What Is Your Voice, Inc. Leads Abused Women Out of Domestic Violence

Episode Date: February 15, 2018

(SUSSEX COUNTY, Del.) - An underground railroad in Sussex County leading abused women out of domestic violence is changing lives one voice at a time.


What Is Your Voice, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and children who suffer from domestic violence, be it physical or psychological.


Jacqueline Sterbach, founder of the organization that was originally started in Baltimore, said the nonprofit’s mission is to support, educate and empower victims of abuse on Delmarva.


“We are about empowering women and helping them with the reality of what a survivor looks like,” Sterbach said.


“We run under the radar. Without safety and confidentiality, nothing exists. We do what we call crisis care and then we do long term care. And we’re the only agency in the state of Delaware that does that.”


What Is Your Voice, Inc. does not receive government funding and relies solely on community support to be able to provide victims with clothing, food, baby items, as well as hotel stays and gas money.


Just a phone call away, a new life waits for many women who decide to come forward to take the first step in breaking the cycle of abuse.


Domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not limited to physical aggression but also includes, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse, as well as stalking.


“We help them understand there’s no shame. When a woman is traumatized, she can’t even think about her own name looks like. So we help them draw all that out here in a safe environment,” Sterbach said.


Many women seek Protection from Abuse orders, or PFA’s, as clients of the organization. Sterbach said the center deals with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder on a daily basis and more often than not, the battered clients are so overwhelmed with emotion that it’s difficult for them to clearly detail how they’ve been abused.


“Under a process, they might come up with five pages [of abuse] and they can get it down to paragraphs. They understand why they need a protection from abuse order and that’s the most important thing,” Sterbach said.


The small three-person team of volunteers, including Sterbach, have unlocked a world of possibilities for women they have helped.


“The best part about doing this work is just really seeing them build up that confidence in themselves,” said Resource Coordinator Jamie Basar.


“It’s like watching a caterpillar develop into a beautiful butterfly,” said volunteer Jasmine Smith. “The women come from everywhere. You never know what they’ve been through. I’ve learned not to be judgmental and that I’m just here to help them help themselves.”


After having spent 15 years as a champion for victims of domestic violence, and as a survivor herself, Sterbach said making the move from Baltimore to Sussex County came as culture shock due to the deep roots of oppression she said women face in the area.


“Down here it’s very hard and oppressed. It’s very backward when it comes to violence against women and children. It moves slower. It’s like I’ve gone back into the 1800s,” Sterbach said.


“It’s been harder to do the work down here because I’m pressing against so many things, but I’m not afraid to press against a hard wall.”


The founder credits not only her own newfound fearlessness in the battle, along with the courage of her team, but the life experience she has not being a local Delawarean.


“I think the greatest blessing down here are the transplants coming in. There’s a lot of different movements down here that are happening because of the transplants, the lack of fear we have against the stranglehold of the systems in place here.”


The organization says while a fair share of their clients come from rural, poverty-stricken backgrounds, a majority of the women who visit the center are professional, highly-educated, and upper-middle class socioeconomic backgrounds.


Backgrounds like Sterbach’s, who started her own company in Baltimore and was an entrepreneur, but still fell into a pattern of abusive relationships. A pattern Sterbach said stems from childhood.


“Home is where it all begins. What you learned when you were a little girl, you became predisposed for certain choices because you had no idea what else was out there. What more stable choices look like.”


After breaking away from her last abuser at age 56, Sterbach said filing for a PFA is what saved her life and her children’s lives.


“I was one who thought I couldn’t do anything but live like this. I realized what I had lost and it was my voice. Then i got out of it,” she said.


“After a while I pondered what would have made the difference for me and my children? What was my voice going to say now?”


Months after she started her current nonprofit, Sterbach said it was difficult deciding on a name. Until one day, the idea popped into her head.


“I believe that if one person rises up like an underground movement, like an abolitionist, it can change a community. It can change a family. That’s the power. There’s this movement among women and you cannot contain that. Women, who have risen up, and we’re moving.”


For more information about What Is Your Voice, Inc., you can visit http://whatisyourvoice.com.


If you are experiencing domestic violence or know someone who is, you can call the What Is Your Voice hotline at (443) 653-2067.


You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-(800) 799-7233.