This is a letter to you, a woman of our community who may be living in fear, living with threats, living with disrespect and with wounds inflicted by someone you have loved.
While too many of your friends and family may not notice what you go through daily, there are those of us who know.
Maybe you feel shame and try to keep it a secret. Maybe someone tells you it’s your fault or that you must live with your bad choices. It is not your fault. Maybe you feel that you, alone, are suffering from abuse by one who promised to love you.
But you are not alone. I speak to so many people who say, I think my daughter (goddaughter, grandchild, niece, neighbor) is in an abusive relationship. I have done this work for so many years that these painful stories of women living under the shadow of abuse feel as familiar as family stories at reunions and holidays.
You feel set apart because it is so very hard to find safe and respectful places to share what has been done to you, your children and your family. But believe me, you are not alone. You have been made a target not because of some flaw or weakness in you. You have been made a target because someone believed they were entitled to bully, injure or control you and felt they could do so without consequences.
Many of us still believe our community can and must do better.
We believe that it is possible to change how we perceive violence and to raise a generation of children who understand that real power comes from within, not from control over others.
Stories like your own are everywhere. Yet we continue to set your story apart, as if placing the word domestic in front of violence somehow takes away the terror. I know your story has been set apart, but you are not separate. In truth, your story cannot be set apart, for it is connected to every other verbal, physical and emotional way we human beings silence and hurt one another daily. There are thousands of women right here in our city who suffer in isolation, just like you. None of us is free until all of us are free.
Please remember: you are not responsible for someone else’s violence. The violence done to you is not your fault. You have a human right to be treated with respect and care by every professional you encounter, whether a police officer, detective, social worker, therapist, probation officer, lawyer, judge, DFC worker, pastor or advocate. When they help you, they help us all.
The system itself should not make you feel more vulnerable and isolated. You have a right to expect that we remember how complex a relationship is, and that the abuser has many tools – beyond physical violence – to terrorize and control a person whose life is closely tied to theirs. You have a right to expect that professionals in our community remain aware that only a small part of the abuse is illegal behavior and that the moment of intervention is a brief opportunity to support the victim and deflect the over-arching power of the abuser.
Your suffering challenges us all to think bigger about how our community can stop the abuse of power in relationships. You have a right to expect us to stop asking, Why do you stay with that abuser? Instead, we must ask, What makes it hard for victims to leave? Why can’t we, as a community, stop his abuse? Why can’t we provide affordable child care and sustainable support for women in need? Why can’t we make every agency child-friendly? Why do we make you go all over town begging for help? Why do we act like it’s all your problem? When we ask the right questions, we begin to see how the entire community must pull together to make it possible for you to leave and to keep you safe when you are able to make that choice.
Only you know when the time is right to reach out for help. Please know that our goal is to do everything we can to be there for you when that time comes. Thank you for not giving up.