Today, we’re hearing from Leslie Morgan Steiner, a brave survivor, critically acclaimed author, speaker and a member of the hotline’s National Advisory Board. She tells how she sees domestic violence after her experience of giving a widely viewed TED Talk on the issue.
Last August, I got a call from an old friend I had not seen since our 1977 elementary school graduation. He knew that I wrote and spoke openly about my experiences as a domestic violence survivor. He had a question: had I ever considered doing a TED Talk based on Crazy Love, my 2009 memoir about surviving domestic violence in my first marriage?
Turns out that Phil, no longer the 12-year-old soccer fanatic I remembered, had founded TEDxRainier, the Seattle-based offshoot of the big TED conventions held every year in Long Beach, California. On one Saturday in November, Phil explained, 1,200 people would each pay $100 to gather in an auditorium at the University of Seattle to listen to 30 brief, impactful TED Talks. The speeches would be filmed and distributed via YouTube.
I gave about 20 talks annually based on Crazy Love and my anthology Mommy Wars. Some keynotes to larger audiences had already been posted on YouTube. I wasn’t sure how doing a TEDTalk would be much different.
I found out quickly. I proudly submitted my standard domestic violence keynote to Phil. I had gotten standing ovations with this talk. I thought he would be impressed.
He was, he said via GoogleHangout during our first face-to-face conference in September. (TedxRainier usually coaches speakers in person, but the 3,000 miles between Seattle and my home office in Washington, DC made in-person meetings a challenge.)
Then Phil asked me a tough question about domestic violence: Who cares?
I was stunned. Phil softened the blow by explaining that TED audiences are unusually diverse, with people ranging in age from 18 to 80, from all professions, political affiliations, and interest groups. I couldn’t assume that anyone had come to hear me talk, or that a single listener knew anything about relationship violence. I would have to work hard to engage them all with one very dynamic 15-minute talk from the second I stepped onto the stage.
With Phil’s coaching, I shifted the focus of my keynote and simplified my messages.
My opening line became:
“I am here to talk about a disturbing question… Which has an equally disturbing answer. My topic is domestic violence. The question I’m going to try to answer today is the one question everyone always asks: Why does she stay? Why would anyone stay with a man who beats her?”
And then I pulled a polished nickel Colt 45 (a replica, actually, but it looked plenty real) out of the little black and white purse I’d brought on stage with me. It was the same type of loaded gun my ex-husband had held to my head more than a dozen times, I explained. The audience, all 1,200 of them, got very quiet. Taking advantage of their silence, I launched into the heart of my talk – the predictable patterns of “crazy love,” and the complex factors that make leaving an abusive partner so very hard.
I ended my talk by trying to convince the audience to transform their preconceived impressions about domestic violence. I wanted to inspire each and every person listening to act differently when confronted with the signs of abuse in their own lives.
“Right now maybe you are thinking: wow, this was fascinating. But actually, this whole time I’ve been talking about YOU. I promise you there are several people listening right now who are currently being abused, or were abused as young children. Or are abusers themselves. Abuse could be affecting your sister, your daughter, your best friend…right this moment.
“My final request for you: talk about what you heard here. Abuse thrives only in silence. You have the power to end domestic violence – simply by shining a light on it. We victims need everyone – we need EVERY ONE of YOU – to understand the secrets of domestic violence. Together we can make our beds, our dinner tables, our families, the safe and peaceful oases they should be.”
The response to my TEDTalk was beyond anything I could have imagined. Over one million people have seen it. The talk has been translated into over 30 languages. I’ve gotten in touch with domestic violence victims and advocates from around the world – TED’s global reach is well beyond anything I could have achieved on my own. I’m currently scheduled to speak in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Madrid and yes, Seattle again, all due to the impact of my TEDTalk (plus a little help from the amazing woman who books my speaking engagements, Gail Davis).
But perhaps most meaningful to me: I’m reaching people who would otherwise not care about domestic violence. People oblivious to the lifelong trauma relationship violence inflicts. By helping expand my audience, Phil and TED also got me to expand my goals as a domestic violence advocate: to use the power of speech to reach all corners of the world, and all corners of people’s minds.
Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Crazy Love, as well as the critically acclaimed anthology, Mommy Wars. Her most recent book, The Baby Chase, explores surrogacy’s impact on the American family. Visit her website at www.lesliemorgansteiner.com or view her TEDTalk.