Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support offers a variety of services for anyone identifying as a woman

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Last December, a woman called 911 to report that a person in her address in Grapevine was experiencing breathing problems. When paramedics and police arrived at the home, they found Cynthia Cervantes lying on the floor; she had been shot multiple times. She was taken to a local hospital where she died.

The caller was identified as Tracy Walters, who was dating Cervantes. Police found that the handgun used in the murder belonged to Walters, and she was arrested for the murder.

Maria McMullin works at Genesis Women’s Shelter and was friendly with Cervantes. She said as much intimate partner domestic violence as she’s seen in her job, nothing can prepare you for something like the murder of a friend. There was no indication, McMullin said, that anything like that was about to happen in Cervantes’ relationship.

Cervantes’ may not have been the typical example of intimate partner violence. But, McMullin said, domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes, and it can take many different forms.

A batterer may use a number of vulnerabilities to keep the victim from leaving. That includes economic, emotional and physical abuse.

And intimate partner abuse does happen in LGBTQ relationships.

According to Jordyn Lawson, senior director of residential services at Genesis, the organization doesn’t track its clients’ sexual orientation or gender identity, so she has no idea how many or what percentage of the women they’ve served identify as lesbian, bi, trans or nonbinary. But anyone who identifies as female is welcome at Genesis and may access its services.

The goal of any abuser is power and control. That comes in many forms, including physical violence, sexual violence, economic control, denying, blaming, using privilege and more. And, Lawson said, members of the LGBTQ community face all the same forms of intimate partner domestic violence that straight women face — and then some more.

One tactic to gain control is to isolate the victim so she has nowhere to turn for help, Lawson said. In a lesbian relationship, the abuser might threaten to out her partner at work to get her fired. Or the abuser might threaten to out the victim to family members who might reject the victim.

Also in same-sex relationships, when the police are called, the abuser may claim she was abused as well. The officers aren’t trained to determine who’s lying.

Genesis Program Manager Cassandra Wesley explained she’s worked with trans women whose abusers burned their clothes and withheld hormone treatments. With bi women, the woman may currently be in an opposite-sex relationship, but the abuser threatens to out her to family and friends over past same-sex relationships.

When children are involved, an abuser may threaten to out the woman in order to gain custody of the kids, to keep her from leaving or to prevent her from filing for divorce. The abusive spouse is counting on a homophobic or transphobic judge who also discounts the charges of abuse.

While physical abuse is rampant, abuse takes many forms including isolation and using children as a weapon and economic abuse.

Preventing the victim from getting a job in the first place and making it impossible for her to keep a job she already has is one form of economic abuse. Women are often threatened by their abusers at work, and in many of those cases, the victim loses her job and is told it’s for everyone else’s safety.

Other tactics of economic abusers include using the partner’s credit cards without permission, not working and requiring the victim to support them or keeping the victim’s name off assets that should be held jointly.

The pandemic has made things worse. When the abuser and the partner are suddenly both working from home, it becomes even easier for the abuser to interfere with the victim’s job and get her fired. Lawson said during lockdown, Genesis saw an uptick in the severity of cases.

Other services
In addition to the emergency shelter, Genesis runs a long-term residential building where a woman may live with her children for up to a year. There’s a very limited number of units, and two are still being renovated after damage from last year’s freeze.

Most women access Genesis through its non-residential counseling, advocacy or legal services. The organization recently expanded those services with a new walk-in counseling center on Lancaster Road just south of the VA hospital. That building even houses a new Genesis

Thrift Shop (but continue to bring your donations to the Oak Lawn location.) And Genesis is building a new headquarters that will house counseling and advocacy services in Oak Lawn.

At its residential properties, Genesis runs a number of programs designed to give a woman her dignity back and help children recover from trauma.

Genesis provides daycare for its residents’ children so that the mothers can continue to work. It also runs a school on the property since having children go to their regular schools could put them in danger of being taken by the abusive partner.

Genesis also takes the kids on trips to places like the zoo or water parks. Lawson said the goal is just to let the kids be kids.

Lawson added that one of the ways to help restore someone’s dignity is through food. Three meals a day are provided, and Genesis offers multiple options allowing residents to choose.

When they first arrive, Lawson explained, many of the women barely make eye contact. In the dining room they’ll tell the server to give them anything, happy to just eat. Then, as the women regain confidence, they feel comfortable making choices and even asking for something special. Lawson said it is a joy to see her residents regain confidence.

While empowering victims to move out of the home where they are experiencing abuse may be an eventual goal, that’s not what counselors initially recommend, since 75 percent of those murdered as a result of intimate partner violence are killed during the act of leaving.

Genesis recommends developing a safety exit plan before leaving. That may simply involve a victim packing to leave when she’s alone, or it may involve police assistance. When children are part of the situation, it can get even more complicated.

Abusers and those who are abused don’t necessarily come from abusive families, although some certainly do. Wesley said she recently worked with a woman who wasn’t even sure she fit the category of living in an abusive relationship because the abuse had built slowly over a 30-year relationship. It took her three weeks before she began to understand she was indeed being abused.

Wesley said she’s looking forward to starting group sessions at the new facility on Lancaster Road. Since the goal of an abuser is to isolate the victim, groups break the isolation.

Legal help is also available pro bono through Genesis for family law matters including child custody, divorce and protective orders.

Criminal cases are not part of the legal clinic.

Help a friend
Genesis offers five ways to help a friend who is the victim of domestic abuse. Offering a place to stay is generous, but demanding she leave the situation may not be helpful. Instead:
• Believe her. As we’ve seen through the Me Too movement, too often the victim isn’t believed.
• Don’t blame her. Being abused isn’t the victim’s fault. Everyone deserves to be safe in their relationship.
• Help her to begin to think about safety planning. Talk about how you can help. Who else can she trust? When does she feel most vulnerable and unsafe?
• Refer her to Genesis. Have her call the hotline. If the abuser is always around, texting may be safer. In-person counseling, advocacy and legal help are available by appointment at Genesis’ office in Oak Lawn. Walk-in services are available at the new Lancaster Road facility.
• Continue to provide support. As a victim begins to work with Genesis, assure her you’re there for her through the process.

Genesis 24-hour hotline is 214-946-HELP. You may text for help, if that would be safer.