January's Woman of the Month: Christina Vega of Love Shouldn't Hurt
Christina Vega is the founder of Love Shouldn’t Hurt, a non-profit organization that helps people in abusive relationships. Vega is a Philadelphia native, and currently a guidance counselor at Olney High School. Vega was in an abusive relationship herself, and like many people in abusive relationships, she told very few people. Once she was able to escape her abuser, she pushed the abuse to the back of her mind.
Vega’s story is unfortunately all too familiar. She had a mentally, emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend. She told a few people and those she did tell, she left many horrifying details out. When Vega ended up in the hospital with 3 broken ribs, a broken jaw and an arm, she learned she was pregnant.
During her pregnancy, she tried to hide from him. Initially, she lived in her car for three weeks, embarrassed to tell her family. However, realizing this was not sustainable, she told her family a few details and moved in with them. That is when he found her and began stalking and threatening her. When she was able to, she moved into an apartment on her own and was able to keep the address from him for a bit. He found her, the stalking and threatening continued. He attacked her after a day of harassing her via calls and text, in front of their 4-year-old daughter. Vega continued to try and protect herself by going to court and getting a restraining order. And still she never really talked about it to anyone.
Years later in 2018, after the abuse finally stopped, she got a call from a friend. Their mutual friend had been murdered by her husband, who had then killed himself. On that first day, Vega went through the motions of a woman grieving over a friend and caring for others. Eventually, details about her friends’ lives were revealed. There had been domestic abuse. No one knew.
The grief of losing her friend led Vega to make a documentary about domestic abuse.
Love Shouldn’t Hurt
Feeling like she had to do something to honor her friend, Vega created a one-hour documentary where she and other women told their stories of domestic abuse. She thought that would be the end of it.
They shared the video and had a documentary release viewing.
The response was unexpected. People started calling, telling their stories, asking for advice and support.
The CEO of Concilio, Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia, saw the documentary and reached out to Vega to form a partnership, since applying for a non-profit is a lengthy process. Now, Love Shouldn’t Hurt operates under the Concilio umbrella. Through this partnership, she is able to apply for grants and get the word of her services out to a border audience.
So far, Vega and her team have been able to help over 250 women. The services they have provided these women are varied. Some need help getting a Protection from Abuse, so someone from Love Shouldn’t Hurt goes and helps them with the process, logistically or emotionally. Some women, in order to gain independence from their abuser, need help with a security deposit and first month's rent, so an advocate from Love Shouldn’t Hurt will help them apply for that help through the city’s Victim Services Unit. Some women need help finding a job or housing, and some need help improving their credit score; Vega’s team can help with that. Love Shouldn’t Hurt can also help move out of the area or finish a degree or certification program.
In addition to the grants they are able to secure, they also fundraise. This year, despite the pandemic, they had a successful 5K. Each year they host a survivor's ball to recognize survivors and raise money.
Even though Vega never envisioned anything but a documentary telling her story, she now has big plans. In five years, she wants to see Philadelphia have more safe-havens. She has sat on round tables with Senator Bob Casey to discuss better policing and training around domestic abuse.
This has been therapeutic for Vega. Despite her training and career in mental health, she hadn’t sought therapy for her trauma. Suffering the death of her friend, brought her experiences to the surface again and she finally got to let it all out. And not only was and is that therapeutic to her, but it has also helped so many others. She does not intend to stop anytime soon.
Christina Vega has her undergraduate degree in social work from Chestnut Hill College and her Master's Degree in school counseling from Rosemont College.