October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. WEMU worked with Eastern Michigan University Professor Sadaf Ali to present this profile of First Step Advocate Carmen Domingas. They explore her role as a counselor and how she helps survivors find their inner strength. **NOTE** this story contains descriptions of intimate partner violence.
Ali: Carmen Domingas isn’t your typical nun. She doesn’t wear the habit. She tends to favor loose-fitting sweatshirts and pants. She’s also in her 80s and has been fighting for survivors of domestic violence for nearly all her life. One of those survivors was her sister…Carmen…whose name she took and whose legacy she honors through her work.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Carmen on why she chose to work with DV survivors
Ali: She was born in Spain…but moved to the Dominican Republic with her family when she was nine years old. It was at this age she was introduced to the Dominican nuns. She was impressed. And despite her family’s concerns…she joined the convent in 1961 when she was 21 years old.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Why on she became a nun “I went to school there…50s…what I admired about them…feminism…that’s what inspired me to enter the convent”
Ali: But to understand Carmen’s work and how she approaches survivors…you need to first know her background…which is deeply entrenched in feminism and not just because of the Dominican nuns. She actually credits her mother as her very first feminist role model. Here’s Carmen recalling a favorite childhood story.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Story about her mom
Ali: According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence…one in three women and one in four men are victims. Carmen’s been working for First Step…a domestic violence advocacy center in Plymouth, MI…for 19 years. And despite the diverse backgrounds her clients come from…one thing remains clear…danger. She’s all too aware of the realities for some survivors…even after they leave.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Dangerous situations with DV clients
Ali: But while domestic violence is a serious crime…the law and law makers frustrate Carmen. She and a group of advocates went to Lansing to speak with then Governor…Jennifer Granholm.
DOMINGAS AUDIO legal system shortcomings
ALI: She’s also had many successes.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Successes at First Step/Carmen
ALI: Trained as a social worker… Carmen got her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She meets most of her clients in a typical face-to-face setting at her Plymouth and Redford offices. But she also holds a survivors’ group session every Thursday evening in Plymouth. She usually brings readings about empowerment and how victims are really survivors. She focuses discussions heavily on psychological research…including one major reason why many survivors don’t leave their abusers. Here’s Carmen during a group session.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Carmen speaks of trauma bonding
ALI: Domestic violence is typically thought to be limited to physical abuse…but there’s more to it. The Wayne County Council Against Family Violence finds domestic violence is really about one partner’s need for power and control in the relationship. Here’s Carmen on the different aspects of abuse.
DOMINGAS AUDIO Different types of abuse
ALI: For Carmen and other advocates one thing about domestic violence remains clear.
DOMINGAS AUDIO “domestic violence destroys a family…community…society”
Ali: But despite the legal and emotional uphill battles to protect survivors…Carmen loves her work and is awe of her clients.
DOMINGAS AUDIO “the word satisfactory doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
ALI: Back at the group session…survivors chant a mantra that exudes empowerment. For WEMU this is Sadaf Ali
GROUP CHANT: "We are Women of strength, determination and power mantra"
If you’d like more information about First Step or if you or a loved one needs support…call their 24 hour hotline at…734 722 6800. For local Washtenaw County advocacy centers…visit SAFEHOUSECENTER.ORG.