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Success Story: Paula Lucas - American Domestic Violence Crisis Line - Founder

Paula Lucas

American Domestic Violence Crisis Line

The American Domestic Violence Crisis Line was founded by Paula Lucas, an American woman who, for 14 years, lived what looked like an ideal life overseas in the UAE: A Newsweek photojournalist husband, worldwide travel, a successful advertising, marketing and PR business and three beautiful sons. She also hid a terrible secret: the children suffered severe child abuse and Paula, horrific domestic violence, at the hands of her husband. Her husband threatened to kill her and the children during increasingly violent rages. Her pleas to the American Embassy and the State Department were futile. Finally her chance to escape materialized, thanks to a thief.

Expat Women's Interview with Paula
Expat Women: Paula, your story sent shivers down my spine. Let's start at the beginning. Can you please share with our readers how you managed to escape?
Paula: My husband was in Germany on business. He travelled a lot but he never told me when he would be back. He would be gone 1 day, 1 week or 1 month, then just show up without notice. On this trip, he was robbed of his passport and money on a train while in Germany. This effectively meant that he was locked outside of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where we were living at the time. He called me in a panic and told me to call his older brother to start the paperwork to get his passport and residency visa re-issued. With him out of the country, I searched his office for the children's American passports which my husband had hidden. (He did not hide my passport as he often would call me and have me meet him in Kuwait or Bahrain for work.) After a month of searching, in despair, I sat sobbing with my face in my hands. That's when I believe a guardian angel pointed me to one last file. Inside, were my children's passports.
Expat Women: So what did you do next?
Paula:  I then forged my husband's signature on a check for enough money to get the children and I to my sister's house in Oregon. I also forged my husband's signature on documents giving me permission to leave the country. I knew that if I was caught, I would be put in prison, or worse. But instinct told me that the possibility of lethality when my husband returned was high. So, in the middle of the night, with one suitcase and my three children, I took a Taxi to the Dubai airport and prayed. We boarded the flight uneventfully to New York and to freedom.
Expat Women: Did you have family waiting for you in New York?
Paula: No, once in New York, we piled onto a train to Oregon – a three-day journey. At my sister's house, my relief was short-lived when I found out that even though the children were all American, my husband had the right to fight for jurisdiction and force me to take the boys back to the Middle East – a certain death sentence. So I fled my sister's house and went into hiding, living in shelters, on food stamps and welfare while fighting a legal battle I never expected. The battle lasted 18 months and cost me tens of thousands of dollars. Finally, the Oregon courts ruled that I could keep my sons in Oregon. I was granted divorce and custody in September 2000, but no jurisdiction for child support, alimony or court costs.
Expat Women: So, you actually started the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line before your own case was resolved?
Paula: Yes, in the Summer of 1999, I started a non-profit organization, American Women Overseas and an online resource site in December 1999. But progress was slow. I was living in a shelter at the time and I was juggling a full-time job at night to support my children, while running the crisis line out of my living room during the day. In April 2001, I launched the internationally toll-free domestic violence and child abuse hotline, 866-USWOMEN, and changed the name of the organization to the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line. But it wasn't until 2003 that enough seed money came in to really further the mission.
Expat Women: What is the official mission?
Paula: The American Domestic Violence Crisis Line works with abused American women in foreign countries to provide domestic violence and child abuse advocacy, resources and tools so that they can navigate the complicated jurisdictional, legal and social international landscapes, to be able to live their lives free of abuse either in the foreign country or back in the United States. This is achieved via an international toll free crisis line, 866-USWOMEN, accessible from 175 countries, serving a population estimated at 6 million American civilians overseas.
Expat Women: How many people has the organization helped?
Paula: Demand for services has steadily increased. In 2007, with the support of two staff people and a team of volunteers, the organization received 1,679 crisis calls from 411 people in 57 countries, relocated 10 families back to the USA, paid 3 legal retainers to enable battered mothers to file for custody of their children, provided professional counseling to 24 women and placed 2 families into transitional housing.
Expat Women: How can women contact the crisis line?
Paula: Just call the AT&T operator in the country you are living in and ask to be connected to 866-USWOMEN. (866-879-6636). Advocates are available beginning Monday 9am PST continuously through Saturday 9am PST. All calls are confidential.

You can also email the advocates at crisis@866uswomen.org. Be sure you are emailing from a safe computer, preferably one that the person who is abusing you does not have access to as they could have installed spyware.

For more information about the organization or to see what the AT&T dialing code is in your country, visit the website at: http://www.866uswomen.org.

Expat Women: Paula, what organizations do you know of that can help non-American victims?
Paula: There is a website we use frequently: http://www.hotpeachpages.net. It is an international website of abuse hotlines, shelters, refuges and crisis centers plus domestic violence information in over 75 languages. I would also recommend http://www.endvaw.org and http://www.endabuse.org.
Expat Women: Paula, we thank you very much for your time and we applaud your efforts in helping so many domestic violence victims trapped abroad. Best wishes to you and your sons for a phenomenal future.
July 2008
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