Amazing rescue story of a domestic violence victim in the midst of COVID-19
Thousands of miles away and aided by an extraordinary social worker she met through Facebook, a Filipino mother living in the US saved a young mom and her kids in the Philippines from an abusive husband. She recounts their rescue story here...
The story I’m about to share is about my friend Emmalyn (name changed to protect privacy). She is a young 24-year-old mom with three small kids ages 5, 3 and 1 ½, and she’s a victim of domestic violence. Hers is a story of losing hope and then finding it through the unexpected kindness of a stranger and some divine intervention.
She was an accomplished scholar
I met Emmalyn nine years ago when she was a recipient of my mother-in-law and her family’s ongoing scholarship program in their hometown. My husband and I signed up to be her sponsors in 2010 and had the chance to meet her in person the following year.
Emmalyn was a very smart, hard-working, brave, and good-hearted young girl. She told us her story, of how she had to study and work hard after school to support her family. Through the years that she was our scholar, Emmalyn sent us hand-written letters with her grades. It came as no surprise to us that she graduated as the class valedictorian.
Time passed and we lost touch.
In 2015, Emmalyn and I reconnected through Facebook. I saw that she already had her own family. We didn’t really speak to each other, but we were able to follow each other’s lives through the photos we shared on Facebook.
Then this past August 2020 I received a private message from her…
She feared for her life and her kids’, but was more afraid to ask for help
At first it was just a simple, “Hi, hello. How are you?” type of conversation. Two days later, out of the blue, Emmalyn confided in me that she and her kids were unsafe at home. Her partner abused her almost every day—physical, mental, emotional, financial and verbal abuse—in front of others and their own kids. Also, he had vices: drinking, gambling, possibly drugs as well. No one else knew about it, including her family.
Emmalyn couldn’t report him to the police because she was worried about what would happen to her kids. She didn’t have the courage to report her partner from the abuse he inflicted upon her. She was also scared of what other people would say if they found out. Because of the quarantine, she decided to stay in her situation at least until the pandemic was over. Many times, she thought about committing suicide but never followed through with it because of her kids.
She didn’t ask me for any help; she just needed to tell someone.
And she said that if I had been in the Philippines, she probably wouldn’t have had the courage to tell me about her situation. I totally understood what she meant by that. At times it feels easier to tell your troubles to a complete stranger versus someone you know. You feel like you won’t be judged especially if it’s something so private and sensitive.
As a woman and a mother, I just couldn’t sit down and do nothing. Through Facebook messenger, I reached out to the provincial office of DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development). I couldn’t tell Emmalyn yet what I was planning to do until I found someone committed to helping her.
She found strength because two women—one who was a long-lost friend, the other a complete stranger—gave her hope
Three hours after sending the message, I received a response at 4:22AM Philippine time from a social worker named Careen Panaguiton, who replied, “We’re willing to help her, ma’am!”
It was unbelievable and so unexpected, I cried! That was not the only unexpected thing she did.
Careen managed to reach out to Emmalyn through her cellphone and gain her trust. She helped Emmalyn to face her fears, gave her hope that she would get the proper help, and assured her that everything would be kept private and confidential.
So with the assistance of the local police, Careen personally rescued Emmalyn and her small kids from their unsafe situation. Standard procedure for rescue in the Philippines is for at least one social worker to be accompanied by the local police. It turned out we didn’t need the local police to assist since Emmalyn’s partner was not around during the rescue.
Careen also made arrangements for a van to pick up Emmalyn and her kids to lessen their exposure to the COVID-19 virus versus taking the bus. After a six-hour drive, they were reunited with Emmalyn’s family. This all happened in just nine days.
It was amazing how our correspondence happened through Facebook messenger. Careen sent me pictures during the rescue. I cried when I saw the pictures. It felt like I was there somehow. It was unbelievable for me but more so for Emmalyn, who was in tears as well.
There is so much more to mention about what happened behind the scenes. Careen gave me peace of mind by answering my messages even at around 2AM-4AM Philippine time. Despite her hours-long commute, she personally attended to Emmalyn and her kids’ rescue when she could have sent a different social worker. Lastly, she made sure that the rescue went smoothly and peacefully while protecting Emmalyn’s privacy.
I could have contacted the local SWD, but for some reason I searched for the provincial SWD where Careen happened to work. There was definitely some Divine intervention happening and truly seemed like God’s will for the three of us to be part of His plan.
I remember my mom-in-law’s words: “If it’s God’s will, things will happen smoothly.” And they did.
The hardest part for me and Careen throughout the whole process was empowering Emmalyn to find the strength and the faith to trust us, so we could help her. We couldn’t blame her since she had been living in pain shrouded by fear, disappointment, and mistrust. So how could she easily trust anyone?
Emmalyn found new hope and courage through Careen, who had proven to be a true example of human kindness. May her humility, honesty, genuine care, and pure heart inspire more people, like how she has inspired me.
Many times I expressed my gratitude to Careen and even went as far as offering her money because social workers weren’t paid much. But she would say, “Thank you na lang po, but your friend needs it more. I’m just doing my job, ma’am. ”
She reclaimed herself, giving hope to victims of violence who feel trapped in their situation
Emmalyn is doing well at home with her kids and her own family. Careen has Emmalyn set up with a social worker in her town who also happens to be one of Careen’s classmates in college (Careen is presently taking up a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with only two more semesters to go).
Emmalyn is able to sleep well, can take better care of herself, and looks forward to the next day now that she can go out after being in quarantine with her kids for 14 days. She has regained her sense of humor, is learning how to bake, and just got hired for a part time job at their local municipal hall through the help of the social worker. Emmalyn is determined to go back to college this year and finish a degree to give her kids a better life.
Why am I sharing this story? About the experience of Emmalyn from domestic violence?
I know the culture in the Philippines. Emmalyn’s case is not uncommon, unfortunately. With this pandemic, more Filipino women are more isolated especially in the provinces. Some mothers feel, or are made to feel, that only the father has the authority at home.
There is also that fear of shame: “Ano na lang ang sasabihin ng iba?” Always thinking about what other people will say, Filipino women are further prevented from doing the right thing to protect themselves. Emmalyn’s story gives hope to the victims of violence, especially in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic.
If anyone of you who, like Emmalyn, has been feeling scared, trapped, hopeless, drained for years, may you find the strength and the faith within you to reach out even just to tell someone. You (and your kids) deserve a chance for a life free of pain, fear, and hopelessness. Trust in Him and on human kindness.
There will always, always be a “Careen” willing to help you live a safe and better life. Please reach out sooner rather than later.
Be brave, have faith, and don’t lose hope!
Domestic Violence Hotlines
Contact these hotlines if you are or someone you love is a victim of domestic violence. You are not alone.
PNP Hotline: 177
Aleng Pulis Hotline: 0919 777 7377
PNP Women and Children Protection Center
24/7 AVAWCD Office: (02) 8532-6690
Public Attorney’s Office (PAO)
Hotline: (02) 8929-9436 local 106, 107, or 159 (local “0” for operator)
Email address: [email protected]
Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and their Children
Mobile numbers: 09178671907 | 09178748961
Email address: [email protected]
Visit this website for more hotlines https://pcw.gov.ph/vawc-hotlines-during-community-quarantine/
About the Author
My name is Christine Montemayor. I’m 44 years old, married, and a mother of an 8-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. I’ve been based here in California since 2001, however, I’m still a Filipina in heart and in mind, through and through. I’m raising my kids to speak Tagalog and they know the power of tsinelas and sit-sit!