SOCIETY

Addressing family abuse away from home

It?s difficult enough to leave an abusive relationship in your own country, let alone walking away from one while living abroad. Based in Oregon, the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVCC) provides support for US citizens experiencing domestic abuse overseas. The center offers a 24-hour hotline serviced by trained staff and volunteer advocates who can be reached toll-free from 175 countries, including Greece. Once a victim contacts the center, the organization can supply him or her with crucial resources to help them return to the US or find safety in the country they are in.

Some of the resources the center offers are emergency funds, assistance with relocating, counseling and lawyer contacts as well as help with some of the legal fees. Sensitive to the cultural context of each case, the center also creates specialized safety plans to see individuals through the transition from the abusive relationship, as unique, additional challenges apply compared to similar situations in one?s own home country. As founder Paula Lucas says, ?the biggest barrier to people returning to the US is if they have children.? One potential legal hurdle, she noted, is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which stipulates that a parent cannot take his or her children out of the country without the consent of the other parent. Alternatively, in certain Middle Eastern countries, men can place travel bans on their wives or children. The legal intricacies surrounding the process often make leaving tricky and time-consuming but they also make AODVCC?s existence a boon to those who need it.

Lucas formed the center after deciding to leave an abusive husband with her three children while living in the Middle East. In 1997, Lucas told her brother in California about the abuse. Her family tried contacting the US State Department as well as senators and congressmen but their efforts to help her were unsuccessful. Lucas also went to the American Embassy for help but she was told that they couldn?t interfere with the laws of that country.

A chance event provided Lucas with the opportunity to escape. While on a business trip in Germany, her husband was robbed of his money and passport on a train, preventing him from re-entering the country in the short term. Taking advantage of his absence, Lucas searched his office for her children?s passports. She forged her husband?s signature on a check to get enough money to travel and on documents giving permission for her and her sons to leave. Eventually, Lucas and her children boarded a flight to New York and the family made it to her sister?s house in the US.

The escape wasn?t the end of her trials though: An 18-month legal battle ensued and Lucas had to go into hiding. In the end, the court allowed Lucas to keep her sons in the US, and, aware of the need in the international community, she created the crisis center for Americans who were going through the same ordeal.

In addition to its support services, AODVCC runs the Global Campaign to Empower Americans Abused Abroad outreach program. Volunteers apply to become outreach ambassadors and attend a training conference. They must commit to the role for two years and are responsible for raising awareness about the center in their communities. Conferences have already been scheduled in Asia for this fall, and in Spain, Portugal and Morocco next spring. AODVCC is considering bringing the program to Greece sometime in 2011. ?Our goal is to disseminate information about the organization to the 5.25 million Americans living abroad,? said Lucas.

Because of its efforts, today the center receives around 250 calls per month, handles a caseload of 25 to 30 families at a time and is able to relocate about one family per month to the United States.

For further information, visit www.866uswomen.org. If you are an American experiencing domestic violence in Greece, go to the site?s Get Help Now page for instructions or dial 00-800-1311, followed by 866-USWOMEN (879-6636).