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.
We asked and you answered. In the first week of our campaign we wanted to know how you saw domestic violence (DV) in your own community. Today, and every Friday in October, we’re sharing the answers we hear. Thank you for the great feedback — we’re excited to continue this conversation with you all month.
This October, we’re highlighting different perspectives around domestic violence as part of our How I See DV campaign. Our first contributor is the accomplished activist Malika Saada Saar, director of the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls).
My Work Taught Me How To Talk About Domestic Violence
I am a human rights lawyer for women and girls because of the domestic violence movement — a collection of people working to ending abuse. The domestic violence movement taught me how to name the violence done to women and girls. It gave me a language to frame the abuse in my own familial circles. And, the movement grounded me in how I wanted to make a life insistent on women’s dignity, power and safety.
The Movement, and Our Mission, Have Evolved
Since my college days of working at a domestic violence shelter, my belief in how the movement ought to move forward has changed significantly. For me, it is no longer only about the original framework of intimate partner violence against women.
The last reauthorization of our landmark Violence Against Women Act unearthed how our work has really progressed as a movement against gender-based violence. The original passage of VAWA in 1994 signaled a new discourse on violence that reshaped how we as a nation both acknowledged and framed spousal abuse. But, now almost twenty years later, VAWA includes language that names sexual violence and the need for victim services, redefines trafficking of children as a form of sexual violence, ends the impunity of non-Native persons who rape and assault women and girls on tribal lands, and recognizes that LGBT individuals are also victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Like VAWA, the domestic violence movement is powerfully expanding in its contemplation of violence to include the complex ways in which violence plays out in the lives of ALL women — and girls.
Domestic Violence Affects ALL Women and Girls
I deeply believe that we must continue to be expansive, broad, and diverse as a movement because the violence against us continues, unabated. Intimate partner violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the U.S. That means more women are being harmed by violence than in car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
The lives of African-American women are even more diminished by violence, as African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of white women. And, one out every three American women has been beaten, sexually coerced or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
The narrative of physical and sexual violence against women and girls continues to cut across the buffers of economic or educational privilege, and breeches every divide of race, class and ethnicity in America. It is a story whispered in the corners of mansions in affluent neighborhoods, in the best private schools and universities, behind the walls of women prisons and girl detention centers, and on the street corners where girls are sexually exploited and trafficked. Violence against women and girls remains a painfully American tale.
There Are New Forms of Abuse — and New Work to Be Done
Clearly, there is still so much more work to be done to address, name, and end violence against women and girls, especially when the violence has taken on new manifestations: cyber-stalking and harassment, digitized rape, the intersection between the hyper-sexualization of girls and violence. But I am made stronger when I consider the inheritance that we possess at this moment in the work.
The inheritance we possess as women who stand on the shoulders of so many who went before us, who fought for us, who won for us access to power, equality and full personhood. I think of the other inheritance too: the inheritance of those victims of rape, exploitation, abuse, and coercion whose lives were snuffed out because of the violence done to them because they were women and girls. It is the inheritance of all of this, the generational victories and sufferings that allow us to be here, with an abiding commitment to end violence against women and girls, on this domestic violence awareness month, and every month, in the years ahead.
About Our Contributor
Malika Saada Saar is Special Counsel on Human Rights at The Raben Group. She also serves as director of the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls), an effort focused on the human rights of vulnerable girls in the U.S. Previously, Malika co-founded and was the executive director of the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, a policy and advocacy organization for women and families. At Rebecca Project, Malika led the effort to shut down Craigslist sex ads that served as the leading site for the trafficking of children for sex, ended the federal practice of shackling pregnant mothers behind bars in U.S. prisons, and successfully advocated for millions in federal funding for treatment services for at-risk families. Newsweek and the Daily Beast have named Malika as one of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
The Obama White House selected Ms. Saada Saar to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.
Malika has been featured in the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, O: The Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Politico, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Redbook Magazine, Essence, Tavis Smiley Show, BBC, ABC News, Good Morning America, CNN, and National Public Radio.