Friday, September 14, 2007
Both reasons brought back memories about my early radio broadcasting career and the documentaries I had done on alcoholics who abuse their families when drunk and another on women who escaped to a United Way shelter.
Carolyn Thomas is a woman who wound up losing 2/3's of her face when her live in boyfriend came home drunk and killed her mother and then shot Carolyn so that the bullet shattered her right eye, tore off her nose and her upper jaw. Somehow she survived but it took her and her medical team over 2 years, a half dozen major reconstructing surgeries and several grueling sessions with various prosthetic geniuses to put her back together. Carolyn's goal was to "stop being someone people are scared of and become someone they can see as being a survivor".
And she is a survivor-nowadays she speaks wherever and whenever she can on the importance of helping women get away from abusive mates and of her horrendous ordeal.
At the first radio station I worked at in Bakersfield, CA I interviewed a lady who, due to her husband's drinking, suffered years of verbal abuse. Fortunately, she found Alanon and they helped her leave and start her life over before the abuse turned physical. She credited her ability to leave and have her own recovery to her personal faith and the wonderful counselors at Alanon.
Coming from a home that was loving and considerate, it was hard for me to imagine anyone staying in a relationship such as this-but after talking to the Alanon counselor I could better understand how someone who is bigger, stronger and your financial support could beat your self-esteem down to this level.
After this documentary-I discussed the subject with my parents. My mother pointed out that her father was indeed a prime example of a verbal abuser. We all had estranged ourselves from my father's mother for the same reason. So even though I had never been physically touched by either one, I too was just as much a victim of their horrible treatment.
A year or so later, I moved on to a major market radio station (it was outside of Los Angeles). During my reign as afternoon news anchor and public affairs person I decided to produce a documentary about women who had not only escaped, but what they did to move past the abuse. I contacted the United Way, who ran a local women's shelter. The lead counselor and three women agreed to do the show. All had children, all had had broken bones and shattered egos. They had been in the shelter two months. One had completed the program, was divorcing her husband, and had not only found a job but rented an apartment. She sounded strong and determined to succeed in raising her 2 children in a loving, non-violent home. One of the other women was scared about being alone with her children. Since she wasn't married to her abuser, the United Way was trying to relocate her and her child and were extending her stay to try and provide her with a better feeling of self-confidence. The third woman sounded as if she was not going to make it. Truly. The counselor said that at this point in the program, they were seeing about a 50% success rate. She wasn't happy with this, but admitted that more often than not-most women returned to their abusive mates within 6 months of leaving the shelter.
Hopefully that has changed since I did that show in 1980.
Several years later, now I was a stay-at-home mom of two and we were preparing to move. The usual clean-up had begun. When I realized all the baby and toddler clothes I had (and in excellent condition), toys that my kids had outgrown and even our high chair, a crib and a couple of car seats, I knew exactly what to do.
I had Sarah and Adam help me clean, sort and box up everything. Then I called my local United Way and asked where I could drop off a donation to the nearest women's shelter. Much to my surprise-they gave me directions to the actual home. I called and asked when the best time would be. The counselor gushed her appreciation and said "Please, our residents can use anything and everything, would now be too soon?"
I put my kids into the car with our boxes. While driving I explained about where we were going and why this was were their old things would do the most good. They couldn't imagine dads who hurt little kids or hit mommies. They were a bit frightened. They were just about to turn 5 and 7. I told them this was usually called a "safe house" and it was a secret to keep all the moms, kids and helpers free from worry.
When I parked-several women greeted us and kept thanking us for all we were doing. They helped us bring in all "the goodies". They were amazed that we were giving them so much.
At that moment, I really wished I had been able to give more.
As a group of baby boomers maybe, with our fine choice of a charity that supports the well-being of these unfortunate women and children, I will feel that "more" is indeed what I will finally be doing.
I have worked for many years with abused women and children from large cities to small towns.
Most women who leave there batterers will return 5 times or more till they get the inner strength to leave for good. I have met women from all walks of life, from rich to poor. Nobody is immune. It could happen to you, your sister, your mother or your best friend or daughter. Women need to be educated against abuse in every form. Abuse can be suttle. There is physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse. Just like an old dog who's been kicked too much...once your spirit is broken...it's very hard to mend.
I have seen Carolyn Thomas on an Oprah show last year. She is a success story...a true survivor in every sense.
We need to educate our daughters and women everywhere that Abuse will not be tolerated.
Great post. I hope that if any woman is reading this and she sees signs of abuse...to tell someone. Get help and get out!
Great Post. Heart-felt. Thank you for sharing this as a lot of people don't realize the ravages of domestic violence. A couple of years ago while waiting for my U.S immigration papers to come through, I played on the computer and wrote a series of domestic violence articles for an online mag. I wasn't prepared for the stories out there from the women I interviewed. It can take your soul. I felt helpless hearing how the effects of domestic violence ravages a woman's soul and self-esteem. That prompted me to start surewoman.com as every woman should be sure of herself to say no to being treated poorly. Easier said than done.
I interviewed a woman who got shot by her husband 5 times before he killed himself and another woman who went about life as if she had healed from her trauma. She really didn't see herself as other women of abuse. She thought that because she fought back when he would hit her and even when he almost threw her off a building, that her fighting back set her apart from other women and made her stronger, and yet her soul was broken in the same place. The interview brought it all out and I found myself consoling this woman on the telephone for hours as she cried, tired of pretending to be strong. For her it was carthartic.
Needless to say, doing the series made an impact on me and it has changed my life in many ways. Women in such situations need to be able to reach out. I have the articles up on www.surewoman.com in the hopes that they may even help one woman just like your article may strike a responsive chord within another woman. I thank you again for writing this as you know October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
It's amazing how this one column has received so much notice. I have received countless private messages on Woman's Day and on the forum thread as well. Ladies Home Journal-one person sent one to my private e-mail.
Odd though-nothing from fab40 as yet or MORE.
I'm hoping to hear more from women and hopefully have one of the magazines that I pester so frequently, respond to publishing an article.
What is so awful is that too many people think that this issue has somehow become less important!
What I would love is-I'm sending out queries-to write about children who were part of the abuse and then realized it as adults, how they got help and if the "help" actually did what they had hoped.
I'd like to share a poem written as my personal reflection on domestic violence-
'Why She Stays'
Sting of a slap without reform
A fist closed tight clenching rage
Her flesh weathers yet another storm
Years are not kind from the batterings
They tale their toll
Bruises on skin
Bruises on soul
Contorted reasons on each apology
Her heart will again relent
It's not love alone that dulls her mind
But the censure of weak consent
Be not her judge for what she stays
There are no rules she's broken
If guilt be any it lays in hiding
Debbie Stevens ©2005
I have slept in shelters, my two babies close by my side...if not for crisis centres, many women & children would be trapped in a situation no one could ever imagine, not unless they have walked that path...our women and children will always be in need of support, love and empathy...we as a society owe it to them to see it is freely available, without judgment! Thankyou Carine, for sharing this article and for standing up for their rights.
My pleasure to help assist lovely, strong women, such as yourself and their children. When we BBDivas decided to back Rising Above It, and then the Discovery channel re-aired Carolyn Thomas' story I just had to write on this subject. It brought back the passion I felt when I could produce my own public affairs programming.
I have sent out a few queries to some magazines and my local papers-hoping upon all hope, they at least acknowledge the catastrophic problem and allow me to write about it.
I just had to say that the poem seems to be dead on about why women stay. Thanks for putting it so eloquently and yet in such plain terms. People don't understand why women stay. I must say that I never did until I interviewed the women for my domestic violence series. Sharing like this really helps women. Feel free to submit the poem to www.surewoman.com. I welcome your thoughts.
What's the Diva -- Rising Above It that you're talking about? Maybe a column to explain it? Or maybe I missed a column.
I have seen so many women in situations such as these...it is more prevalent than we think, and it doesn't only affect low-income households. Some situations are so obvious, you can't help but wonder what the women are thinking or what they get out of this person that they choose to stay (and DEFEND him, as well). It's really frightening. God bless the women who muster up enough self-esteem to move on. It can't possibly be easy.
it's a story that cannot be put in the public eye too many times
When my son traveled to Russia, I learned that women there are abused often. And it's not treated as a problem there like it is here in the U.S. now. It's more like you found it in 1980, only worse.
Safe houses are a life saver in many ways, if they were not there a lot of women and children would have been stuck in a bad situation...it is always great to help in anyway we can to show our support and be thankful for being lucky and be able to give help.
glad to see you. Hope you are doing well and your annual celebrations and holiday are going well.