A Mother’s Harrowing Ordeal

“Everything I did was for my children,” says former Harriett Buhai Center client Flora.* “No matter what I was going through, I just focused on my children and that’s what kept me going.”

Flora arrived at the Harriett Buhai Center after years of struggling to break her family free from her husband’s captivity. Her long road to the Center’s doors began when she filed for divorce.

That act should have been the end to an abusive marriage but it was instead the start of more violence.

Flora was no stranger to her husband’s drug-fueled rage and threats to her life. When he grabbed her by the throat and told her he would “kill her before ever letting her have the kids”, she knew he meant it.

In his desperation, her husband kidnapped their two young boys and took them to Mexico. “He told me if I didn’t return to him I wouldn’t get my children back. I felt like I had no choice.”

Flora and her children were trapped for two years. He hid the children’s personal documents and belongings with various family members knowing she wouldn’t leave without them. His physical and sexual violence continued; she got pregnant and miscarried.

Secretly she collected her children’s legal documents. She hid them at a neighbor’s house along with small batches of their clothing, one at a time.

Eventually she had everything she needed to escape. She and her children boarded a bus to bring them to the United States where her family was waiting. Her husband called the authorities who stopped her bus en route.

“The driver told me I could not get off and people were coming for me. I waited for him to use the restroom and I begged the attendant to give me my bags and let me go.”

Flora and her children hid without food or money for nearly two days until her family arrived and drove them back to the U.S.

Her husband followed her. Attacked again, Flora called the police and got a restraining order. She and the children lived in fear, but she knew she had to finalize the divorce she started so long ago and protect herself and her children.

When Flora arrived at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, Staff Attorney Judy Schwartz-Behar represented her in court. Several years after Flora first tried to escape, thanks to the Center’s advocacy, she was granted a divorce along with sole legal and physical custody of her children.

“It was a great experience working on Flora’s case,” Judy says. “It really showed how unique and extreme our clients’ stories can be at times.”

“I am so thankful to the Harriett Buhai Center for helping me get out of my horrible marriage,” says Flora. “Because of their help, I am able to protect my children.”

*Client’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.