Experts say that domestic violence against women is prevalent in every society. Its victims are rich and poor, urban and rural, religious and secular. But it is also one of the most under-reported crimes because the victim often has been traumatized over time into believing that she has no other option than to accept the abuse. VOA's Brian Padden looks at an innovative program called “Stopgap” that is using Drama Therapy to help women overcome the psychological damage they suffer from years of abuse.
"I just wanted to know if we could talk…" says Carly.
"Why do you have to overreact to everything? It's no big deal!" responds Josh.
These actors are recreating an abusive scene all too familiar to this audience of battered women. But these are not just actors; they are drama therapists.
Don Laffoon, the group's founder, addresses the women. "If somebody has control and power over me, I'm going to give them my shoes, my money, my watch, anything they want because they have power over me."
Don says seeing their lives from a different perspective can help these women changes in their lives. "Often educators, teachers think that they speak, you know, it will go in their ear and maybe to the brain and there will be learning. And what Stopgap tries to do is go from the heart. So that if we can experience the feelings within the situation, and they can see it in a very safe way, then they may be able to make some strong choices."
"What do you feel about yourself?" asks one participant.
"I think I'm a loser," answers another, role-playing.
For these women living in this domestic violence shelter in the Southern California region of the United States, the road to recovery begins with self-examination.
Don Laffoon says, even though they had the courage to leave, the abuse suffered over time and the seemingly overwhelming problems they face to rebuild their lives, leave many traumatized.
"They're all fearful and they have all experienced what is, people try to describe as emotional abuse. Many of the women don't have their own bank account or don't have their own financial resources. And that is another reason that they are trapped. Most of them have been worn down slowly, kind of like water dripping on a stone. It wears away, it wears away their self-confidence."
This shelter, which provides short-term support and these therapy sessions, can help these women regain control of their lives.
The women here often interact with the actors, sharing their own experiences.
"We all come in here feeling like that because the people we were living with before put us down, to make themselves feel better," said one therapist.
Don adds, "We try to give them a chance to look at issues in their lives and what choices they can make and how they can powerful choices that will change in their lives. Our theory is that the women really have the answers but they need to vocalize them, they need to express them, they need to feel them."
And Stopgap gives these women a platform to do so.