it. Again, my heart heard the story that couldn’t be told.

The headlines of late share snippets of a world one in four women know something about. Though tragic, the national attention is needed. What the headlines don’t tell is how a victim’s biology forever changes when being ridiculed and abused; that even though the bones will heal and the outward bruises will fade, the unseen scars can last a lifetime.

I am humbled to serve at The Women’s Center, where many seek counseling to help them manage the trauma and emotions resulting from the abuse. Spreading the word about how important it is to retrain the brain is a responsibility I take seriously.

At a lecture earlier this year, a noted Psychiatrist at NIH presented a great visual. Imagine a slinky, he said, that someone put a kink in. It won’t smoothly go down the stairs like it used to, but if you hammer it out, it will work again. However you will always be able to see where it was bent. Memories stored in a domestic violence victim’s brain are like the kink, and trusted counseling is like the hammer. The work takes time; healing will occur; the memories are always there.

Most people won’t understand. They will look at the headlines and make a judgment about how awful or why didn’t she leave. What we need to help people understand is there is so much more to the story.

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