Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir of domestic violence. She is also a member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline Celebrity Board. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, she has the the following words of inspiration to share with all of you:
In Crazy Love, my memoir about domestic violence, I wrote:
For a long time after I left Conor, I struggled with how I fit our society’s stereotype of an abused woman. Exactly why and how had I lost myself to a man who I was intelligent enough to see was destroying me? I kept silent during cocktail party debates about why women stayed in violent relationships. I walked away after the inevitable pronouncement that women who let themselves be abused are weak, uneducated, self-destructive, powerless. I fit none of these stereotypes. I never met a battered woman who did.
Since Crazy Love was published and a YouTube video was posted last March, I’ve gotten hundreds of emails from readers. A grandmother who left her abuser 47 years ago. Several teenaged girls, one who writes me every week about how hard it has been to leave her boyfriend and see him with other girls. Ivy League graduates. Eloquent, effusive writers. Readers who have trouble spelling and typing properly – but have no trouble telling their story. International diplomats. Doctors’ wives – and doctors. Gay men abused by their partners. Straight men abused by their wives. Husbands seeking to understand their wives’ prior experiences with abuse. Police officers. Therapists.
I have yet to get an email from a stereotype. Because they don’t exist. We survivors may have a lot in common, but none of us is a stereotype. Stereotypes can be used to demean, blame and marginalize victims. The only stereotype worth promulgating pertains to the pattern of abuse – not the faces, ages, income levels or ethnicities of victims. The New Jersey-based Rachel Coalition offers an excellent brochure outlining victims’ legal rights, and they use the following stereotype to define abuse:
Domestic violence is the physical, emotional, psychological, and/or sexual abuse of one person by another with whom there is a relationship. Abusers use violence and threats of violence to gain power and control over their partners. Violence is never appropriate. Domestic violence can range from verbal harassment to homicide.
Now that is a stereotype I can embrace.
I love it when I open my email screen and discover another note from a stranger whom I know is also a friend. The headlines often read something like “You Told My Story” or “Now I Don’t Feel Ashamed or Alone.” The emails are never short. Usually, they read like a book themselves, or at least a wonderfully long telephone conversation between old friends. When people give permission, I share their stories on my website as part of The Crazy Love Project, which is dedicated to connecting and empowering survivors.
Abuse – and stereotypes – thrive only in silence and ignorance. Fellow abuse survivors inspire me, tell my story back to me, and reassure me that I have no reason to feel ashamed or alone. Most of all, you make me feel like I’m a person, not a stereotype. Thank you to everyone who has heard my story – and told me yours.