About 100 women gathered at Queens College on Friday to learn about the obstacles facing abused disabled women and to listen to one woman’s triumph over adversity.
“I was raised in a house that considered domestic violence a part of a relationship,” said Mirian Detres-Hickey at an event sponsored by Women and Work and the White Ribbon Campaign, two programs that combat abuse against women.
Detres-Hickey, now director of the Office of Special Services at Queens College, overcame violence. She grew up in a Bronx home where she saw her father beat her mother and saw her neighbors beat their spouses. When she married, the trend of spousal abuse did not change.
One battering landed her in the hospital and killed her unborn second child. Her husband visited her in the hospital with his girlfriend.
That was a turning point and she decided to leave him. However, more obstacles were still ahead.
Detres-Hickey has acute dyslexia. She reads numbers and letters backwards and when nervous, will write and speak backwards without recognition. She is also hard of hearing.
Although a graduate of the city school system, she could not read in part because of these disabilities: a large obstacle when looking for employment.
After leaving her husband, she turned to drugs. Broke and now the sole provider for her five children, she squatted in an abandoned house.
The stress mounted and she ended up in a mental hospital. Two years later, on Mother’s Day, her attitude changed and she decided to reshape her life.
Detres-Hickey regained custody of her children, taught herself how to read, went to school and worked at night. She now has a PhD in special education.
“My motivation was my children, but you don’t need to have children to get out of a bad situation,” she said. “It’s better to be poor than to live with a man who beats the crap out of you.”
Living on one’s own is difficult, said Nicolyn Plummer, a deaf violence social worker at Barrier Free Living’s non-residential domestic violence program.
Many deaf women in an abusive relationship fear what others in the deaf community will say, in what she calls “the deaf grapevine.” This applies to women with other disabilities, or no disabilities, as well.
Plummer said abused women also fear being isolated and losing their children, caretakers and home.
Many women see the lack of shelter and possible discrimination in the criminal justice system as further hurdles to leaving.
As a result, 70 to 85 percent of abuse cases against women with disabilities go unreported, according to Plummer.
These are some of the roadblocks that programs like Women and Work and the White Ribbon Campaign try to eliminate.
The White Ribbon Campaign distributes petitions and calls for government to take action. The campaign relies on others for donations and to promote it. For more information visit saynotoviolence.org.
Women and Work also strives to end violence. The program offers free empowerment and job training classes to low- income women in the city.
These programs illuminate domestic abuse with the hope that if more people talk about these issues, domestic violence will decrease and one day possibly stop.
“There is hope,” Detres-Hickey said.
Women and Work is a Queens College 15-week program that helps women, many whose lives have been tainted by abuse, gain job and life skills training. Classes include computer training, math skills, literacy skills, writing for business, ESL, resume writing, interviewing skills and others. There is on-site counseling, health and wellness training and referrals are made.
To apply, women must have a GED or high school diploma, have working knowledge of English and be legally able to work in the United States. Go to qc.cuny.edu/womenandwork or call (212) 642-2070 or (718) 997-4899.