Hidden Valley House Auxiliary is a group of Scripps Ranch women committed to supporting Hidden Valley House, an emergency shelter for women and children who have been affected by domestic violence. Hidden Valley House is operated by the Center for Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to healing and preventing sexual assault and relationship violence.

Stephanie (not her real name), age 32 and the mother of three small children, was a recent resident at Hidden Valley House. Here is her story:

"I was married for five years. While we were dating, my husband was a perfect gentleman. He was so kind and there were never any signs that he could be violent. He was, however, jealous of me and didn't like me spending a lot of time with friends or family. I didn't think that was a big problem; I thought it was nice that he wanted to spend his time with me. I didn't realize at the time that he was trying to alienate me from the people who truly cared about me.

After we were married we decided to move to San Diego, far away from my friends and family. I was excited about moving to a new city with my new husband. He didn't want me to work, saying he could support both of us. We could only afford one car, so I was often alone during the day. When I finally met a new friend in the neighborhood, my husband didn't want me to spend time with her.

I became pregnant with our first child shortly after we married. During my pregnancy my husband hit me for the first time. The first incident was horrible. I had bruises on my face and arms. I threatened to leave, but I was pregnant with no money and nowhere to go.

He apologized immediately and brought me flowers every day for a week. He had been drunk during the incident and blamed it on alcohol and the stress of being the sole provider. I forgave him because he was my husband and because I loved him and wanted a good home for our baby.

He didn't hit me again until our second child had been born. However, the verbal assaults continued almost daily. I was stuck at home with two small children and no friends. I felt trapped but was afraid to speak up. I told myself as long as he wasn't hitting me, I was okay.

After our second child was born my husband was home less frequently. When he was, he was physical with me, pushing me around, hitting me, reminding me how worthless I was.

By the time our third child was born, the abuse was happening on an almost daily basis. He thought nothing of slapping me and didn't care if our children were able to hear what was going on. I wanted to leave but I really didn't know where I could go. I didn't have any money, and I had three small children.

One day after a particularly violent incident, my neighbor called the police. By the time the police came my husband was gone. The advocate who accompanied the police sat down with me and talked about how I didn't have to live in fear and pain. I knew I had to leave but had no idea where I could go. The advocate took me to Hidden Valley House where my children and I would be safe.

Going to Hidden Valley House was the best decision I ever made. My children and I were welcomed by the staff and the other residents there. I was able to meet other women who had been through the same experience I had. My children felt safe for the first time in their lives. I felt like a worthwhile person who had the right to be safe.

I was also overwhelmed. I was afraid of what I would do next, how I would make money, and where I would go. That feeling was short lived. At Hidden Valley House I met with a case manager who helped me plan what I would do at the shelter and after I left.

I became a different person at Hidden Valley House--a stronger person who believed in myself and in my children. I am grateful for the chance that I had to change my life for the better."

Stephanie, with the help of Hidden Valley House staff, was admitted into a transitional housing program away from San Diego and closer to her family. She is doing well, working, and repairing relationships with her family. She was awarded sole custody of her children.

Although Stephanie's story has a happy ending, statistics show that on average, women affected by domestic violence attempt to leave their batterer five to seven times before they are successful. While perhaps not successful the first time, clients at Hidden Valley House gain a better understanding of the impact of domestic violence and acquire valuable skills that help them achieve independent, violence-free lives.

With the support of community organizations and Scripps Ranch residents, the Hidden Valley House Auxiliary is able to brighten the lives of the clients at the shelter. The group's Item of the Month program, seasonal celebrations, hands-on volunteer projects, and Internet connectivity for the residents and staff are among the many ways the Auxiliary supports Hidden Valley House.

The Auxiliary's 4th Annual High Tea fundraiser will be held on Saturday, May 1, at the Scripps Ranch Library. For reservations or additional information about the Hidden Valley House Auxiliary, please contact Susan Howe at 578-7542.

Susan Howe

[Editor's note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call the County of San Diego Domestic Violence Hotline at 888-DV-LINKS or 888-385-4657.]