National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

A Letter To My Daughter About Fighting Back

Parents naturally want to shield their children from pain. But what happens when a parent’s own painful past can provide guidance to their child? Should that trauma be revisited? In today’s post, our talented guest writer, Sarah Tuttle-Singer, does just that, as she shares with her daughter the lessons she learned through leaving a terrifying relationship.

In this brave letter, Sarah opens up about a trusted partner turning violent. Sarah tells the story of her abuse, from the first, “This isn’t happening” to the final assurance to her daughter, “It didn’t happen again.”

We’re delighted to share this incredibly powerful piece with you. We hope you find courage in Sarah’s words and are reminded that your voice, and your story, matter.

This piece originally appeared on For more personal essays from Jewish women and mothers, sign up for their free newsletter.

To My Darling Daughter,

I watch your eyes glow when the kids in preschool want to play with you. I see how it matters to you what they say and how they smile.

I watch your bottom lip tremble when someone hurts your feelings.

And I watch you on the playground–your face flushed, and your breath staggered as you chase the child that was mean to you. I know you, and I know you are blaming yourself for their bad behavior.

I know you are trying to get a second chance at friendships not worth having.

You are so much like me that it takes my breath away.

Please. Don’t be this way.

And this is why I am telling you this story–in bits and pieces. Starting now, and ending when you’re older and we can sit down together over a glass of wine and really talk.

Before I met your father, I lived with someone else.

Things were very, very good–we’d eat Chinese takeout together and watch The Simpsons. We’d go for walks at midnight, holding hands and watching our breath mingle in the piercing night. We’d share a lemon chicken hot dog with sauerkraut, and smoke a bowl, and laugh and laugh and laugh.

We shared an apartment with big windows facing the San Francisco Bay. If you stood on the arm of the couch, you could see the Bay Bridge. I hung Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” over our bed. We were going to get married. We were going to have children.

And then, two years later, something changed.

It wasn’t subtle. It wasn’t slow. It was an immediate about-face that started one night–although I can’t remember how. Something about money? Something about work?

But it happened. A cruelness slithered across his face, and took hold. And I was stunned to respond. I thought I could fix it. I thought I could fix him.

But it got worse. Because it always gets worse.

You ask me why I don’t like cats, my darling daughter. I used to love cats. I had two of them when I lived with this man. And when the cats got fleas, I watched him dunk their furry bodies into the bathtub, and when they hissed and clawed, terrified out of their soaked skins, he hurdled them against the wall. I bit my knuckles until they bled. I watched him take them away that night–still wet and shivering. I didn’t ask what happened to them.

(I know what happened to them.)

And. It got worse. This time in subtle degrees that infiltrated every moment, every breath.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he took my keys away and said I could only come home when he was home.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he made a list of the people he no longer wanted me to talk to, including close friends from childhood, and a family member.

“This isn’t happening,” a voice whispered in my head when he dangled the pearl necklace my parents had given me for my 21st birthday in front of me, and said, “You bitch, if you don’t get into a good law school, I am going to break this necklace or give it to the first hot girl I see.”

He’d grab my wrist. He’d pinch my arm. He’d shove me out of the way when I’d reach for him.

And then.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said out loud in an empty train car, hours after he kneeled over me, the palm of his hand pressing my windpipe until the light narrowed into a single exquisite spark.

And then.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said as I cringed when I lifted my sore arm, my fingers still numb from what he had done to me.

And I had nothing in my purse but the leftovers of the 20 dollars he gave me that previous Monday–just like he did every Monday before I’d leave to catch my train.

“Here’s your allowance,” he’d joke.

But it wasn’t funny. Because I was so dependent on him. (We were learning about how to literalize a metaphor in a comp lit class I was taking. And I remember thinking that it was too bad I couldn’t give my professor this example.)

And while I sat in that empty train car, I remembered a Monday morning a few months before, how I’d reached for my “allowance” to buy a train ticket, and how it’d slipped from my fingers and fallen down down down through the sewer grate. I had fallen hard to my knees, and tore a nail as I tried to pry the grate loose. Because it didn’t matter to me that below flowed a river of piss and shit. All that mattered was that I had lost my $20.00 and I had to get it back.

Or else.

“This isn’t going to happen again,” I said a little louder. To myself alone.

And it didn’t happen again. Because something broke inside me then, and I only returned to that apartment with the big windows with a friend to pick up my things when I knew he was at work.

And it didn’t happen again because I finally opened my mouth and started telling people what had happened.

And it didn’t happen again because saying these words out loud made it real–and I could see with brutal clarity that it was up to me to not let it happen.

But all that time wasted. The low-grade panic, punctuated by bursts of random violence. All that time wasted being prodded along down a path by someone I trusted. All that time wasted, wasting away.

Don’t be like this.

Don’t be dependent on how others treat you. You are strong, and brave, and wonderful, and kind.

Stand up for yourself.

Fight back if you have to.

I learned all of this by living it. And I don’t want you to learn like this, because while I was lucky enough to walk away with my two legs and my body intact, we shouldn’t tempt fate.

I didn’t plan on telling you this. But I see how similar we are–I see your softness, your kindness. I see how you forgive so easily–too easily–when someone is mean to you.

It’s wonderful to be kind. It’s wonderful to be compassionate. But within reason, darling daughter. Within reason.

So, be badass. Be brave. If someone is mean to you, then good riddance. And don’t wait for them to walk away. YOU walk away.

And for the rest of your life–whether I’m around or not–it’s my job to protect you by teaching you how to protect yourself.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

DVAM Challenge 3: Test Your Knowledge of Domestic Violence

How much do you know about domestic violence? Take our quiz below as your DVAM challenge #3.

DVAM challenge #3: Answer true or false to the statements below and then continue reading on to see how you did.

1. Domestic violence is not a problem in your community.

2. Couples counseling is recommended by The Hotline for abusive relationships.

3. Sometimes the victim provokes their partner into abusing them.

4. Yelling, putting down or belittling someone isn’t ever considered abuse.

5. On average, more than 3 women are murdered by their partners every day.

6. If the abuse was getting too bad, the victim would just leave.

7. The most dangerous time for a victim is often when their partner first lashes out.

8. Everyone deserves respect in a relationship.

9. If children aren’t being abused and don’t witness the abuse, they aren’t affected.

10. The cost of domestic violence is extremely high to society.

What do you think? How many are true and how many are false? Here’s the key:

1. False. Domestic violence happens in every community. Unfortunately many cases go unreported.

2. False. The Hotline does NOT recommend couple’s counseling when there is abuse in the relationship. It can be very dangerous to the partner being abused. An abuser may use what is said in therapy later against their partner. Individual counseling may be helpful but couple’s counseling is not recommended. Read more here.

3. False. Regardless of their actions, no one deserves to be physically, verbally or sexually abused.

4. False. Domestic violence is the pattern of behavior than an abuser uses to gain and maintain power and control over their partner. It can be physical, verbal or sexual.

5. True. Each year, domestic violence results in an estimated 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries among women. Furthermore, domestic violence results in nearly 600,000 injuries among men (CDC).

6. False. Many victims love their partners despite the abuse or feel as if they have no support system or resources outside of the relationship and so they feel as if they can’t leave. Furthermore, the period immediately after leaving an abusive relationship is extremely dangerous.

7. False. Domestic violence typically worsens over time. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim because their abusive partner feels like they are losing power and control. The abuser may escalate the abuse in order to regain that power and control.

8. True. Absolutely no one deserves to be abused and there is no excuse for being physically, verbally or sexually violent toward a partner.

9. False. Children are extremely perceptive. Even if they don’t see the abuse happening, they feel its effects.

10. True. Each year, domestic violence costs more than $5.8 billion dollars, with $4.1 billion of that amount being spent directly on medical and mental health services (NCADV).

How did you do? Interested in learning more about domestic violence? Check out our website for more information or give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Teen Mom Features The Hotline

A recent episode of Teen Mom showed a family experiencing domestic violence. Teen parents Catelynn and Tyler have a unique situation. Catelynn’s mom April and Tyler’s dad Butch got married after Catelynn and Tyler started dating in middle school. Butch has been physically and emotionally abusive to April prior to this incident.

In the episode, April called Tyler to alert him to an incident that involved Butch assaulting her after suspecting that she was talking  to another man. Butch was arrested, and April told Tyler that she was unsure of their future together. Tyler and Catelynn were immediately concerned and rushed over to April to find out what happened.

Photo from, Tyler at Catelynn from a previous episode

As the episode progressed, it became clear that the evening was incredibly violent, leaving April with bruises and pain. Butch had violated a “no contact” order in coming over to April’s home.

Despite the horrible details of the assault, April didn’t place all of the blame on Butch. She was quick to mention that Butch wasn’t himself because of drugs and alcohol. She told Tyler, “I really can’t say that I’m gonna leave him or anything like that because I really don’t know. He wasn’t there, dude, it wasn’t your dad.”

She also maintained hope that he will change, saying, “I honestly think if he’ll do his time, the drinking and the drugging is going to stop.”

Sadly, at The Hotline, we know that experiences like April’s are all too common. It’s not unusual for abusive partners to be extremely jealous, and accuse their partners of cheating, even when that is so far from the truth. We know that children and teens are dealing with the aftermath of abuse every day in their homes, just like Tyler and Catelynn.

April had a hard time deciding what to do in her relationship. An issue that complicated April’s decision-making process is Butch’s substance abuse. Again, this is an issue that is all too common in abusive relationships, and it makes it challenging to understand why someone becomes violent.

A common misconception is that using alcohol and drugs can make someone ‘lose control’ and hurt those around them. Even if Butch was able to get clean and sober, it’s likely that he would still be controlling and abusive. Alcohol and drug use can make abusive situations worse, but it doesn’t cause a non-abusive, non-controlling person to become violent.

Just as April said, it’s very likely that when Butch attacked her, he looked like a different person than the person she fell in love with. But, despite his drug use, Butch was still responsible for how he hurt April. Naturally, April wants to see Butch get the help that he needs so that she can be in a healthy, safe relationship with him, but he would need to accept responsibility for his substance abuse and his controlling and abusive behavior and be committed to getting help for both in order to change. Getting help for substance abuse and domestic violence would require a lot of personal accountability and determination.

When an abusive partner is using drugs or alcohol, there is an increased risk of severe physical violence. It’s really important to be aware of how the substance use affects their behavior. Do they become more aggressive or violent when they’re using or when they’re in withdrawal? This can help survivors know the risks of a situation and take steps to become safer in the moment.

If you have some concerns about similar issues happening in your relationship, you can always call The Hotline to talk. An advocate at The Hotline can help you think about what’s going on in your relationship, what the risks are to your safety and your children’s safety, and what you can do to stay safe.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Father’s Day & Survivor’s Guilt

Father’s Day can be very difficult for a family still experiencing the aftermath of family violence.

For a mother whose former abuser is the father of her children, she might feel guilty as she watches the families around her celebrate fathers and know that her children won’t be honoring their dad. She might feel that she is doing her children an injustice by separating them from their dad, even though being together meant that the abuse continued.

For a father who is separated from an abusive partner, he too might feel like he didn’t do the right thing by breaking up a family, as he watches other families celebrate together. He may feel pangs of guilt that he isn’t a “good dad” because he pulled his children away from their mother.

In times like these, parents need to remember that leaving an abusive relationship is ultimately healthier for a child than staying with an abusive partner.

Even if an ex partner was not abusive to the children, they were more than likely still affected by the abuse. Children are far more perceptive than they are given credit for, so if something was happening in their home they more than likely knew. Growing up under the same roof as domestic violence can have a profound impact on children, both physically and emotionally.

Witnessing domestic violence can affect children’s future relationships. It can mean that they are more likely to be abusive or abused. Children who grow up in a home where abuse occurs often have trouble connecting with, trusting and engaging with an intimate partner. This can lead to a lifetime of solitude or unhappiness.

Children who witness domestic abuse sometimes internalize the situation and begin to blame themselves for what is happening. They feel that they are the cause of the violence. These children often suffer from intense depression, suicidal tendencies, high anxiety levels and sometimes even develop post traumatic stress disorder.

Some children do the opposite, though, and externalize their home life (Safe Start Center). They can become highly aggressive or unruly, lashing out and misbehaving in other aspects of their life.

Witnessing domestic violence in the home can affect children physiologically, too. The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that children who live in violent households are at a higher risk of developing stomach problems or chronic headaches. They often have trouble focusing and learning in school.

It’s absolutely normal for parents to feel guilty for separating their children from the other partner on Father’s Day and other holidays. In fact, it shows how much they care about the happiness of their children. However, it’s important to remember that children are much safer, happier and healthier when they are not living in an abusive environment.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Francesca’s Story

* Note from The Hotline: Special thanks to Francesca for bravely sharing her story with us.*

Living with a man like my ex-husband is like having a gun pointed at your head every single day, and you just don’t know when the gun is going to go off.

I am writing to tell my story – of how I have been a victim and survivor of repeated, relentless domestic violence – and to bring the weaknesses in the justice system and the general lack of knowledge in the community about domestic violence to your attention.

I married my ex-husband in October of 2005 thinking that he was a kind, gentle, compassionate, and caring man. Not until I was pregnant with our child did I see his true character. When I was about six months pregnant, he slapped me across my face, leaving me with a black eye and knocking me to the ground. Luckily nothing happened to my baby, but the abuse did not end there. At the time, I was living in Ecuador. I was trapped and scared.

My daughter was born in June of 2007, and we traveled to the U.S. permanently in August of 2007. Once there he did not hold back. Just three weeks after arriving in the U.S., there had already been three calls made to the police on domestic disputes, and he was arrested after battering me while I had our infant daughter in my arms. As I tried to call 9-1-1, he ripped the phone cord out of the wall. He threatened me that if I testified against him that he would kill me, and I believed him.

Rape was a regular occurrence in our home, and I cannot count the number of times I laid in bed crying as he raped me. He also strangled me on a regular basis, slammed my head into the walls of our home, leaving large holes, tortured me sexually, mentally, psychologically, and ruined me financially.

He hit our three your old daughter in the face, leaving a large bruise, then kept her home from day care for several days until the bruise was no longer visible. He put her head through our bathroom wall, which was reported to the Illinois DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services). DCFS decided that he did, in fact, abuse our daughter, but they did not pursue the case any further.

I tried so hard to protect her from him, but every time he would hit her, I would step in, and receive my own beating on her behalf. I did not report it since I was sure he would kill me or kidnap my daughter if I did.

Perhaps one of the worst parts of this whole story is that he almost killed me. Actually, he did kill me, but thankfully doctors were able to revive me. In this particular incident we were involved in a heated discussion because I had to leave Ecuador to return to the U.S. for medical school and my graduate work in biochemistry. He had not obtained a visa to come to the U.S. at that point, and threatened to divorce me if I did not stay with him in Ecuador. He grabbed my wrists, screamed at me, and then threatened me with a screwdriver. I walked home knowing that I would divorce him, and knowing that I had a flight back to the U.S. in about three days. I laid down to take a nap, and did not wake up until four days later.

I was on a ventilator in the hospital, and they informed me that I had undergone cardiac arrest on several occasions. The coma was so profound that I received the lowest rating on the Glasgow coma scale. It is truly a miracle that I survived.

It is my firm belief that my ex-husband poisoned me with scopolamine, a common date rape drug in parts of Latin America. He called my medical school and told them I had tried to kill myself, instead of giving them the true story, which then led to me being expelled from school. He has sabotaged my career, my jobs, did not allow me to have any friends or family in my life, destroyed my home and beat my pets

When I have told my story to friends and family, a few people’s reaction is to ask why I didn’t leave sooner, or they simply don’t believe me at all. It is a shock to me how undereducated the public is on domestic violence.

People do not understand how difficult it is to escape. It is almost impossible to gather evidence, because the abuser will find a way to destroy it. No one on the outside knows what is happening because the abuser has the victim trapped and alone. He cuts her off from all outside interaction, and attempts to control her mind, and in many cases, he is successful.

If a woman does manage to escape, the justice system does little to help or protect her. I have had a domestic violence advocate tell me that there is only a 50/50 chance that someone will get convicted of domestic battery in my county, even in cases where there are bloody pictures, good witnesses, hospital reports, and other evidence. This is why women cannot simply just walk out the door. It is a real life or death risk to leave a man that believes he owns you. You could, and many have, die in the process. 4 out of 5 deaths due to domestic battery occur when a woman tries to leave.

I am asking for your help to educate the public on these issues. Women are beaten every day by their husbands, and it is a misdemeanor. You can get a felony charge for getting in a bar fight, but if you beat your wife, the justice system is sending a message that you will only get a slap on the wrist, if even that.

One of the most difficult problems I think battered women and children face is that the abuser isolates the victim to the point where most of the time there are no eyewitnesses. Because of this, it makes these cases very difficult to prosecute, but even worse, it makes the state’s attorney’s office reluctant to even pursue it because they see it as a waste of money and resources.

Domestic violence is NOT a family matter. It is everyone’s business. It affects us all even if we are not directly abused. Women should be able to speak out against their abusers. They should be able to bring their abusers to justice. The public should be educated about what it means to be battered, and why it is so difficult to escape. With stiffer punishments, and better prevention, many women would be able to leave sooner. PLEASE help me and all women fight for what is fundamentally right.


Happy Father’s Day

Fathers play an important role in both the domestic violence movement and in teaching their children about healthy relationships. Kenny Wallace, NASCAR driver and friend of The Hotline, once explained the responsibility he felt as a supportive husband and father. “I want to send out the message that hitting is never acceptable and to be respectful of your loved ones,” said Wallace. “I want to set an example as a loving husband and father that any type of violence is never ok.”

Fathers who model respectful relationship behaviors and talk about domestic violence with their children, help further prevention efforts by educating the next generation. Men’s groups like Men Against Violence, Men Can Stop Rape, Men Rally For Change and countless other men’s organizations are doing inspiring work to promote healthy relationships and end domestic violence and sexual assault.

To celebrate Father’s Day, we want to highlight some important ways that a father’s behavior positively affects his children.

Fathers Help Early Learning

Babies learn rapidly from everything they experience. Did you know that the number of words a father uses when a child is two years old impacts the child’s vocabulary a year later? (see source 1) Fathers can be very crucial to a baby’s development, influencing everything from the child’s social skills to their ability to problem solve. (2) Because early development has a profound influence on the child’s life, fathers who promote happy relationships in their home help make sure that their child is in both an environment, and mental place, conducive to learning.

Fathers Can Teach Healthy Behavior

Talking to children about what relationships should look like is as important as teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street. Children should know how to be safe in every area of his or her life. By opening a dialogue, dedicated dads can have a positive impact on a child’s understanding of relationships.

Fathers Can Provide an Anchor

A father can be a steady and calming presence in a child’s life. Children whose fathers are committed to them and their family have an established sense of reliability and devotion in their understanding of loving and caring for another person. Children will know that they can turn to a parent in times of trouble, for example, if a child is experiencing dating abuse. Having parents who will listen and help allows children the chance to safely express their feelings and get the support they need.

Fathers Can Model Healthy Behaviors
Because actions speak louder than words, showing respect to others in front of children is the easiest way to incorporate respectful behavior into his or her daily routine. Fathers often teach without words by demonstrating to their kids how to respond in different situations by communicating effectively and managing conflict well themselves. We all learn by examples, and fathers can be motivational examples for their children.

Father’s Day doesn’t only celebrate dads, but all positive male figures in our lives. We appreciate everything fathers and other supportive men do to help children and families lead healthy and happy lives. Have a safe and special Father’s Day!

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

The Best Gift You Can Give Your Valentine is a Healthy Relationship

The most popular gifts loved ones give each other for Valentine’s day are roses, chocolates and jewelry. Yes, it is nice to get the flowers and treats, but it is also nice to know that you are in a loving and secure relationship. The best gift you can give a loved one is the gift of a healthy relationship year-round.

Here are some tips to a healthy relationship:

  • Be respectful, thoughtful and kind. This sounds simple enough but there are times when our own emotions get in the way and we take out our stress and anger on those we love.
  • Be honest and talk openly with each other if something is bothering you. If there is conflict, see if there is a compromise that suits you both.
  • Be supportive of each other’s successes and also be there for one another when things don’t go quite right.
  • Maintain your own identities and spend some time apart so that you do not become dependent on each other and isolated from friends and family.

If you’re a parent, remember that maintaining a healthy relationship is also good for your children. They mimic what they see at home so show them through your own relationship what they should look for in a partner. It is never too early to talk with your children about how to develop a healthy relationship.

Consider these goals for teaching your children about relationships:

  • Ensure they respect other people and other people’s property.
  • Show them how to address a situation that makes them angry without using violence or angry words.
  • If they have a problem with a friend, talk to them about compromises.
  • Teach them that there are consequences for our actions. Kids need to know this, even at an early age.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship but you should strive for a healthy relationship that makes you happy and doesn’t cause you an inordinate amount of stress. Everyone deserves love, dignity and respect in their relationship.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

National Domestic Violence Hotline Awareness

President Obama Signs Legislation Aimed at Preventing Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

The Hotline was directly impacted by a piece of legislation signed December 20 that reauthorized the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act  (CAPTA). CAPTA provides federal funding to states, which is then distributed to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for programs and projects supporting a variety of goals necessary for eliminating family violence. FVPSA, a provision of the Child Abuse Amendments of 1984, helps fund family violence state coalitions and more than 2,000 domestic violence shelters and safe-houses.

Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, wrote a powerful post on the White House blog describing the event. Please read that article here. She described the experience of being present during the signing:

This afternoon, I stood in the Oval Office and watched as President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which includes the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA.)  As he signed this crucial bill into law, the President was surrounded by Senators and Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, and national advocates who work every day to end domestic violence and child abuse.

CAPTA helps The Hotline support the victims who reach out to us for guidance and protection. As an organization, we are extremely grateful to the government support we’ve been given to continue providing these life-saving services.

Rosenthal concluded her post with this moving remark:

Thanks to the bi-partisan work of members of Congress who were with us today, CAPTA and FVPSA will help end abuse, give hope to victims, and provide families with the help they need. As we gathered in the Oval Office, I was thinking of the many abuse survivors I have met over the years. Thanks to CAPTA and FVPSA, their future looks brighter.

To learn more about CAPTA, please click here.

To learn more about FVPSA, please click here.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

She Couldn’t Do It Alone

This blog post was written by Christina Owens. We thank her for sharing her and her mother’s story to help other victims.

By the time I was six, I knew the drill all too well. There would be a little bit of yelling, things would be thrown about and Dad would strike Mom. She would cry and apologize and I would hide. That was my job, when things got ugly I was to be invisible and I had gotten incredibly good at it.

A few years later, it was important for me to be visible and to cry for help because the strongest woman I know was at her weakest moment in life. She was being choked and didn’t have a voice. I was afraid for her life and got help the only way I knew how – by dialling 9-1-1. The police came. They handcuffed Dad and put him in the police car – this wasn’t the first time they had been called to our house on account of domestic violence, but it was the first time that Mom’s friends decided that it was time to get involved.

They knew some of what went on at our house. They could hear it and they knew that the police had been to our house before. But they were never willing to talk to Mom about it. Maybe they didn’t know what they would say to her or maybe they felt as if it wasn’t their “place” to say anything. But one thing is certain: Mom couldn’t escape the abuse alone. Dad owned her. Her self-esteem was at an all time low and she really believed she was good for nothing. She was afraid to leave – afraid that would put her (and me) in more danger than just enduring the pain. He paid for everything we had and was financially responsible for us. And, above all else, she truly loved him. It would have been difficult for her to make it on her own and she didn’t know the first step in getting out safely.

She was never willing to press charges and, as a result, Dad never had to sit in jail for long. Mom’s closest friends were aware of this and went to work quickly. They reminded her of what she had and helped boost her confidence. They gave her the willpower she needed to change her thinking from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’ They told her that his behaviour was not okay and reminded her that she had a small child who was looking up to her as an example to life.

Mom cried. She didn’t want to continue living this way, but she didn’t know how to get out, she’d been living this way for so long that it had become the norm for her. Mom’s good friend offered to let us live at her house, at least for a while, until we could figure something else out. Her friends encouraged her to move – to get out. They promised her they’d hide our location from him.

They promised we wouldn’t be alone.

Her friends helped her pack up our whole lives into a few boxes and we escaped to another town. Mom was saving herself, she was saving me, and she was doing what she had to do. She is one of the strongest women I know.

I often think about how different life would have been for both of us had Mom’s friends not gotten involved. I suspect that Mom would have continued to repeat the Battered Wife Syndrome week after week, month after month and year after year. Mom couldn’t do it alone. She didn’t have the strength; she didn’t have the finances and she didn’t have the know-how. Domestic violence IS everybody’s issue. Many women don’t know the first step to take. They need a friend. A friend they can trust; a friend who is willing to help, willing to listen without blame.

Our new life would not have been possible without the help of Mom’s friends. Know your neighbors; know your friends. If someone is hurting your friend or family member, it IS your business. Get involved. Stop domestic violence NOW!

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

After Years of Abuse, No More Drama

The following blog entry was written by Hotline National Advisory Board Member Sil Lai Abrams.

It seems strange to say this now, but as a child I didn’t know that I was growing up in an abusive home, or that there was specific legal term for my father’s behavior:  battering.  The only thing I did know was that living with my parents was incredibly isolating and painful and I made it my mission to get as far away from them as much and as soon possible.  I began running away from home during my sophomore (and final) year in high school.  This went on for a couple of years until I became of legal age and the day after my 18th birthday, jumped on a one-way flight to New York City armed only with two suitcases, $200 and the dream of a better life.

Like many who grow up in dysfunctional environments, I swore that I would never have a relationship like the one my parents had with each other.  And like many adult survivors of abusive homes, in spite of my most fervent wishes, I found myself in a relationship when I was in my early twenties that was eerily similar to my parents’.  On the surface my boyfriend was nothing like my father.  He was charming, didn’t drink or think housecleaning was women’s work and enjoyed being a hands on dad to my son from a previous relationship and the daughter we had together.  He was also, as I discovered soon into our relationship, very controlling and jealous.  The emotional and verbal abuse which dominated the first year of our relationship escalated to physical violence while I was pregnant with his child and only ended after he was arrested several times and ordered to stay away from me by a judge.

I stayed with him for all the wrong reasons and told myself that he would change.  In fact, he did change but it wasn’t for the better.  For five long years I weathered his abuse until I received counseling and support from a local organization that worked with victims of crime and violence called Safe Horizon.  Their support empowered me to permanently leave our relationship and begin the process of healing and rebuilding my life.  I am happy to say that in the years since, I have created a life for myself and children that is beyond my wildest dreams, a life that includes intimate relationships that are loving, supportive and free from violence.

When I left my batterer I told myself that if I ever was in a position where I could be of support to other women who have experienced intimate partner violence that I would try in some way to help.  When my book No More Drama: Nine Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough was published in 2007 I was given the opportunity do so by sharing the nine-step self-help method outlined in my book and my personal testimony of overcoming violence as tools to motivate women living in domestic violence shelters. Additionally, my role as relationship expert for Men’s Fitness provides me with a national media platform to discuss various relationship issues, including domestic violence, which has led to various speaking and media appearances.  It was at a taping for Good Morning America last fall that I met former Hotline CEO Sheryl Cates.  We were both on a panel discussing the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident which generated a huge amount of media attention for the issue of teen dating violence.  Sheryl and I had an instant connection and when she asked me to join the National Advisory Board a few months later I didn’t hesitate to accept.

It is truly an honor to be a part of the National Advisory Board for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, an organization that has done a tremendous amount of work over the past 15 years to help victims of domestic violence.  Although it has been 13 years since I left my abuser, I will never forget what it was like to live with the constant threat of violence over my head. I am humbled to be able to serve those whose lives have been affected by domestic violence and it is my hope that the efforts of those of us in the anti-domestic violence movement will in time stamp out one of the greatest threats to the health and well being of our families and communities.

Sil Lai Abrams
Writer, Inspirational Speaker, Empowerment Specialist
Men’s Fitness magazine relationship expert

Rihanna/Chris Brown: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

The following blog entry was written by Kevin Powell who is a writer, activist, and author or editor of nine books. His 10th book, Open Letters To America, will be published in October 2009. Open Letters To America includes the essay “Open Letter to An American Woman,” a long meditation on domestic violence, female resiliency in the face of sexism and marginalization, and women’s leadership. A native of Jersey City, NJ, Kevin is a long-time resident of Brooklyn, NY, where he ran for Congress in 2008. He can be reached at, or you can visit his website,

Rihanna/Chris Brown: Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (The Remix)

Writer’s note:
Given all the hype and controversy around Chris Brown’s beating of Rihanna, I feel compelled to post this essay I originally wrote in late 2007, so that some of us can have an honest jump off point to discuss male violence against females, to discuss the need for ownership of past pains and traumas, to discuss the critical importance of therapy and healing. Let us pray for Rihanna, first and foremost, because no one deserves to be beaten, or beaten up. No one. And let us also pray that Chris Brown gets the help he needs by way of long-term counseling and alternative definitions of manhood rooted in nonviolence, real love, and, alas, real peace. And let us not forget that Rihanna and Chris Brown happen to be major pop stars, hence all the media coverage, blogs, etc. Violence against women and girls happen every single day on this planet without any notice from most of us. Until we begin to address that hard fact, until we all, males and females alike, make a commitment to ending the conditions that create that destructive behavior in the first place, it will not end any time soon. There will be more Rihannas and more Chris Browns.

In my recent travels and political and community work and speeches around the country, it became so very obvious that many American males are unaware of the monumental problems of domestic violence and sexual assault, against women and girls, in our nation. This seems as good a time as any to address this urgent and overlooked issue. Why is it that so few of us actually think about violence against women and girls, or think that it’s our problem? Why do we go on believing it’s all good, even as our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters suffer and a growing number of us participate in the brutality of berating, beating, or killing our female counterparts?

All you have to do is scan the local newspapers or ask the right questions of your circle of friends, neighbors, or co-workers on a regular basis, and you’ll see and hear similar stories coming up again and again. There’s the horribly tragic case of Megan Williams, a 20-year-old West Virginia woman, who was kidnapped for several days. The woman’s captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her, a Black female, a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. They also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say. There’s the woman I knew, in Atlanta, Georgia, whose enraged husband pummeled her at home, stalked her at work and, finally, in a fit of fury, stabbed her to death as her six-year-old son watched in horror. There’s the woman from Minnesota, who showed up at a national male conference I organized a few months back with her two sons. She had heard about the conference through the media, and was essentially using the conference as a safe space away from her husband of fifteen years who, she said, savagely assaulted her throughout the entire marriage. The beatings were so bad, she said, both in front of her two boys and when she was alone with her husband that she had come to believe it was just a matter of time before her husband would end her life. She came to the conference out of desperation, because she felt all her pleas for help had fallen on deaf ears.

There’s my friend from Brooklyn, New York who knew, even as a little boy, that his father was hurting his mother, but the grim reality of the situation did not hit home for him until, while playing in a courtyard beneath his housing development, he saw his mother thrown from their apartment window by his father. There’s my other friend from Indiana who grew up watching his father viciously kick his mother with his work boots, time and again, all the while angrily proclaiming that he was the man of the house, and that she needed to obey his orders.

Perhaps the most traumatic tale for me these past few years was the vile murder of Shani Baraka and her partner Rayshon Holmes in the summer of 2003. Shani, the daughter of eminent Newark, New Jersey poets and activists Amiri and Amina Baraka, had been living with her oldest sister, Wanda, part-time. Wanda was married to a man who was mad abusive—he was foul, vicious, dangerous. And it should be added that this man was “a community organizer.” Wanda tried, on a number of occasions, to get away from this man. She called the police several times, sought protection and a restraining order. But even after Wanda’s estranged husband had finally moved out, and after a restraining order was in place, he came back to terrorize his wife—twice. One time he threatened to kill her. Another time he tried to demolish the pool in the backyard, and Wanda’s car. The Baraka parents were understandably worried. Their oldest daughter was living as a victim of perpetual domestic violence, and their youngest daughter, a teacher, a girls’ basketball coach, and a role model for scores of inner city youth, was living under the same roof. Shani was warned, several times, to pack up her belongings and get away from that situation. Finally, Shani and Rayshon went, one sweltering August day, to retrieve the remainder of Shani’s possessions. Shani’s oldest sister was out of town, and it remains unclear, even now, if the estranged husband had already been there at his former home, forcibly, or if he had arrived after Shani and Rayshon. No matter. This much is true: he hated his wife Wanda and he hated Shani for being Wanda’s sister, and he hated Shani and Rayshon for being two women in love, for being lesbians. His revolver blew Shani away immediately. Dead. Next, there was an apparent struggle between Rayshon and this man. She was battered and bruised, then blown away as well. Gone. Just like that. Because I have known the Baraka family for years, this double murder was especially difficult to handle. It was the saddest funeral I have ever attended in my life. Two tiny women in two tiny caskets. I howled so hard and long that I doubled over in pain in the church pew and nearly fell to the floor beneath the pew in front of me.

Violence against women and girls knows no race, no color, no class background, no religion. It may be the husband or the fiancé, the grandfather or the father, the boyfriend or the lover, the son or the nephew, the neighbor or the co-worker. I cannot begin to tell you how many women—from preteens to senior citizens and multiple ages in between—have told me of their battering at the hands of a male, usually someone they knew very well, or what is commonly referred to as an intimate partner. Why have these women and girls shared these experiences with me, a man? I feel it is because, through the years, I have been brutally honest, in my writings and speeches and workshops, in admitting that the sort of abusive male they are describing, the type of man they are fleeing, the kind of man they’ve been getting those restraining orders against—was once me. Between the years 1987 and 1991 I was a very different kind of person, a very different kind of male. During that time frame I assaulted and or threatened four different young women. I was one of those typical American males: hyper-masculine, overly competitive, and drenched in the belief system that I could talk to women any way I felt, treat women any way I felt, with no repercussions whatsoever. As I sought therapy during and especially after that period, I came to realize that I and other males in this country treated women and girls in this dehumanizing way because somewhere along our journey we were told we could. It may have been in our households; it may have been on our block or in our neighborhoods; it may have been the numerous times these actions were reinforced for us in our favorite music, our favorite television programs, or our favorite films.

All these years later I feel, very strongly, that violence against women and girls is not going to end until we men and boys become active participants in the fight against such behavior. I recall those early years of feeling clueless when confronted—by both women and men—about my actions. This past life was brought back to me very recently when I met with a political associate who reminded me that he was, then and now, close friends with the last woman I assaulted. We, this political associate and I, had a very long and emotionally charged conversation about my past, about what I had done to his friend. We both had watery eyes by the time we were finished talking. It hurt me that this woman remains wounded by what I did in 1991, in spite of the fact that she accepted an apology from me around the year 2000. I left that meeting with pangs of guilt, and a deep sadness about the woman with whom I had lived for about a year.

Later that day, a few very close female friends reminded me of the work that some of us men had done, to begin to reconfigure how we define manhood, how some of us have been helping in the fight to end violence against women and girls. And those conversations led me to put on paper The Seven Steps For Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. These are the rules that I have followed for myself, and that I have shared with men and boys throughout America since the early 1990s:

1. Own the fact that you have made a very serious mistake, that you’ve committed an offense, whatever it is, against a woman or a girl. Denial, passing blame, and not taking full responsibility, is simply not acceptable.
2. Get help as quickly as you can in the form of counseling or therapy for your violent behavior. YOU must be willing to take this very necessary step. If you don’t know where to turn for help, I advise visiting the website, an important organization, based in Atlanta, that can give you a starting point and some suggestions. Also visit where you can find helpful information on what men and boys can do to get help for themselves. Get your hands on and watch Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ critically important documentary film NO! as soon as you are able. You can order it at NO! is, specifically, about the history of rape and sexual assault in Black America, but that film has made its way around the globe and from that very specific narrative comes some very hard and real truths about male violence against females that is universal, that applies to us all, regardless of our race or culture. Also get a copy of Byron Hurt’s Beyond Beats and Rhymes, perhaps the most important documentary film ever made about the relationship between American popular culture and American manhood. Don’t just watch these films, watch them with other men, and watch them with an eye toward critical thinking, healing, and growth, even if they make you angry or very comfortable. And although it may be difficult and painful, you must be willing to dig into your past, into the family and environment you’ve come from, to begin to understand the root causes of your violent behavior. For me that meant acknowledging the fact that, beginning in the home with my young single mother, and continuing through what I encountered on the streets or navigated in the parks and the schoolyards, was the attitude that violence was how every single conflict should be dealt with. More often than not, this violence was tied to a false sense of power, of being in control. Of course the opposite is the reality: violence towards women has everything to do with powerlessness and being completely out of control. Also, we need to be clear that some men simply hate or have a very low regard for women and girls. Some of us, like me, were the victims of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse at the hands of mothers who had been completely dissed by our fathers, so we caught the brunt of our mothers’ hurt and anger. Some of us were abandoned by our mothers. Some of us were sexually assaulted by our mothers or other women in our lives as boys. Some of us watched our fathers or other men terrorize our mothers, batter our mothers, abuse our mothers, and we simply grew up thinking that that male-female dynamic was the norm. Whatever the case may be, part of that “getting help” must involve the word forgiveness. Forgiveness of ourselves for our inhuman behavioral patterns and attitudes, and forgiveness of any female who we feel has wronged us at some point in our lives. Yes, my mother did hurt me as a child but as an adult I had to realize I was acting out that hurt with the women I was encountering. I had to forgive my mother, over a period of time, with the help of counseling and a heavy dose of soul-searching to understand who she was, as well as the world that created her. And I had to acknowledge that one woman’s actions should not justify a lifetime of backward and destructive reactions to women and girls. And, most importantly, we must have the courage to apologize to any female we have wronged. Ask for her forgiveness, and accept the fact that she may not be open to your apology. That is her right.
3. Learn to listen to the voices of women and girls. And once we learn how to listen, we must truly hear their concerns, their hopes and their fears. Given that America was founded on sexism—on the belief system of male dominance and privilege—as much as it was founded on the belief systems of racism and classism, all of us are raised and socialized to believe that women and girls are unequal to men and boys, that they are nothing more than mothers, lovers, or sexual objects, that it is okay to call them names, to touch them without their permission, to be violent toward them physically, emotionally, spiritually—or all of the above. This mindset, unfortunately, is reinforced in much of our educational curriculum, from preschool right through college, through the popular culture we digest every single day through music, sports, books, films, and the internet, and through our male peers who often do not know any better either—because they had not learned to listen to women’s voices either. For me that meant owning the fact that throughout my years of college, for example, I never read more than a book or two by women writers. Or that I never really paid attention to the stories of the women in my family, in my community, to female friends, colleagues, and lovers who, unbeknownst to me, had been the victims of violence at some point in their lives. So when I began to listen to and absorb the voices, the stories, and the ideas of women like Pearl Cleage, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Alice Walker, of the housekeeper, of the hair stylist, of the receptionist, of the school crossing guard, of the nurse’s aid, and many others, it was nothing short of liberating, to me. Terribly difficult for me as a man, yes, because it was forcing me to rethink everything I once believed. But I really had no other choice but to listen if I was serious about healing. And if I was serious about my own personal growth. It all begins with a very simple question we males should ask each and every woman in our lives: Have you ever been physically abused or battered by a man?
4. To paraphrase Gandhi, make a conscious decision to be the change we need to see. Question where and how you’ve received your definitions of manhood to this point. This is not easy as a man in a male-dominated society because it means you have to question every single privilege men have vis-à-vis women. It means that you might have to give up something or some things that have historically benefited you because of your gender. And people who are privileged, who are in positions of power, are seldom willing to give up that privilege or power. But we must, because the alternative is to continue to hear stories of women and girls being beaten, raped, or murdered by some male in their environment, be it the college campus, the inner city, the church, or corporate America. And we men and boys need to come to a realization that sexism—the belief that women and girls are inferior to men and boys, that this really is a man’s world, and the female is just here to serve our needs regardless of how we treat them—is as destructive to ourselves as it is to women and girls. As I’ve said in many speeches through the years, even if you are not the kind of man who would ever yell at a woman, curse at a woman, touch a woman in a public or private space without her permission, hit or beat a woman, much less kill a woman—you are just as guilty if you see other men and boys doing these things and you say or do nothing to stop them.
5. Become a consistent and reliable male ally to women and girls. More of us men and boys need to take public stands in opposition to violence against women and girls. That means we cannot be afraid to be the only male speaking out against such an injustice. It also means that no matter what kind of male you are, working-class or middle-class or super-wealthy, no matter what race, no matter what educational background, and so on, that you can begin to use language that supports and affirms the lives and humanity of women and girls. You can actually be friends with females, and not merely view them as sexual partners to be conquered. Stop saying “boys will be boys” when you see male children fighting or being aggressive or acting up. Do not sexually harass women you work with then try to brush it off if a woman challenges you on the harassment. If you can’t get over a breakup, get counseling. As a male ally, help women friends leave bad or abusive relationships. Do not criticize economically independent women because this independence helps free them in many cases from staying in abusive situations. Donate money, food, or clothing to battered women’s shelters or other women’s causes. Do not ever respond to a female friend with “Oh you’re just an angry woman.” This diminishes the real criticisms women may have about their male partners. American male voices I greatly admire, who also put forth suggestions for what we men and boys can do to be allies to women and girls, include Michael Kimmel, Jackson Katz, Charles Knight, Mark Anthony Neal, Jelani Cobb, Charlie Braxton, and Byron Hurt. Of course standing up for anything carries risks. You may—as I have—find things that you say and do taken out of context, misunderstood or misinterpreted, maligned and attacked, dismissed, or just outright ignored. But you have to do it anyway because you never know how the essay or book you’ve written, the speech or workshop you’ve led, or just the one-on-one conversations you’ve had, might impact on the life of someone who’s struggling for help. I will give two examples: A few years back, after giving a lecture at an elite East Coast college, I noticed a young woman milling about as I was signing books and shaking hands. I could see that she wanted to talk with me, but I had no idea the gravity of her situation. Once the room had virtually cleared out, this 17-year-old first-year student proceeded to tell me that her pastor had been having sex with her since the time she was four, and had been physically and emotionally violent toward her on a number of occasions. Suffice to say, I was floored. This young woman was badly in need of help. I quickly alerted school administrators who pledged to assist her, and I followed up to make sure that they did. But what if I had not made a conscious decision to talk about sexism and violence against women and girls, in every single speech I gave—regardless of the topic? This young woman might not have felt comfortable enough to open up to me about such a deeply personal pain. My other example involves a young male to whom I have been a mentor for the past few years. He is incredibly brilliant and talented, but, like me, comes from a dysfunctional home, has had serious anger issues, and, also like me, has had to work through painful feelings of abandonment as a result of his absent father. This, unfortunately, is a perfect recipe for disaster in a relationship with a woman. True to form, this young man was going through turbulent times with a woman he both loved and resented. His relationship with the young woman may have been the first time in his 20-something life he’d ever felt deep affection for another being. But he felt resentment because he could not stomach—despite his declarations otherwise—the fact that this woman had the audacity to challenge him about his anger, his attitude, and his behavior toward her. So she left him, cut him off, and he confessed to me that he wanted to hit her. In his mind, she was dissin’ him. I was honestly stunned because I thought I knew this young man fairly well, but here he was, feeling completely powerless while thoughts of committing violence against this woman bombarded his mind and spirit. We had a long conversation, over the course of a few days, and, thank God, he eventually accepted the fact that his relationship with this woman was over. He also began to seek help for his anger, his feelings of abandonment, and all the long-repressed childhood hurts that had nothing to do with this woman, but everything to do with how he had treated her. But what if he did not have somebody to turn to when he needed help? What if he’d become yet another man lurking at his ex’s job or place of residence, who saw in his ability to terrorize that woman some twisted form of power?
6. Challenge other males about their physical, emotional, and spiritual violence towards women and girls. Again, this is not a popular thing to do, especially when so many men and boys do not even believe that there is a gender violence problem in America. But challenge we must when we hear about abusive or destructive behavior being committed by our friends or peers. I have to say I really respect the aforementioned political associate who looked me straight in the eyes, 16 long years after I pushed his close female friend and my ex-girlfriend into a bathroom door, and asked me why I did what I did, and, essentially, why he should work with me all these years later? American males don’t often have these kinds of difficult but necessary conversations with each other. But his point was that he needed to understand what had happened, what work I had done to prevent that kind of behavior from happening again, and why I had committed such an act in the first place. Just for the record: No, it has not happened since, and no, it never will again. But I respect the fact that, in spite of my being very honest about past behavior, that women and men and girls and boys of diverse backgrounds have felt compelled to ask hard questions, to challenge me after hearing me speak, after reading one of my essays about sexism and redefining American manhood. We must ask and answer some hard questions. This also means that we need to challenge those men—as I was forced to do twice in the past week—who bring up the fact that some males are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of females. While this may be true in a few cases (and I do know some men who have been attacked or beaten by women), there is not even a remote comparison between the number of women who are battered and murdered on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis in America and the number of men who suffer the same fate at the hands of women. Second, we men need to understand that we cannot just use our maleness to switch the dialogue away from the very real concerns of women to what men are suffering, or what we perceive men to be suffering. That’s what step number three in the seven steps to ending violence against women and girls is all about. So many of us American males have such a distorted definition of manhood that we don’t even have the basic respect to listen to women’s voices when they talk about violence and abuse, without becoming uncomfortable, without becoming defensive, without feeling the need to bring the conversation, the dialogue, to us and our needs and our concerns, as if the needs and concerns of women and girls do not matter.
7. Create a new kind of man, a new kind of boy. Violence against women and girls will never end if we males continue to live according to definitions of self that are rooted in violence, domination, and sexism. I have been saying for the past few years that more American males have got to make a conscious decision to redefine who we are, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask where we got these definitions of manhood and masculinity, to which we cling so tightly. Who do these definitions benefit and whom do they hurt? Who said manhood has to be connected to violence, competition, ego, and the inability to express ourselves? And while we’re asking questions, we need to thoroughly question the heroes we worship, too. How can we continue to salute Bill Clinton as a great president yet never ask why he has never taken full ownership for the numerous sexual indiscretions he has committed during his long marriage to Senator Hillary Clinton? How can we in the hip-hop nation continue to blindly idolize Tupac Shakur (whom I interviewed numerous times while working at Vibe, and whom I loved like a brother) but never question how he could celebrate women in songs like “Keep Ya Head Up?” and “Dear Mama,” on the one hand, but completely denigrate women in songs like “Wonda Y They Call U Bitch”? What I am saying is that as we examine and struggle to redefine ourselves as men, we also have to make a commitment to questioning the manifestations of sexism all around us. If we fail to do so, if we do not begin to ask males, on a regular basis, why we refer to women and girls with despicable words, why we talk about women and girls as if they are nothing more than playthings, why we think its cool to “slap a woman around,” why we don’t think the rape, torture, and kidnap of Megan Williams in West Virginia should matter to us as much as the Jena 6 case in Louisiana, then the beginning of the end of violence against women and girls will be a long time coming.