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A Culture of Violence: An Interview with a Case Manager at The House of Ruth in Washington, DC

Most of those that will read this, including myself, live a life of relative luxury. We have caring family members, food to eat and a roof over our heads in a neighborhood and community environment where we feel pretty safe. However, this is not the case for many of the female population in our poorest neighborhoods. For many of these women and girls, their lives are filled with doubt, surrounded by a culture of violence and peppered with experiences of severe trauma. We interviewed Nicole Kaib, therapist and professional counselor at the House of Ruth - a shelter and rehabilitation program in urban Washington, DC where violent crime is more than three times the US average.

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We asked Nicole to share the story of the kind of women / girls she helps on a daily basis:

“When you grow up in violent conditions and in poverty, (the influence of) pre-dispositions (for mental illnesses) are exacerbated. For example, you have a family history of mental health issues,  if you grow up in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood where you’re surrounded by a lot of safe people, not a lot of violence, you have enough food to eat, there’s not a lot of violence and you’re not scared very much, then that family history is less likely to manifest in problematic way. Whereas, given the same family history, but living in an environment where people are getting shot and you’re often worried about where the next meal will come from - and this is the reality for everyone you know - then you’re much more likely to manifest the disposition for mental illness."

"If you don’t have healthy resources to deal to help you cope, you’re much more likely to look to un-healthy resources. And so, addiction can become an issue. Drugs are much more available in these types of communities"...

“These compounding factors all start to gang up on you. If you are moving from house to house and - by the age of 8 - you’re having to get yourself to school because your mom has to go to work at 6am, you’re more likely to miss school more often. If you’re hungry, you’re often less able to do well / focus in school. This is just a few examples of how these circumstances can compound to negatively affect your life. Girls in these sorts of environments often have children at a young age, which further complicates life for them... “

Nicole goes on to explain how the women that come to House of Ruth often come with all this sort of baggage and are not equipped to stabilizing their life on their own.

We probed Nicole for her insights as to these and other contributing factors to the lifestyles that these women and girls find themselves prisoners of. We asked her to help us focus on areas where she saw gaps in the current services landscape and for her to share her thoughts on areas where she sees opportunity for intervention. Her insights and perspective gave us much food for thought as we prepared to do more interviews to identify re-occuring themes.

Some of the key themes / topics of her choosing included:

Accessibility of:
  • shelter
  • daycare
  • jobs for people with low / no education or employment history
  • mental health services
  • drug rehabilitation programs
  • phone

  • Transportation has a cost and is often too high for many of these women

From all of these, Nicole stressed the importance of having at least one trust-based relationship. It is this that is her focus in her job. This first contact outside of victims everyday situtation serves as a sort of mentor and helps these women connect the dots to facilitate a change in lifestyle in a very complex and unfamiliar landscape that is both more obscure and more daunting a task than most of us will face at any certain point in our lives. This first contact to a better world is a crucial contributing factor to the success of a woman to transform into this new and better life.


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