Friday, July 17, 2009

New Project, New Motivation

I'm so excited to get started on a new project with the WV Coalition Against Domestic Violence Public Advisory Awareness Committee. We held a survivor caucus in June, where survivors and advocates met to brainstorm new strategies for raising awareness about domestic violence. We determined three major things.
First, that we need to go beyond educating the typical audience of law enforcement, counselors, emergency personnel and advocates. These folks are extremely important in the work of ending domestic violence, but they are usually involved only when the violence has gotten to a crisis situation. Domestic violence doesn't start as a crisis, it starts very gradually, perhaps first seen as just a problem in a relationship that needs worked out. Victims don't realize they are victims yet, and rather than going to professionals for help, they go to the people closest to them: friends, family, co-workers, ministers, etc. These are our true first responders. These are the people we must reach. If we can reach them, we can help prevent domestic violence from escalating to a crisis situation.
Second, we determined that we need to go beyond educating about what domestic violence is. That still needs to be addressed, myths still need debunking, and people need to know the signs. But what good does all that do if we don't teach first responders what they can do to help? Friends and family often do and say things that cause a victim to withdraw from them, inhibiting their ability to help. If we teach them how to handle conversations and situations early on, then maybe the communication will stay open, and the isolation that so often allows for violence to escalate will never happen.
Finally, we determined that survivors must be involved in this process. We must talk to survivors to find out what real people are doing to help, big and small, and what things they're doing that may allow violence to continue. It's important to get specific, rather than just giving vague guidance such as "be supportive". People need to know exactly what being supportive looks like. Survivors who are in a safe situation and have the ability and desire, should also be involved in getting the word out. Speaking out as a survivor is both empowering and effective.
We made great headway in June and I look forward to involving more survivors over the next months, and truly getting this project up and running.
Thanks to all involved!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hunger, hope, in their eyes

I was at the WV Book Festival this weekend at the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program booth, and I met so many wonderful people, and heard many, many stories.
What stands out the most, though, is a charming group of young ladies who wanted me to sign the bookmarks I was giving away. I have never been more flattered! As I spoke to these girls, I discovered that each and every one of them had experienced domestic violence in some way, as I heard echoes of "me, too," "that happened to my mom, too," and immediately I knew why I was there that day.
Our young women need to see us stand up and say "this happened to me, it wasn't right, but now I'm okay." These girls were so surprised to see someone who had similar experiences to them who had actually gone on to thrive in life. I saw an immediate hunger, a hope, in their eyes. They wanted that success, too. They wanted to overcome the struggles in their young lives and know they could grow up to be strong, resilient, empowered women. But they're not sure what that looks like.
Survivors, we have to give them hope. We have to show them what overcoming oppression and achieving empowerment looks like. We have to tell them that they don't deserve it, but we also have to show them what they can make of themselves, by example. Please share your stories of success. Tell me how you have gone on to survive and thrive.
Remember, if you want me to make your story available for viewing, you must let me know.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thank you

Wow, thanks for all the stories that are coming in! Remember, though, the comments are set so that only I see them. If you'd like yours to be shared, please indicate as such and I can make it available for public viewing. Thanks again!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Health Care Experiences

Hey, survivors, I need your help. I'm speaking to a group of doctors this month and I need to know about your experiences with health care providers. Your experience might be as extreme as a trip to the emergency room due to a domestic violence incident, or as subtle as a routine doctor's visit. Whatever it is, good or bad, I'd like to hear it.
How were you treated? Did someone ask you if you were safe? Did you reveal your situation? If so, what was the result? If not, what was the result? Is there something a health care provider could have done that would have helped you more? Is there something a health care provider did that made you feel more comfortable? Don't forget, if you'd like to be contacted to discuss it further, just leave your contact info. or e-mail me at

My Story

I am a survivor of domestic violence. As a college student, I met a young man who brought excitement to my life as we went skiing, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting together. I didn’t know that on the other side of his charming charisma was a man who would do anything he could to control the one he loved. We married, and even when I did realize how troubled he was, I thought I could help him and even fix him. In fact, I thought that as his wife it was my duty to do so.
I was wrong. But when I finally admitted there was nothing I could do to save him and that I must save myself, our lives were so intertwined that leaving was a great challenge. I left on three to four occasions, each time gaining more strength and confidence that I could make it on my own.
The last time I left I had gone back because he was making many of the changes I had asked: he quit drinking, got a dependable job that could lead to a career, and started taking care of himself. I thought I owed it to my marriage to give it one more try. Even sober, he gradually became abusive again. When it finally escalated to the physical abuse with which I had become so familiar, I knew that I could no longer blame the alcohol, and that if I stayed, this was never going to stop.
I knew, though, that even though I moved six hours away from him, it wouldn’t be over when I left. I had to see him at our divorce hearings, of which there were many because he never came prepared with paperwork, and he always sought me out before in the waiting area or followed me out afterward. And of course I never brought anyone along with me because I was always afraid of what he would say/do to embarrass me in front of someone I knew, or what he might do to someone who was supporting me. I was able to pay off our debt within only a year, but it took me another three years to sell our home, four years to get him to pay his small agreed upon portion of the debt, and that only after jumping the necessary hoops to get his wages garnished, and I’m still feeling the effects of the financial abuse on my credit report. As for his harassing phone calls, it took about four years for those to stop.
When I left that last time and began dealing with the feelings I had all tangled up inside, I knew that while my family and friends were supportive, I needed to talk to people who understood what I was going through. The YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program was my saving grace, providing weekly individual counseling, a support group, and financial and legal advice. Through their help, I finally healed to the point that I could participate in a healthy, loving relationship and reach for goals I never thought possible. Two years ago I married a wonderful man, one year ago my book Silent No More: Speaking Out About Domestic Violence came out, and next month, I will celebrate my beautiful son’s first birthday. I would never have reached this level of recovery without the help of the YWCA RFAP.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tell Me Your Story

I'm a survivor of domestic violence. My story is not extraordinary, it's like so many of those out there, and that's what makes it relevant. Your story does not have to be outrageous for people to relate to it. Victims and survivors of all races, religions, genders, sexualities, classes, etc., have a story to tell.
Why should the tale be told? Who does it help to expose one's private pain? All of us.
First, it helps friends, family, and the community at large to understand what goes on in the life of a victim/survivor. It's not as simple as many think to simply leave and stay away, but in order for others to be supportive and help, it's good for them to have a better understanding of the complexities and dynamics of domestic violence.
Next, it helps victims who are still out there living in their private hell. The more they hear women breaking the silence, reinforcing that our victimization is not something we should be ashamed of, the more those victims will begin to respect themselves and know that it is not their fault. It will also show them that while it is not easy and should be done safely, escape is possible.
Finally, it helps the storyteller, who can find the process to be therapeutic and healing. Getting it out is liberating, and speaking out about it to make a difference is empowering.
I invite you to share your story. Please leave out details that would identify you, such as name, location, etc., but share as much of your story as you feel comfortable sharing. If you'd like to be contacted for a follow-up interview to further tell your story, please indicate as such.