Money & Careers

A Woman Who’s Made a Difference: Ludy Green

Since 2001, Ludy Green has helped free 900 women from domestic captivity. Nine hundred, and counting.

She has done this through Second Chance Employment Services, the agency she founded in 2001 in Washington, D.C. Its mission (unique): to give battered women the long-term financial power to escape their abusers.

51xeNKTlODL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Back in 2001, the prevailing wisdom was that domestic-violence victims are “co-dependent”—that is, they go back to their abusers because they haven’t yet developed the will to leave. Dr. Green decries this philosophy—and the clueless question, “Why does she stay?” in her new book, Ending Domestic-Violence Captivity.

Dr. Green insisted then, and insists now, that battered women do not lack the will to leave the men who brutalize them; what they lack is the power to leave. They fear their partners’ retribution; they’ve had the self-confidence knocked out of them; they’ve lost their families and social networks; they have few (or outdated) job skills—not to mention the fact that they have no money and no place to stay. This invisible prison of powerlessness is what Dr. Green calls “domestic captivity.”

That prevailing theory of “co-dependence” (e.g., if a woman is unwilling to leave her abuser, all efforts to help her do so will be futile) made it very difficult for Dr. Green to garner support when she set out to establish Second Chance. “This nearly unanimous reaction to my idea . . . gave rise to the kind of inertia that I think must have been mild compared to the paralysis of victims who contemplate ending a violent partnership,” she writes.

At the time, there were shelters and job programs for abused women; indeed, Dr. Green had spent years volunteering for them. But all of them provided only short-term solutions. The average length of a shelter stay is a week. Then the woman must get into transitional housing with her children, if she can; she can usually stay for up to a year. To land a long-term, family-supporting job takes time (sometimes up to six months, Dr. Green notes), and many women need far more psychological and material support than short-term job-training workshops can provide.

Hence—Second Chance.

By the time she acted on her conviction and opened her agency, Dr. Green, who has a Ph.D. in Industrial Organization Psychology from George Washington University, had spent nearly two decades in high-level human-resources positions in organizations like Lockheed Martin and SmithBucklin. Before establishing her employment agency, she used her professional contacts to persuade 40 organizations to partner with her to help abused women.

Partner hotels offered discounted rates when the shelters were full and the woman had no place to go. Businesses, corporations, and nonprofits agreed to give her job-hunting clients priority consideration in their companies.

Still, it takes a great deal more than these vital necessities—shelter and a living-wage job—to restore a victim of domestic violence to the world. There’s a crucial need for—

  • Protection. Since some abusers vengefully track down their escaped partners, Second Chance works with the Department of Justice to “change anything that needs to be changed to make a woman untraceable. We had a woman who had to change her name and Social Security number three times.”
  • Psychological counseling and body-image help. “We may call upon the professional help of psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, plastic surgeons, dentists, and hairdressers,” Dr. Green points out.
  • Child care, transportation, industry-specific clothing.
  • Résumé preparation, interview coaching, and skills training.

All of this—the agency has grown to serve women in seven states—must be funded through government grants, donations from businesses and foundations, and contributions from individuals.

 wvfc ludy white house S.Odom_#D2864-72Ludy Green (right) and a client educating staffers at the White House.

What’s so surprising about Second Chance is that, although it works with abused and socially fragile women, it provides leads to work that pays more than the minimum wage—and in some cases, high salaries. “Most of the jobs our clients get are jobs as customer service representatives, Capitol Hill staffers, administrative positions; we have placed college professors, marketing directors, lobbyists, IT managers, directors of development, policy analysts, nonprofit staffers, teachers, management consultants, and more,” Dr. Green says. “Some of our clients achieve high-paying jobs, even as much as $80,000 to $130,000 per year.”

Asked for an example, she tells the story of a client she chooses to call Mary. “Ten years ago, she came to our office. She was a lovely woman, but she had no self-esteem. She had an MBA from Columbia University and was highly competent: she had previously worked for the State Department. She was tortured by her husband for so many years. She had lost her network, her family; she was completely isolated. She ran away because her husband threw an iron at one of her children. She and her children ended up at an emergency shelter now called the Open Door.

“We helped her get her a new identity, fix her résumé One of our pro bono psychologists worked with her to make her stronger. But she really didn’t want to go back to the work force, she was so down and depressed and so scared that she’d be rejected.

“So we hired her to work for us in development, and she was happy to meet and work with everyone. In a few months we said, ‘Why don’t we start setting you up with job interviews with some of our job partners? We know you will do great.’

“She did several interviews . . . with the United Nations, the World Bank, making $85,000 plus benefits (10 years ago!). Now she’s one of the top women in another institution; she continued with the field of development. Her life took a huge turn; her kids went to school in Arlington and she has her own property, her own little house that she bought. Her whole life turned around.”

Mary is one of the 900-plus women who have gotten a new job and a new life through Second Chance. Not to mention the 3,000-plus women the agency has served by training and help in other areas of need.

wvfc ludy green princehoto(1) Ludy Green with the Crown Prince of Malaysia, presenting to a group of young women.

Dr. Green has worked for the relief of abused and trafficked women across the globe for 20 years. Just one of her many missions: She was appointed by the U.S. Department of State to serve as Cultural Ambassador of the United States in Human Trafficking to Jordan and Syria in 2009. Here’s another: She was instrumental in getting an important clause inserted into the Domestic Violence Act of 2013. The provision makes federal funds available, for the first time in history, to nonprofit organizations that help survivors of domestic violence find employment.

Ending Domestic Captivity opens with her Dr. Green’s memory of her mother’s last wish. On her deathbed, her mother said to Dr. Green, “Ludy, I want you to continue your studies. Even if you marry well, I want you to work. I do not want you to be like me. . . . Promise me, Ludy. Promise me that you will always work.”

A fervent request, and Ludy Green know what had prompted it: her mother had been a victim of domestic violence. “I saw that,” she says. “It’s hard to explain to people why I work seven days a week doing something that is not as profitable for me as it would be if I were doing something else. But these women are my success. My heart is fed through them.”


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  • Adam powell January 16, 2015 at 1:39 am

    Great work and thinking. I am male and have been the victim of abuse since 2005. I didn’t see the signs at the time but was manipulated into a position of being alone in the world, in a foreign country, with no money and no means of working legally. All from a background of owning my own house and land, my own business and a large social group of good friends, some of whom tried to warn me from the start. I see now all the ways I was manipulated, to the point where I was on mind altering prescribed drugs as I thought Id lost my mind.
    I recently made the break and it has been hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. I had forgotten how the power of positive thinking can literally change the way ones life can unfold. I have stopped being a victim and though I now see the world with slightly more cynical eyes, I can at least raise my head up and look people in the eyes.
    I felt so small, as a man, because one hears a lot about men’s abuse of women but not much the other way.
    Keep up your good work.

  • hillsmom September 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Yes, absolutely inspiring! I suspect many of us don’t even realize the extent of domestic abuse. BTW, in today’s paper was an article about an NFL player finally released and banned from playing NFL football. This over domestic abuse, but took way too long to happen…(the penalty, that is)

  • Roz Warren September 9, 2014 at 8:51 am