New York City
March 2003

Women Mentoring Women
By Matilda Raffa Cuomo & Catherine E. Shugrue

Domestic violence is a serious crime, and often even deadly. Every day in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Most studies indicate that women represent at least 85% or more of those who are victims of intimate partner violence. At HELP USAís seven New York City homeless shelters, nearly 40% of our clients report having been victims of violence.

We know that services for survivors of domestic violence are provided almost always by women, with a few notable (and wonderful) male exceptions. Women mentoring women provide case management, housing assistance, employment readiness, placement and training, child care, educational and cultural activities, and self-esteem building motivational workshops to these victims who have made the move to freedom.

Every night, HELP Haven and HELP Harbor shelter 100 families, led by women who have fled abuse. These women have made the courageous and dangerous decision to leave the abusive relationship, some with help from friends and family. Too many women are isolated by the abuser and cut off from these supportive relationships.

A survivor is most likely to be injured or killed when she leaves her abuser. Once she has found safety, it is extremely important that qualified staff provide her with support, resources and positive role models. All residents attend Womenís Support Group, where we teach women to become mentors to one another, sharing information, expressing the hope for change, and a better way of life.

In our collaboration with the Ackerman Institute for the Family and City College of New York, our multi-generational groups bring families together, in mutual support, from economic dependence on the batterer, to economic self-sufficiency, and for some clients, from welfare to work.

Our survivors who participate in HELP Advocacy Council learn to bring their urgent issues to elected officials. Children are their main concern, together with education, affordable housing, and economic justice. Our programs enlist the efforts of women who have succeeded and become Survivor Advocates. These women are powerful mentors, who say with credibility, You can and will make it. Iím here to help you.

HELP Haven and HELP Harbor are enthusiastic about working with Mentoring USA to develop the first formal mentoring project located in domestic violence shelters. Our trained mentors in the shelters support the children who have lived with the domestic violence. In a recent ABC TV interview, popular singer Christina Aguilera shed light on the long-term effects of domestic violence she experienced as a child, which lends poignancy to her recent hit single.

The unique Mentoring USA model also works within the context of the childís family, and especially with his or her mother, who is provided with role models, technical assistance, and is empowered to strengthen her family. She has a chance to begin a new life and give her children a future filled with hope.#

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is former first lady of New York State.


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