By Kami-Leigh Agard
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and The Rockaway Times spotlights individuals and organizations who are leading the charge to free victims from the chains of abuse. In the following Q&A, meet Angie Chait, founder of Rockaway-based Chait Domestic Abuse Center. Chait shares why she’s made it her life’s mission to powerfully transform domestic violence victims into heroic survivors.
A crown is not a symbol of power, but of service, and Angie Chait through her local nonprofit, Chait Domestic Abuse Center (CDAC), should be rightfully crowned a queen due to her inexhaustible passion to emancipate victims from the prison of domestic violence. In the U.S., domestic violence is a staggering epidemic with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that 10 million people every year, as many as one in four women and one in nine men, are victims of domestic violence. In 2021, Chait, herself a domestic violence abuse survivor, founded CDAC to give victims a new lease on life by offering food, clothing, female sanitary items, trauma-informed wellness classes, as well as housing and legal referrals. The organization also works with local food donors and the 100-Free Fridge Network in NYC to provide food and fresh produce to victims from all walks of life.
RT: Personally, healing from the aftermaths of domestic violence must be quite challenging, how did your thought process evolve regarding opening a center to help victims?
AC: It came about as a result of personal experience. I have been and still going through long-term extended domestic abuse myself. I didn’t realize quite how many people are also experiencing this until I started speaking openly about it. And suddenly, almost every other woman that I knew would come up to me and say, “Me too.” From the school lunch lady to my yoga instructor, meditation teacher, senators, lawyers, doctors, the list goes on. I was just absolutely in shock at how widespread this is, yet people are not talking about it. And it doesn’t have to be physical domestic abuse, although that’s what most people assume. Abuse can be psychological, emotional and/or financial. Ninety-nine percent of domestic abuse has a financial factor.
RT: What is financial domestic violence abuse?
AC: The first way to control someone is through money. If the abuser controls the money, you can’t get away or even afford a phone to call for help. Oftentimes they will break, or take your phone away and even credit cards. I had no idea how common it is to even have your car sabotaged, so you can’t get to work. Some abusers would even try to get you fired from your job by contacting your boss or just showing up at your workplace and cause a harassment scene. Sometimes, they control your bank account under the guise of being benevolent. Like, “Let me help you. I’ll take care of the bills, so you can stay home with the children.” And before you know it, it’s become an extreme form of control. So, no. You don’t have to have a black eye to be experiencing domestic abuse. An empty bank account is a black eye.
RT: You mentioned that you are in the midst of penning a book titled, “Coercive Economics.” How does it relate to the subject of domestic violence?
AC: Coercive control is when someone tries to manipulate you so they maintain control, which is extremely common in financially-based domestic violence cases, and it’s extremely common. The impetus for me to write this book was how much I experienced personally with the financial aspect of abuse with my husband, even to this day. It evolved from one-on-one, face-to-face abuse to emptying my bank account, tanking my real estate, taking out credit cards in my name and defaulting on them; thus ruining my credit, which is identity, and credit and consumer fraud. Now the latest is dragging me through years of court in litigation abuse, which is another way of draining your finances, time, energy and emotions.
RT: Though you are still going through a lot of trauma, why are you making time and space in your life to help other victims?
AC: I suppose it’s because when I looked for help, I couldn’t find it. Doors closed in my face at every turn, even when I went to the local precinct multiple times to file a report. Though they have a domestic violence unit, they offered no help, no information, no resources. I didn’t get a blanket or even a box of tampons. All they said is that they were overwhelmed. The verbatim response I got was, “Call us if you get shot. We’ll come to the hospital and take a report.” I believe that abusers continue to abuse because they know that they’ll get away with it, and there will be no repercussions. And unfortunately, they’re right. My husband said that to me directly.
RT: You mentioned that you have a son. How is he faring with the situation with your husband?
AC: My young son, who is on the autism spectrum, is now unfortunately also the victim of this. He can’t speak for himself, and is caught in the middle, which is custody abuse. Abusers love to use children as a weapon.
RT: You said that you lived in Brooklyn for 25 years. What brought you to Rockaway?
AC: I moved to Rockaway with my son when the pandemic hit. I absolutely fell in love with the community. It’s the strongest community that I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve traveled the world. The Rockaway community is such a strong, supportive, close-knit community. I love almost everyone I’ve met here.
RT: When you think of domestic violence, we always think it’s just women. Have you encountered men going through something similar?
AC: Absolutely. I’ve been really impressed and proud of their bravery to be able to speak out about it. With men, most talk about seeing how they grew up seeing domestic abuse in their households. So, they come out to share the effect that it had on them growing up, trying to protect their mother or their sisters, and the trauma they’re still experiencing now as adults. Ultimately, how their childhood experiences shaped their view of the world, and that they’re still experiencing that trauma now, even as adults. Surviving domestic abuse is a lifelong healing process for everyone, both men and women.
Save the date! For the month of October, CDAC is hosting quite a few events as part of DVAM. On Thursday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m., in collaboration with Good Form Studios and local Jiu Jitsu Master Josh Skyer, CDAC is hosting a Self Protection class. To RSVP and for further information about CDAC, visit: www.thecdac.org or follow them on Instagram: the.cdac. If you or someone you love is in a relationship that may involve abuse, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.