Paula Lucas founded and operates the only international toll free domestic violence crisis line, 866-USWOMEN, for battered American women and children, living in foreign countries, offering a “Lifeline of Hope” where none existed before. She founded American Women Overseas (AWOS), based upon what she wished had been available to herself and her three children as abused American citizens living overseas.
In the Spring of 1997, after suffering for 13 years in a violent marriage, Lucas went to the American Embassy for assistance to get her and her children back to the USA. Her efforts were futile. The Embassy offered little more than sympathy and a pat on the back. Over the next two years, Lucas repeatedly went to the Embassy for help and in frustration, began seeking and researching resources for battered American women and children overseas, all the while suffering daily with abuse and abuse of her children. She could find no resources that existed for battered American women and children overseas. She finally escaped on her own in April 1999.
She spent the first five months back in the USA attempting to gain financial support to get her program officially established. Lucas had no money. She was fighting an intense legal battle for divorce, custody and jurisdiction to keep her children in the United States and living between family, friends and domestic violence shelters. In August 1999, after months of inquiries and talking to whoever would listen, Lucas began spending between 60 to 80 hours a week on her program, registering AWOS as a nonprofit organization in Oregon, authoring and establishing the AWOS website on-line by December 1999, www.awoscentral.com applying for and receiving her 501(c)(3) status, networking via the internet and international airmail with American women’s organizations, expatriate organizations, the State Department, the Justice Department and the military. She wrote several grant proposals but continued to be turned down.
In August 2000, Lucas took an overnight position at a women’s shelter as a family advocate to support her family and help abuse families in Oregon, but she still had her days free for AWOS. In September 2000, she finally won full legal and physical custody of her sons, but no jurisdiction for child support or alimony from her ex-husband and had incurred $40,000 dollars in legal fees. Despite her increasing financial burden, she unrelentingly continued to focus on AWOS as volunteer Executive Director. By April 2001, she had received enough seed money in the form of individual donations to launch the International Toll Free Domestic Violence Crisis Line 866-USWOMEN. That same month, Lucas commenced an international crisis line awareness campaign networking with women and expatriate organizations around the world.