I have worked with more than 1,700 survivors (not victims!) of domestic violence in the past ten years, helping them to become financially independent and create new lives for themselves and their families. Only then can they save their more than 4,000 children from becoming abusers or abused. I often hear from these incredibly brave women that they have seen their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and cousins in abusive relationships. How can they know what a healthy relationship is if abuse is the model in which they grew up? Women fall in love with men who they believe are wonderful, only to find that they are violent and dangerous later. This is why it takes an average of seven times for a woman to leave for good, often after the children have been abused as well. This is also true for the men and boys who abuse. They have only seen men in their families abuse women, not treat them with the loving respect they all deserve.
How do we change this? Mothers, fathers, schools, and athletic teams need to stop the continuation of abuse by teaching very young children that little girls deserve to be treated with respect and little boys must treat women of all ages with respect. There needs to be zero tolerance for abuse at home, at work and in public. Not until violence against women is socially unacceptable will the staggering numbers of abuse change.
When I started working with survivors, I thought I would be working with low self-esteem issues, but there is a lack of self worth that is even more insidious. We so often are taught that other people are more important than we are and that it is our job to take care of others first. Women need to be reminded, and little girls need to be taught, that they deserve the very best of everything and that they have the power to create the life of their dreams. I believe this education is the responsibility of all of us, and it needs to start by the age of five. Anything less is not acceptable. If we all do not commit to ending domestic violence, we are as guilty as the abuser. We need to say, “No More.”
Johanna Crawford was 13, living in an alcoholic, abusive household, when she watched her father try to kill her mother. The memory never left her, even years later as an adult who had built a string of successful businesses and sold high-end real estate.
In 2003, while volunteering at a crisis shelter, Crawford broke a rule and gave $40 out of her own wallet to a victim who arrived with two young children – petrified and penniless, and without the documents needed to apply for aid. There she saw a gap in what the government and domestic violence agencies were providing, and what the victims really needed in the moment: emergency cash grants as the first step to rebuilding their lives. The woman ended up using the $40 to pay a government fee to access her own records.
A year later, Crawford, who is now 67, launched her encore as the founder and executive director of Web of Benefit. Her Transition to Self Sufficiency and Good Works Programs assist survivors in developing skills for economic and personal independence and ensures each grantee adheres to her “Pay-It-Forward” philosophy.
According to the Mary Kay Foundation’s 2012 “Truth About Abuse” survey report, 74% of female domestic violence victims stay in an abusive relationship longer for financial reasons. To combat this, Web of Benefit has directly given grants to more than 1,400 survivors totaling over $750,000, touched the lives of more than 5,000 survivors, and partners with more than 80 organizations in Boston and 25 in Chicago. In 2012, she was honored as a CNN Hero for her encore work.
Says Crawford, “I believe women working together can change the world.”