- Our hero: Paula Lucas, 53
- Where she lives: Portland, Oregon
- Her cause: Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center (AODVCC)
In 1999, Paula Lucas stood before an officer at the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi and detailed the abuses—the punches and slaps, the withering criticisms, the psychological manipulations—she and her three children had endured at the hands of her Lebanese-born husband. But she was trapped: In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), beating up your wife and kids is not illegal. To her horror, the officer told her the embassy could not protect her. “I was naive,” says Lucas, who grew up in California. “I thought my American freedoms would travel with me.”
Facing huge obstacles, Lucas plotted her and her sons’ escape. While her husband was out of town, she forged his permission for their travel (a requirement) and a check in his name (she had no access to her own money) to cover their expenses and stole back to the States. She settled in Oregon, living off welfare checks, and, after her husband tracked her down, fought a protracted custody battle, which she won.
All the while, she nursed a dream: to ease the ordeals of other battered women living overseas. In 2001, she started Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center with help from a few small contributions from donors. In 2010, the Department of Justice stepped up with substantial funding. With a toll-free hotline in 175 countries, now supports hundreds of American families in more than 67 countries with counseling, travel assistance, legal services, and relocation costs. Today, at least one family returns safely to the United States each month with Lucas’s help.
“We need to make women aware of the obstacles if they find themselves in an abusive situation,” says Lucas, now remarried. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
To read more about AODVCC, visit 866uswomen.org.