This testimony has been edited for clarity

I’m one of those kids that was abused from the age of three up till I hit fifteen, and then he almost killed me. My mother had just passed away, and he took out his entire anger on me. And of course for years, you kinda go through the hatred.

I did meet the man of my dreams, who was killed 7 years after we started dating, and I also found out the same day he was killed that I was pregnant. So it was a very, very rough time in my life. All of a sudden, the person I loved is gone. You’re lying in a hospital bed, the doctor had no couth, and he just walks in and goes “Do you want the good news or the bad news? Well here it goes, you’re pregnant and your partner is dead. Bye.” And I was in shock, I was just devastated, but I had an aunt, the best person in the world you could ever ask for as a confidant. She knew all about the abuse I had gone through and actually paid to have me see a therapist, but I didn’t like the therapist. You have to trust somebody but I couldn’t trust.

And I went on, worked, took care of my daughter, thank God my aunt was there so I didn’t need babysitter. And I did every odd job there could be, sometimes two jobs at once, just to support us.

A little while ago, what happened was, I was actually living in a small town and I was actually on a suicide mission, and I had come here (to a larger city) basically to kill myself. And I ended up at a homeless shelter, where I had panic attacks I couldn’t handle being there. I got triggered, not once, not twice, but several times. They actually took me to the hospital, and I ended up in the hospital for two days and then I went up to the psychiatric ward, where I was for one day. The social worker there put in an application to the shelter here and I was sent off to another all-female shelter and then I came here and met with Sarah* and then I got in, so basically she is the second person who saved my life.

It has been the best experience of my life. They were able to get me a sexual abuse counsellor, they have helped me find out where I want to go, what my action plans are. I’m to the point now I’ve decided I want to become a chef, and I would love to open up my own place, and I would love to help women out who have been in the same spot I have been in, where the government just isn’t there for us. And we need more programs like this, where women can actually feel like they matter. This has been one of the best, safe experiences I have ever had. And they need more funding, this is something that so needed. So many people have gone through abuse and they have been basically left in the dust.

It’s the first time in my life I felt like I matter, and between Sarah* and all the other staff, they have helped me work through a lot of issues and now I’m ready to go back to get my GED at the age of 51. Yay! And become a chef, that’s my dream. It doesn’t matter how old you are – keep going.

What would you like other women to know, who are thinking about contacting a shelter?

Don’t give up. There are great organizations – the YWCA is one of them – and be very persistent. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you don’t matter, because you do. And that’s the best thing I can say to someone who is there right now, just keep going, because your time is coming.

*names have been changed for security