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TOKYO, Japan — In April 1999 Paula Lucas, an American mother of three, had been living overseas for 14 years.

She was in an abusive relationship in which her Palestinian husband victimized her and her three sons.

Living in the United Arab Emirates, her options were limited.

“He was actually a Christian Palestinian, but we were in an Islamic country and I couldn’t leave with my children because he had my kids’ American passports,” she said. “Even though the children were abused there were no child protective services or domestic violence prevention there.”

Then Lucas caught a break. Her husband, an international photojournalist, was robbed of his money and passport on a train in Germany.

“It gave me a window of opportunity where I knew he couldn’t get into the country,” she said. “I found the children’s passports, but I didn’t have access to my own money so I forged a check with my husband’s name on it and documents giving me permission to leave the country.”

What Lucas was doing was against the law in the UAE.

Lucas and her sons were back in the U.S. but still not safe from her husband, who instituted child-custody proceedings to force them back to the UAE.

She was in a legal battle at a time when she was homeless with no child support or alimony, she said.

“My family paid my legal retainer, and I was on welfare and food stamps and lived in shelters and transitional housing until I was able to pull myself back up,” she recalled.

A U.S. court eventually ruled in Lucas’ favor, allowing her to keep her sons in the U.S. and obtain a divorce in September 2000. But by then her thoughts had turned to other women in similar circumstances.

While she was still living in a domestic violence shelter in September 1999, she founded the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center as an online resource. In April 2001, she established a domestic violence crisis line that was toll-free internationally.

Advocates at the crisis center listen to victims’ concerns and help them make their own decisions about how to resolve them, Lucas said.

The advocates give victims advice on how to stay safe and ask them questions, such as: “Are you in danger right now? Do you have friends you can go to if things get violent? Do you have children? Do you have access to your important documents?”

The crisis center provides victims with access to international family law attorneys and, through a partnership with Virgin Atlantic Airlines, will arrange to fly them to the U.S. It provides emergency financial aid and can arrange shelter for victims once they are back in the U.S., Lucas said.

Not all of the victims are women. According to Lucas, her advocates have been contacted by men living overseas and suffering psychological abuse from their wives or being denied access to their children.

Last year, the center helped more than 400 people and received 2,000 crisis calls and emails, Lucas said.

— Seth Robson

Stripes in 7

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