Domestic violence is an epidemic on Kauai, but Natalie Isaac and Pua Camelo aim to reverse the deplorable trend.
“It’s, unfortunately, the norm,” says Camelo, assistant director of YWCA of Kauai’s Family Violence Shelter, where victims of abuse seek safety in emergency situations.
Breaking the silence and the vicious cycle of abuse is the mission of the 15 employees staffed 24/7 at the YWCA’s safe house, including Camelo and Isaac. Their goal is to empower victims, male or female, with women as the majority. The first step is validating that what they’re experiencing is abuse.
“There’s so much victim blaming in our culture that a lot of women are afraid to talk about what they’ve been through,” says Isaac, Family Violence Shelter director.
“Abuse isn’t always physical,” says Camelo, “it’s also covert, and can leave invisible scars emotionally, financially and psychologically, at every different level.”
Domestic violence is so widespread, in fact, that the shelter has hardly any room to spare. “It’s a huge issue on Kauai,” says Isaac.
Still, they never turn anyone away, even if that means families must resort to sleeping on the floor or couch. “We make it work,” says Isaac.
The Family Violence Shelter, which is at an undisclosed location for protection, technically only accommodates 18. Yet, because it is the only place of its nature for people seeking respite, coupled by the island’s housing shortage, they are overwhelmed by families in crisis.
“It’s really heartbreaking when you have a woman with two children who has just been abused by her husband or boyfriend,” says Camelo. “We definitely want them to come, they’re in a big crisis, but when we tell them they’re going to have to sleep on the couch, I mean, that’s quite a humbling experience.”
Somehow, the staff always manages to accommodate everyone who walks through the doors, approximately 120 people a year, including keiki. The shelter, which also serves as a crisis hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault, receives about 170 calls each month. The employees, called “advocates,” are able to assist callers and provide them with referrals and resources. That same information is provided to those who utilize the safe house, who are given access to resources such as counseling services that help get them back on their feet. And even if they return to their abuser, they now know they have options.
“Any women brave enough to come there is a success,” says Camelo.
“They always leave saying their lives are changed forever,” agrees Isaac.
No matter the result, after connecting with the Family Violence Shelter, victims become stronger. “Healing from domestic violence isn’t a straight line; it’s more like a roller coaster,” explains Isaac. “Our world is very judgmental of women who don’t leave their abusers; they don’t know the whole picture and how complex it is.”
YWCA of Kauai is unique in that it not only works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but also offenders, and offers programs that provide alternatives to violence, including anger-management skills. The nonprofit also recently adopted the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), in collaboration with Kauai Police Department, where officers launch questionnaires that assess a victim’s need for immediate assistance. “That has been one of the most significant changes on the island,” says Isaac.
Camelo and Isaac both acquired their positions within the last year at YWCA of Kauai. Isaac, who is originally from Oklahoma, has been working in domestic violence for two decades
and has a master’s degree in social work from University of Georgia. Camelo, a Kauai native, has worked in various fields, including at Aloha Airlines, but feels she has finally found her niche.
“Ever since I was a young adult, I’ve always known that I wanted to be part of some type of healing process,” she says.
They are each committed to providing victims with the courage they need to overcome their hardships. “They are their own authority,” says Isaac. “When they’ve received that message deep within, it’s a paradigm shift.”
They hope that continued enlightenment will aid more victims and help obliterate the cruel cycle of abuse. “Everything that’s done at the shelter is done from the heart,” says Camelo.
The Family Violence Shelter’s 24-Hour Crisis Line is 245-6362 or 245-4144. Visit ywcakauai.org for more information.