2016 W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Annual Report

As the year comes to close, we are pleased to share with you our 2016 Annual Report. This report lays out our numerous accomplishments, our financial status, tells the story of a volunteer, board member and of a program participant and finally, how you can support our organization. I hope you will find the report is enlightening and inspiring.

Thank you for being a part of our community. Happy Holidays to you and yours.


Jill Zawisza
Executive Director
W.O.M.A.N., Inc.
2016 ANNUAL REPORT-page-001.jpg
Graphic Design: Noel Capapas

Sobreviviente | Survivor Story


 Client: Sandra H. *name was changed, request of survivor

(Scroll down for English translation)

1) Por cuanto tiempo estabas en una relación abusiva?
Nunca me di cuenta de lo que me estaba pasando. No tenía idea que estaba en una relación abusiva. No sabia que lo que él me estaba haciendo era violencia doméstica. Yo, en mi país, viví violencia doméstica por eso yo siempre pensé que porque había violencia física era violencia doméstica. Por eso en mi nueva relación pase 2 años sin saber que lo que él estaba haciendo era abuso.

2) Qué fue lo que te hizo dar cuenta que querías ayuda para sanar de lo que te paso?
Yo estaba platicando con una amiga de mi iglesia y le comentaba que yo tenía mucho miedo y estaba muy triste. Es cuando ella me comento de unas platicas que hacen en el Consulado Mexicano sobre la prevención de violencia a la mujer. Cuando yo fui al consulado conocí a la coordinadora del programa y ella me dijo “Lo que te esta pasando suena como violencia doméstica. Por qué no te conectas con W.O.M.A.N.; inc, ahí te pueden ayudar.” Ya estaba cansada de sentir tanto miedo que sabía que ya era tiempo de buscar ayuda. No sabía de lo que me estaba pasando, solo sabía que no era correcto.

3) Cómo fue tu proceso de sanar? Tuvisteis algunos momentos en que pensaste “si voy a estar bien”?
Viniendo aquí a W.O.M.A.N., Inc. me ayudo mucho. Me ayudaron a conectarme con agencias que me apoyaron mucho para dejar a mi esposo. W.O.M.A.N., Inc. también me conecto con terapia y eso a sido un gran apoyo. Con la ayuda de mi terapeuta empecé a ver la situación como era, una de violencia doméstica.

4) Como te ha inspirado W.O.M.A.N., Inc.? Como te ha ayudado W.O.M.A.N.,  Inc. en tu proceso de sanar?
WI me ha inspirado a ser fuerte. Creo que por mucho tiempo se me olvido como hacer fuerte y W.O.M.A.N., Inc. me ayudó a reencontrar mi fuerza. Aprendí de las diferentes formas de abuso y esto me ayudo mucho con mi proceso de sanar. Se que mi proceso de sanar va ser largo, pero también se que no estoy sola.

5) Que es tu cosa favorita de participar en W.O.M.A.N., Inc.?
Creo que esto tiene que ser todo el apoyo que e recibido aquí en W.O.M.A.N., Inc.. Todos quien e conocido han estado conmigo cada paso que he dado. Me siento parte de la agencia.

6) Algo más que quieras compartir? Algo divertido de ti? Algunas palabras de sabiduría o pensamientos para la comunidad de W.O.M.A.N., Inc. (personal, voluntarios, participantes etc)?
Creo que le diría a esta gente que no tengan miedo de buscar apoyo, que hay gente y agencias que quiere ayudarle. Solo tienen que hacer el primer paso.


1) How long were you in an abusive relationship?

I did not really realize what I was getting into. I had no idea that I was in an abusive relationship. I did not know that what he was doing to me was called domestic violence. I had experienced domestic violence in my country before this relationship but I always thought that because it was physical abuse was what made it domestic violence. So in my new relationship it was 2 years not knowing that what he was doing was abuse.

2) What made you realize you wanted to reach out & heal from what happened to you?

I was talking to a friend from church about how scared and unhappy I was and she was the one that told me to go to the Mexican Consulate because they do presentations on
Women’s violence prevention. When I went there I met the woman that coordinates these presentations with outside agencies and she told me “you know what is happening to you sounds like domestic violence, you should go talk to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. and see how they can support you.” I was tired of always being afraid so I knew that it was time to get help. Except I didn’t really know what was happening, I just knew it was not right.

3) What was the healing process like for you? Did you have any epiphanies (or ‘ah ha’ moments)? Was there a specific point in the process where you thought, ‘hey, I really am going to be okay’?

Coming to W.O.M.A.N., Inc really helped me. I was able to get connected with outside agencies that helped support me to leave my husband. W.O.M.A.N., Inc also connected me with therapy and this was a huge help. With the help of my therapist I began to see things clearly and really see my situation for what it was, domestic violence.

4) How has W.O.M.A.N. Inc., inspired or empowered you? How has W.O.M.A.N. Inc., helped in your healing process?

W.O.M.A.N., Inc. has inspired me to be strong. I had forgotten how to be strong but W.O.M.A.N., Inc. helped me rediscover my strength. I was able to learn about the different forms of abuse and this helped my healing process. I know that it will take a lot of time to heal from this but I know that I am not alone.

5) What is your favorite thing about participating at W.O.M.A.N. Inc.,?

I think it would have to be all the great support that I have received from the agency. Everyone that I have interacted with has really been there for me every step of the way. I feel cared for and a part of the agency.

6) Anything else you would like to share? A fun fact about yourself? Some words of wisdom or thoughts for the W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Community (staff, volunteers, supporters, participants etc.)?

I think that I would like to tell people who are afraid of reaching out for support to not be afraid, that there are agencies and people out there that can and want to help. All it takes is making that first step and connecting with people. If I didn’t talk to my friend from church I would have never found the help I wanted.

2015 W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Annual Report

As the year comes to close, we are pleased to share with you our 2015 Annual Report. This report lays out our numerous accomplishments, our financial status, tells the story of a volunteer and of a program participant and finally, how you can support our organization. I hope you will find the report is enlightening and inspiring.

Thank you for being a part of our community. Happy Holidays to you and yours.


Jill Zawisza
Executive Director
W.O.M.A.N., Inc.



Interested in supporting our work? Donate today!

Survivor Story: “But in the end, I’m stronger. I’m not weak at all.”

A survivor who wishes to remain anonymous contacted us on our website and asked if she could contribute to our blog. This is her story:

Trigger Warning: Story contains depictions of emotional & physical abuse 

When I was younger I spent nearly 4 years in an abusive relationship.

At the time it just seemed normal, but it was bad. It was really bad. I was in denial at the time, but my life was in danger.

It is still hard for me to admit that sometimes because my abuser had my head so tied up in knots. It wasn’t until later that I learned about abuse cycles and gaslighting and when I first had them explained to me, I could see that they applied to me, but in a very distant way. A clinical way. Like I could see that there was this person whose situation was identical to mine and I could see that these scenarios applied to her, but that person wasn’t me. It couldn’t sink in and be my truth. There were always excuses for him and always reasons that I was different or I deserved it. I would think to myself that the circumstances that no one saw were nuanced that no one could label them and be sure they were abuse. And what if they were wrong? What if I was wrong? What if he was innocent of all these things and I really was crazy? That’s what he told me, right?

Let’s be clear: Gaslighting is a noxious, terrifyingly dangerous thing and it’s hard to break its hold over someone.

However, finally, with a decent amount of therapy, I came to see I wasn’t crazy. There is no other word but abuse for what he did to me. Loving people don’t hold you down and try to hurt you, threatening to break bones until you scream and ask for forgiveness. Loving people don’t chase you around the house wielding knives. Loving people don’t abuse your cat. Loving people don’t slam you against walls. Loving people don’t control who you can see or what you can wear. Loving people don’t force you into sex. Loving people don’t threaten to kill your friends. Loving people don’t wrestle you to the ground for “fun” and then hold you down when you’re begging them to stop. Loving people don’t then tell you everything they’re doing is your fault and for your own good or that you’re crazy and it didn’t happen the way you remember it.

Looking back today, I feel sorry for the girl I was when I was 18 to 22. I was so young and so vulnerable to this kind of predation and I was living in isolation from my friends and family. I used to beat myself up for not escaping sooner, but I now forgive myself for that and know that I did what I could with the tools that I had. All told, I kept myself as safe as possible, I got my cat out of the situation as soon as I could, and I left when I had a clear way out. I still have complex feelings about trying to leave and then going back to him a few times, but I can’t fix what’s in the past and as I said, I’ve learned a lot about abuse cycles and I’m working hard to apply those concepts to myself for the sake of self forgiveness.

I think that’s hard for abuse survivors: forgiving ourselves even when we’re not the ones who need forgiveness.

I think that ultimately I have to find good in what happened to me and now that several years have passed, I’m starting to.

I am a more resilient person and a more compassionate person because of what I went through. I am very grateful for what I have because at the very least, at all times I feel like I have love and safety and that’s not a basic human need I’ve always had met. Basic safety is something that many people on the planet lack. I can truly empathize with that since I’ve lived without day to day safety. I’m not sure everyone can truly appreciate how fortunate they are for this simple aspect of life. Most people in the developed world take it for granted, but it’s a precious gift. I wish every day that people who live without safety find their way to it.

I’m also more compassionate toward others because I never know what they’re going through. I was very secretive about my situation. I felt I couldn’t tell anyone because that would have made things more dangerous at home and he was careful not to leave marks where they would be visible. I try to be kind and patient and understanding that people may be putting on a brave face over horrible difficulties.

Above all, I am a more resilient person, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes with some of the mental health problems I’ve been left with. I am not very resilient with little things, but I have gotten through horrible major life events since my abusive relationship and as awkward as it sounds, I can feel myself drawing on the same defense mechanisms I used while being abused. “I got through that. I can get through anything. Everything has an end to it and if it gets worse, I will deal with it then, but right now, I just have to focus on what’s happening now and my primary concern is the people (or animals…remember the cat) around me.” I am usually calm in times of crisis, and I’ve been able to be a major support for family members as a result. So far this has mostly applied to medical and emotional crises, and family deaths. I don’t know how it would extend to natural disasters or more chaotic, adrenaline fueled events as I have an adrenaline related mental illness. However, I can typically take a deep breath and keep a clear head even when dealing with strong emotions and just get through it and deal with the emotional fallout later. The people around me know that they can turn to me when things are bad.

All of these emotional strengths have come out of my time of trial.

In short, I can’t just go along seeing a whole 4 years of my life as a loss; a waste. I have to see some positive. This is my positive. My abuser made me feel weak and helpless for so long, even after I left. But in the end, I’m stronger. I’m not weak at all.
I am still sad that I went through this time in my life. Nothing is going to change that. Never mistake my appreciation for the strengths I’ve gained for gladness that this happened to me. It was horrible and there’s no changing that. I’m angry at my abuser for what he did to me. Or at least I try to be. Some days anger lapses into fear and general anxiety if I’m perfectly honest with everyone. I’m still working on that. We’re allowed to be a work in progress. However, I am starting to try to turn it around and find hope and good in what I can’t change about myself and my past. We grow through adversity and whether I like the situation or not, it helped make me who I am today. Our past defines us, but we can choose how it defines us.

Paz Con La Soledad: Peace With Solitude – A Survivor Story

(English translation below)

Mirtha se presenta como una mujer emotiva, amena y cordial. Su estilo es respetuoso, prudente. Escucha con atención a su interlocutor, y responde con pausa y tranquilidad. Esta introducción la muestra como una persona afable al trato y a la comunicación con otras personas.

Abandonó su país de origen, El Salvador, hace varios años atrás, principalmente motivada por sus deseos de progreso. Desde entonces se ha esforzado fuertemente para mantenerse trabajando, y así poder enviar dinero a sus hijos que aún permanecen en aquel país.

Durante su permanencia en los Estados Unidos su pareja, Carlos, fue su principal apoyo y compañía. Junto a él pasaba sus días, planeaba sus proyectos, discutía ideas y disfrutaba de la vida cotidiana. Mirtha sentía que estaba enamorada, y que casi no necesitaba otras relaciones para sentirse plena y feliz. Las dificultades frecuentes aparejadas a ser inmigrante latina, como la barrera del lenguaje, el desconocimiento del funcionamiento de las instituciones, el sentimiento de extrañamiento y el desconocimiento general respecto del entorno, también colaboraron para que ella se focalizara de lleno en su cónyuge.

Un buen día la historia que Mirtha había considerado hasta entonces de amor y compañerismo se vio empañada por un desdichado incidente. Como era habitual Carlos fue a recogerla a su trabajo, pero esta vez había bebido, y ella pudo reconocer por sus comportamientos que estaba ebrio. Aún así, decidió subir al automóvil con él. Las cosas empeoraron con rapidez. En lugar de acceder a sus pedidos y sugerencias y conducirse directamente hacia la casa de los dos; él se afanó por seguir bebiendo en la casa de uno de sus amigos. Mirtha no consiguió persuadir a Carlos y acabaron en casa de Juan. Allí, luego de varias horas y muchos tragos más, y en una situación que se incrementaba en tensión, Carlos la golpeó.

Esta había sido la primera vez que su pareja la agredía físicamente. Mirtha se sentía sumamente avergonzada y abatida. Tomó su cartera y se subió a un transporte público que la llevaría a su casa. A pesar de sus esfuerzos no logró contener las lágrimas. Estaba decepcionada, dolida y profundamente enojada con Carlos. La consternaba enormemente la humillación a la que él la había sometido.

Una vez en casa, fue difícil la tarea de organizar sus pensamientos. Se sentía atormentada por tantos sentimientos encontrados. No obstante, Mirtha parecía tener una importante corazonada: este hecho de violencia no podía ser pasado por alto. Algo en su interior le indicaba que si perdonaba este comportamiento y reconciliaba la relación con Carlos, lo sucedido volvería a ocurrir.

En primer lugar, decidió que necesitaba alejarse de él. Así, recurrió a una amiga, solicitándole apoyo y un lugar donde quedarse temporalmente. María, fue de gran ayuda por aquellos días, le brindó contención, escucha y compañía mientras pensaba acerca de cómo resolver el problema en el que se encontraba.

A pesar del cariño que sentía por Carlos, la señal interior que le indicaba que era mejor no pasar por alto el incidente seguía encendida. Finalmente, se resolvió a realizar la denuncia en la policía.

El abatimiento, la consternación, la tristeza duraron mucho tiempo para Mirtha. No obstante su razonamiento le indicaba que Carlos era responsable de las penosas circunstancias que debía afrontar frente a la justicia de los Estados Unidos, ella no podía evitar sentirse culpable. Amigos en común iban a visitarlo a prisión, y luego la llamaban para comentarle que él lloraba por lo ocurrido. Mirtha se sentía partícipe del padecimiento al que estaba sujeto él.

En paralelo, un inmenso sentimiento de soledad había teñido sus días. Claro, por mucho tiempo había estado dedicada a Carlos y a su trabajo, casi no tenía otros conocidos, u actividades por fuera de la relación de pareja. Estaba muy confundida, tenía que empezar a pensar que estaba sola, sin él. Su vida entera parecía ser diferente. Se determinó a buscar un lugar donde ofrecieran terapia. De este modo llegó a W.O.M.A.N. Inc., allí fue parte de los grupos y conoció a otras mujeres que habían pasado circunstancias similares.

Mirtha destaca que concurrir a las reuniones en W.O.M.A.N. Inc. le proporcionó un gran alivio
emocional. Estar rodeada de otras personas que podían comprender sus sentimientos y su problema ayudó a desbaratar paulatinamente la angustia y la confusión que la invadían.

Con el tiempo recobraba su alegría y comenzaba a pensar en las ventajas de encontrarse sola, con su vida. Ahora podía hacer de acuerdo a su deseo, sin necesitar pedir permiso a él. También entonces cayó en la cuenta de que Carlos parecía tener un problema con el alcohol que había comenzado antes de conocerlo incluso, y que había resurgido en un viaje que él realizó meses antes del incidente en la casa de Juan. Ya por entonces, ella había sentido una alarma que le decía que la relación iba camino a disolverse. Desde su regreso de aquel viaje a El Salvador, Carlos se comportó diferente con ella, muchas veces la trataba mal y bebía más que antes.

Cada vez podía ver con mayor claridad que Carlos tenía un problema, y que a pesar de que fuera triste admitirlo, existían repercusiones de esto que alcanzaban a la relación de pareja. Con el paso del tiempo, y a pesar de seguir sintiendo cariño por él, Mirtha ganaba convencimiento respecto de la decisión que tomó al separarse. Actualmente sentía que podía estar bien sola. Se sentía contenta. Contaba con su trabajo, con su amiga María, además había conocido a otras personas en los grupos a los que concurrió en la agencia. Ante todo, este tiempo que había transcurrido luego del distanciamiento con Carlos, le enseñaba que no temía a la soledad, que podía sentirse contenta de esta manera también. Ahora, muchas oportunidades acerca de cómo conducir su vida se presentan, y es ella, felizmente ella, quien puede tomar las decisiones al respecto.

Story shared by Noelia, Latina Program Volunteer

Mirtha presents herself as a pleasant and cordial woman. Her style is respectful, cautious. She listens with great attention and responds with tranquility.

She abandoned her country, El Salvador, several years ago, mainly motivated by her wishes of progress. Since then, she has worked hard to keep herself employed, so that she can send money back home to her children.

During her stay in the United States her partner, Carlos, was her main support and companion.  Together along with him she would spend her days, plan projects, discuss ideas and just enjoy daily life.  Mirtha felt that she was in love, and that she did not need other relationships to feel full and happy.  The frequent difficulties and struggles of being a Latina immigrant such as language barriers, not knowing how institutions worked, missing ones country, and not knowing your environment, were factors to her focus on Carlos.

One day, the story that Mirtha considered one of love and companionship was tarnished by an unfortunate incident.  As usual, Carlos went to pick her up from work, but this time he had been drinking, and she could tell by his behavior that he was drunk.  Even so, she decided to get in the car with him.  Everything happened so fast. Instead of complying with her wishes and suggestions of going to their home, Carlos wanted to keep drinking at his friend’s house.  Mirtha was not able to persuade Carlos and they ended up at Juan’s house. There, after several hours and many drinks, and in a situation in which increased tension, Carlos hit her.

This was the first time that Carlos had assaulted her physically. Mirtha felt embarrassed and low.  She got her purse and rode the bus home. Despite her efforts, she could not contain her tears.  She was disappointed, hurt and profoundly angry at Carlos, the humiliation that he had submitted her too.

Once home, it was a difficult task to organize her thoughts. She felt tormented by all the emotions that she was feeling.  However, Mirtha  was clear that this act of violence could not be disregarded.  Something inside of her told her that if she forgave this behavior and reconciled with Carlos, what just happened would happen again.

First, she decided that she needed to get away from him. So, she resorted to a friend, seeking support and a place to stay temporarily. Maria, her friend, provided so much support to Mirtha during those days while she was trying to resolve the problem that she was in.

Despite the affection that she felt for Carlos, the feeling that she felt within her that told her that she could not let this incident go was still within her. Finally, she decided to make a police report.

The depression, the dismay, and sadness lasted a long time for Mirtha. Even though she knew that Carlos was responsible for his behavior that put him face to face with the United States Justice system, she could not help but feel responsible.  Friends that they shared in common would go visit him in prison, and then they would call her to tell her that Carlos would cry for what happened.  Mirtha felt like she was responsible for the conditions he was going through.

In parallel, an immense feeling of loneliness had clouded her days.  For the longest time she had dedicated her time to Carlos and her job, that she did not know anyone else, or knew of any activities outside of couple activities.  She was very confused; she had to come to terms that she was alone, without him. Her whole life felt like it was different. She was determined to find a place where they offered therapy. In this way, she came to W.O.M.A.N. Inc.; there she was able to participate in groups and meet other women that had gone through similar circumstances.

Mirtha highlights that coming to the groups at W.O.M.A.N. Inc. gave her huge emotional relief.  She said that being surrounded by people that understood her feelings and her problem was a huge help in alleviating her feelings of anguish and confusion.

With time she was able to recover some of the happiness and she was starting to think of all the advantages of being single.  Now, she was able to do things without asking anyone for permission.  Also, she realized that Carlos seemed to have a problem with alcohol that had begun even before she met him, and it had resurfaced during a trip he made ​​months before the incident at Juan’s house.  Even then, she had felt an alarm telling her that the relationship was on its way to dissolve.  Ever since his return from a trip to El Salvador, Carlos behaved differently with her, a lot of times he would treat her badly and he drank even more than before.

Each time she was able to see with clarity that Carlos had a problem, even though it was sad to admit it, there existed repercussions that were impacting the relationship. With the passing of time, and despite still feeling affection for him, Mirtha was able to come to terms with her decision to separate.  Now, she felt that she could feel fine with being alone. She felt happy. She counted on her job, her friend Maria, and other people that she met during groups at W.O.M.A.N. Inc.; Mirtha felt that the time she spent away from Carlos taught her not to be afraid of loneliness, that she could feel happy being alone too. Now, many opportunities about how to lead her life are present, and she is happily herself, the one who can make those decisions.

English translation by Adilia, Latina Program Assistant

Miriam’s Story of Survival

TRIGGER WARNING: physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse

Miriam came to the United States from her home country of Mexico to live the “American Dream” but that dream soon became a nightmare. Miriam met her now ex-husband here in the U.S. and started dating for a couple of years and then got married. She thought that she would spend the rest of her life with him. But the same man that said “I love you” soon became abusive. cover_42_en_USShe suffered a lot of economical, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse at the hands of him. He knew how to manipulate her and knew when to treat her “well”. When it came time to pay the bills he would turn into the loving man she once knew and loved so much. When he was not manipulating her for money, he was trying to manipulate her for sex. He would tell her that he could easily go out and pay a prostitute $50 for sex. She could not believe what she was hearing. The abuse that Miriam experienced was taking everything out of her. Miriam recalls “Everything I was… I was shrinking and shrinking.” She got to weigh 92 pounds because of all the depression she was dealing with. She had no one to support her and his family was covering up for his abusive ways. Towards the end of their relationship, he started abusing drugs and alcohol. Miriam had enough. She knew that she had to get out of there, for herself and her two boys.

When she finally left her husband, she made it seem like she was going to work. She packed all the necessary items (clothing, documents, some photos, and of course the boys’ fish) into a backpack and left. She picked up her eldest son first and then the youngest. They all made the trip from Hayward to San Francisco. They arrived at The Rosalie House, an emergency shelter, and were finally free from the abuse. At The Rosalie House, she was able to participate in support groups and interact with other women who also had gone through Domestic Violence. She remembers laughing and having a good time in these groups. The Rosalie House referred Miriam to W.O.M.A.N., Inc.

She came to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. to receive counseling services. Miriam found it very hard to talk about what had happened to her, so she would talk about other things. She would talk about work, school, and every day problems. Even though it was hard for her to talk about the Domestic Violence she liked coming to therapy but soon had to stop coming because she had to focus on the boys, work, and school. After a year, while applying for a U-Visa, she came back to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. to receive some advocacy around translating some documents she needed in order to apply for the Visa. During that time she worked with Lupe, a former case manager for our Latina Program, for the translations and also started therapy with Elsa, an MFT Intern for our Therapy Program. Miriam once again found herself struggling to talk about the abuse she had gone through but she knew that she had to start talking about it to start healing herself. She recalls “Then the right moment came and I really started to talk it out and work with everything that was hurting me.” After every session she would feel emotionally exhausted but she knew that it was necessary. And little by little she saw a change in herself.

Today, Miriam no longer is in an abusive relationship. She is happy. She goes to school, plays with her boys (sometimes cheating a little at the games), goes to work, and smiles! She worries about paying the bills, getting the boys to school on time, and her school work. She is also proud of her two boys, who are doing very well in school. She has achieved a lot because she has not given up!
“I dedicated myself to survive…”

Miriam is a SURVIVOR.

Please consider donating to W.O.M.A.N., Inc. so that we can continue to provide essential services to survivors like Miriam. We rely on and appreciate your support.