Can you imagine that providing shelter in the U.S. for women running from domestic abuse is a relatively new idea? Just think about that for a moment. Prior to the 1970s, imagine you’re a woman living with a violent, cruel man. The police consider violence at home a “family affair.” Your extended family is embarrassed and thinks the problem most likely lies with you—you need to serve and obey your husband better. The religious institution at which you pray tells you that divorce is sinful. You realize that divorce is out of the question anyhow. You’re not able to make a living and support your children because you’re a woman and “shouldn’t work outside the home.” You don’t control the family finances and your education is lacking. You’ve been raised in a society that does not value women and you are trapped.  

“You’ve come a long way, Baby,” a cigarette slogan targeting women in 1968, was supposedly a result of an emerging feminist consciousness. It was a memorable catchphrase seeking an increase in sales for a supposedly sexy (not to mention toxic) product, but the words were premature. In 1968 there still was not one rape crisis center to be found in the entire 50 United States of America. Nor was there a single shelter for abused women. Not one! The Women’s Rights Movement was still in its infancy and women still had a long way to go.

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women it was actually the women’s movement in both the US and Great Britain—beginning in the 1960s—that blazed a trail for domestic violence victims. The U.N. states, “The first well-documented women’s center was established in Hounslow, Great Britain in 1971, which provided an unofficial refuge for domestic violence survivors.” Gradually during the 1970s shelters began to open across the American landscape and the first emergency rape crisis line was started in Washington, D.C.

In 1975 Social Worker Ruby Scarborough, realized the desperate need for a local shelter for battered women in Santa Fe. The following year her colleague, Mary Justice, who was a staff member of the Sangre de Cristo Mental Health Center, wrote and received a federal grant request to fund a women’s shelter.  For the first time, a small shelter for abused women was set up on Williams Street in Santa Fe; not long after the shelter was moved to Old Santa Fe Trail. Eventually, the current shelter property was donated and today Esperanza Shelter can house 32 domestic abuse survivors.

Forty years later, Esperanza Shelter continues to wrap its arms around each and every domestic abuse survivor who comes through our doors. Today’s programs are a far cry from the mentality of 1976 which sought to simply provide a safe haven for “battered women.” Yes—we save lives—but we also shape futures.

In 2016 Esperanza Shelter continues to offer emergency shelter to survivors, but it also provides individual and group counseling, court advocacy and assistance with housing. Educational programs such as Hope in Learning (funded by the Walmart Foundation) exist to lift women up by providing free tutoring for GED and US citizenship testing, as well as ESL training. The grant provides books, testing fees, transportation and babysitting too. A grant to hire a child therapist (funded by the Lineberry Foundation) helps children who have witnessed or directly experienced abuse to work through their grief. Dance and poetry programs offered at Esperanza help to release trauma from the body and allow survivors to understand they are smart, creative, confident and beautiful. The StoryDancer Project, Healing Voices and Wingspan Poetry have enlightened and enriched the lives of many of the women and men we serve.

Back in 1976, no one could have imagined it, but today Esperanza Shelter offers an Offenders’ Program as well. Breaking the cycle of violence is the goal. Approximately 95% of domestic violence offenders were abused as children or witnessed abuse in their homes. Childhood abuse will never serve as an excuse for violence, but it does show us the importance of an intervention program.

As someone who cares about Esperanza Shelter, you stand with other supporters recognizing that we have come a long way but we continue to have work to do. There are women still trapped in abusive, hopeless relationships. We ask you to continue to lend a hand and financial support as we move into the future and strive to make domestic abuse a thing of the past.

It’s a lofty goal but with each step forward we can hope to one day say, “You’ve come a long way, SISTER!”