I See DV Prevention as an Idea Worth Spreading

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 or view her TEDTalk.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

No One Is A Stereotype: How Survivors Inspire Each Other

Steiner-borderLeslie 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.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Chris Brown Guilty Plea

The following entry is written by New York Times best selling author and NDVH Celebrity Board member Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir about domestic violence, and the anthology Mommy Wars.  She writes a weekly column for Mommy Track’d.  To share your story as part of the Crazy Love Project, visit the author’s website at

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s proceedings against musician Chris Brown for his alleged Grammy-eve assault of Robyn R. Fenty, more commonly known as the pop singer Rihanna, ended surprisingly gently last Monday given the five-month media frenzy that has surrounded the couple. Brown pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation and 1,400 hours of community service ( Rihanna’s silence, however, has baffled and frustrated fans, prosecutors, and advocates within the domestic violence community. The horrific post-assault photo of the 21-year-old’s cut and bruised face, supposedly leaked by the Los Angeles police department, showed bruises across the singer’s face and head. Police statements describe Brown biting Rihanna and repeatedly threatening to kill her (

But Rihanna never called the police. She did not request a restraining order. She did not file a complaint. She did not testify against the man who assaulted her. She has never spoken publicly about the assault.

I understand why Rihanna has been so quiet.

I was sure I loved the man who abused me for four years, a brilliant, troubled Wall Street trader I met on the New York subway a few months after I graduated from Harvard ( The assault that ended our marriage took place nearly 20 years ago, but I too stayed silent because I wanted to protect my abuser, even after I knew he was capable of killing me. I was in shock, terrified, and broken physically and psychologically. Like Rihanna, I wanted the whole ugly mess to be invisible.

We hear a lot about domestic violence’s grim statistics, as we should.  According to The Family Violence Prevention Fund, three women are murdered in this country every day by intimate partners, and over five million women are assaulted each year.  More than 50% of people who abuse their partners also abuse their children.  In the months since Rihanna and Brown dominated the headlines, in my community alone there have been four murders, including two children killed by their father and a 19-year-old girl murdered by her boyfriend.  As a society, we need these numbers as evidence of the terrible cost we pay for tolerating domestic violence in our country and around the world.

What we need even more: to abandon our misguided expectations that it’s up to domestic victims to prosecute their abusers and to speak out publicly about the trauma they’ve suffered.

It is obviously unrealistic to expect batterers to make incriminating confessions. It is equally impractical to require Rihanna or any other battered women, immediately following a vicious assault, to prosecute a lover or family member. It’s bizarre that our society and criminal justice system expect women to do so. Family violence incidents must be investigated and prosecuted by local police and district attorneys – not victims. In order to break the cycle of violence, victims need this kind of aggressive intervention to free us to find our own happy endings.

Like most victims, there was no way I was strong enough to stand up for myself against the person who had seduced, manipulated, and terrorized me for years. The police left without cataloguing my injuries or pressing charges against my husband. Having survived the most brutal attack of my life at the hands of a man I loved, I did not have the ability to absorb what had happened, much less document the evidence and press charges myself. I barely had the courage to file a restraining order; filing charges against my ex-husband was beyond comprehension. Even though he deserved it. Even though I craved protection and justice.

Three years after I left my abusive husband, then-Senator Joseph Biden successfully championed the landmark Violence Against Women Act through Congress.  Nearly $2 billion has been allocated since then to raise awareness of the problems and costs of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual abuse against women; to fund physical, legal and emotional support to victims; and to train police and judicial officers who prosecute offenders. VAWA is up for renewal in 2010, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and a plethora of bipartisan supporters and advocates.

I wish police had treated my apartment as a crime scene the last night I was beaten by my ex-husband, documenting the abuse and pressing charges.  Advocates needed to do for me what I could not do for myself. The pursuit of justice would have benefitted me – immediately — and our society over time by taking domestic violence seriously.

And if police had taken a photo, I’d still have it today — as a harsh warning of the dangers of abusive love.

Right in front of that photo, I’d place one of me now –  smiling, surrounded by my second husband and three young children, without bruises or scars to hide.  Another kind of evidence –  that victims can survive domestic violence and go on to rebuild our lives.  All we need is a little help.


Author of “Crazy Love” Speaks Out Against Domestic Violence

Here’s what I want to say to everyone who is obsessed with Chris Brown and Rihanna, including Oprah, Dr. Phil, The New York Times, The Washington Post, TMZ, and the other 34 million Google hits on their names:  Thank you!  Shining a spotlight on abusive violence is good for everyone. Abuse is a crime.  If you are being abused, you need help immediately — and you need to end the abusive relationship.  Our society and criminal justice system need to hold abusers responsible for their actions, and stop further abuse.
However, anger at Chris Brown, and the backlash on those who defend him, masks a terrible truth that women and children who have loved abusers know all too well: that most abusers have already been punished, usually by enduring awful abuse during their childhoods, as Chris Brown says he did at the hands of his stepfather. I share the anger at abusers (male and female), but If we oversimplify the dynamics of domestic violence, neither victims nor abusers can ever get the help they need.  To break the cycle of violence, our culture needs to understand more completely how intimate partner violence unfolds and repeats itself.

Batterers are criminals, but they are real people — not villains. We would never fall in love with them, or trust them with our love, in the first place if they were so obviously horrific. I’m not defending batterers — they need to come clean and take responsibility for their actions and their treatment, and you should never stay with an abusive man, no matter how much good you see in him, and how much you feel you love him.  But it’s destructive for our society to paint a batterer in black and white terms.  The hidden message perversely blames the victim: “How could she have fallen in love with such an awful man?”  The truth is far more complex and dangerous.

It was so hard to recognize that I was being abused, and to leave my abusive partner, but I have gotten tremendous solace and support by joining the Million Voices campaign and by sharing my story in my book Crazy Love and a YouTube video.

If you want to tell your story, please join The Crazy Love Project, a safe place for people to share stories of surviving abusive love (anonymously if you prefer).

I hope one day we hear Rihanna’s story. And Chris Brown’s. And yours.
Leslie Morgan Steiner