SAN ANTONIO - – Transportation can be a huge barrier for domestic violence survivors when they’re leaving their abusers, but also when they’re at shelters trying to move forward with their lives. That’s why Uber is stepping up in partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence to provide free rides across Texas, including San Antonio.
Like most survivors, Elizabeth Rejino’s abuse happened gradually.
“Things just started to progress. It was subtle. A little more emotional and mental abuse, the control,” she said.
Rejino said her home became like a prison.
“I was never allowed to be alone. I couldn’t even go to the restroom by myself. I wasn’t allowed technology. At that point in my life, the last thing I knew was that Donald Trump had been elected president. I was not allowed television, access to the outside world, to news, a cellphone, anything,” she said.
Rejino said she did not have access to her IDs or even her car.
She said the physical abuse peaked around three years ago when she was pregnant.
“You name it -- strangulation, losing consciousness. I’ve been stabbed; gun held to my head multiple times while I was pregnant with the baby; shotgun held to my stomach,” Rejino said.
Rejino said she knew she had to get out, but forming a safety plan was extremely difficult with her abuser threatening her entire family and without a car.
When she did finally try to make her escape, her cousin had to get her.
“I was actually caught leaving. He came home earlier than he was supposed to. He tore up the house, stabbed me with a screwdriver, strangled me, took the baby out of my arms, who was only seven weeks at the time. He ended up putting the baby’s head through a wall,” Rejino explained.
“I ripped the baby from his arms, ran out into the street, and still felt joy because my cousin was two blocks down. She throws open the door, very dramatic, and I was lucky enough to get in there and get away,” Rejino continued.
Rejino’s cousin took her and her baby to the hospital, where they got the care they needed.
“SAPD transferred us to the shelter, but when we got there, I was like, ‘How am I supposed to do anything?’ There are things you have to go and do,” she said.
Rejino stayed at the Bexar County Battered Women and Children’s Shelter for more than six months and said one of the most significant barriers to her recovery was transportation.
“The shelter tried to help. They were able to provide us with bus passes, but that’s really hard, especially for me. I had three children at the time. One is seven weeks old,” she said.
Rejino said life became even hard to manage when she finally got a job, which she needed badly to begin becoming independent again.
“I took a job at a hotel, and I was working evening shifts, which was until 11. There’s no buses that run after 11,” she said.
Situations like Rejino’s prompted rideshare company Uber to partner with the Texas Council on Family Violence to provide 1,000 free rides to survivors, amounting to $20,000.
“This came about as part of a 2017 mission called Driving Change, where we committed $5 million over the next five years to address gender-based violence issues,” Uber Sr. Manager of Public Affairs Chris Miller said.
Miller said the mission is more important now than ever.
“With economic conditions worsening, stay-at-home lockdown orders and a mass exodus of women from the workforce, women and children have been subject to gender-based violence more than usual,” Miller said.
The Battered Women and Children’s shelter is one of seven Texas programs selected to receive the free ride vouchers.
The shelter CEO, Marta Pelaez, called it a blessing. Reporting just from March 29 - April 29 of this year, the shelter spent $3,154 on taxi fares for its clients to:
- get back from the hospital
- go to doctors appointments
- travel with multiple children
- get home from late work shifts
- get to court hearings
- go on family outings, if safe
“Eliminating this roadblock is going to help so much,” Rejino said.
In her healing, she has gained her independence and strength back, and she now is advocating for other survivors.
“So many people have lost so much, and I was lucky enough. I’m alive. I’m happy and healthy now. My kids are happy and healthy. We have a great life, and I can’t take that for granted. I got to keep my life, and that means I need to continue to help,” Rejino said.
If you or someone you know is suffering in an abusive relationship, you can always contact Family Violence Prevention Services -- which runs the shelter -- at the crisis line at 210-733-8810, visit their website, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 210-799- SAFE (7233).