My Survivor Story

My mother was abusive, and I replaced her in marriage. She followed me across the country and made good friends with my ex-husband, who drinks a lot and goes Jekyll and Hyde. I made the mistake of moving on too quickly as I tried to escape the abuse when I was pregnant again and fell right into the arms of another abuser. As I tied to extricate myself again, I went no contact with my ex and mom, not knowing that the new man was stirring the pot to hide his addiction to drugs. For years I tried to escape, and they ganged up on me because I cried abuse/help, stop hurting me. The addict didn’t want to work or be homeless, and he defended his status with me viciously, all while messing things in the house, stealing, and withholding affection. The addict hit me. I was bruised badly, so I called the police, and he and scratched his arm slightly and convinced the police to arrest me, saying my daughter said she witnessed it.


I didn’t see my oldest daughter for a year, not knowing why she had lied about it. Later I found conflicting records he had given, proof he had lied. My ex-husband told everyone I knew and didn’t know embellished versions of the gaslight, and the stories got more intense as he drank. It was horrible because I was forced to take care of an addict who couldn’t parent and wouldn’t leave. Addict was out of control, and I demanded he goes and he brought kids to the mom who put a restraining order on me for coming over to get my kids because I had called the police to collect them, and she grabbed the phone and said I was trying to kill her. I didn’t see kids for a couple months, but I had time to collect evidence. I found medical records that showed the addict had sent suicide messages from my phone After Mom kept it. She never apologized to me; I just wanted to tell sensational stories to the family because she had always told them I was crazy and made up stories about people hitting me since I was 3. It took a couple years more for me to gather enough evidence and uncover his drug stashes before I could get him out, but my relationships with my friends and family were all but destroyed. I even defended myself on my own in court against a lawyer and came out not owing to a dime and getting half time, but the damage has been done. There were times I was so alone because they isolated me from hundreds of contacts to keep me quiet about their abuses.


I used to hang with my family a lot, and she got jealous they stayed with me instead of her and devised a plan to make herself the center of attention again by cutting me out of the picture. That was my punishment, to shut me up. So now I don’t drink, date, do recreational anything, and quietly collect evidence every time I communicate. I carry bags of evidence around me in case I get gaslighted again. I record everything I can. The scariest times now are when my ex is drunk and abusive, and I try to protect my child because he lashes out and accuses me of what he does. He smokes pot with a kid and tells my mom I do that, and she says I am projecting my lousy behavior on him and really doing the things I accuse others over.


I have even taken voluntary random drug tests multiple times to prove I do nothing, but the results don’t change their twisted stories. My mom even called my doctors and told them I was a psychopath, which seeds doubt in their minds. Had to leave two doctors. Mom/ex use Facebook like a weapon to hurt me. I went no contact with all my family except for my children.

Some nights, like right now, I feel I can barely go on, but I know I’m so fortunate to have survived, and I now live on my own. A domestic violence survivor who had been gaslighted horribly and put through the court system coached me every step of the way and saved my life by challenging me to take responsibility for my life and stop giving my information away, stop explaining, to stop reacting to abuse, and to protect myself and my children without involving toxic people who could hurt me. If your parents/spouse abused you, be cautious of choosing because sometimes people can gravitate to what they know. If you haven’t healed, you can be attractive bait to a narcissist. I’ve been battered, beaten, and blamed for trying to do the right thing, and I feel like it nearly killed me, but now I’m stronger and a better person. Although I often feel deep pain, it is starting to subside, and the little things in life, like holding my child’s hand, give me great joy, and I no longer have to live day by day under abuse feeling life my brain is scrambled.

Looking For A Sign

By Rick Dougherty

Social media has been a blessing and a curse for those of us who try to battle violence against women.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms have allowed organizations like Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence to spread our message.  Unfortunately, as many of us are well aware, social media has also given platforms to Incels, Mgtow, and just general misogynistic and bullying behaviors.  It has given abusers access to more potential victims, and another outlet to spread false information about women who reject them. 

Luckily, one social media trend has actually served to help save a sixteen-year-old girl who went missing. 

A Happy Ending to a Horrible Story

On Thursday, November 4th, sixty-one-year-old James Herbert Brick was arrested by the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky.  Brick resides in Cherokee, North Carolina.  When Brick was arrested, a sixteen-year-old girl from North Carolina was found in his car.  According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, when investigators looked through Brick’s phone, they found pictures that “allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner.” (Acevedo,2021)

How was James Herbert Brick caught?

What led to this young woman being saved, and returned to her family in Asheville, North Carolina?

Finding a silver Toyota on a highway four states away from the home of a missing girl is the law-enforcement version of finding a needle in a haystack.  Without knowing a description of the suspected abductor or what type of vehicle he may be driving; the odds were certainly stacked against a teenager who must have been petrified of her situation.

A Sign of Hope

No matter how scared she was at the time, the young lady stayed level-headed enough to use a clandestine hand single that has been circulating throughout the internet among victims and survivors of domestic violence.  Luckily, a passing driver recognized the signal being flashed by the passenger of the car, and contacted the authorities. 

According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, the signal was commonly known “to represent violence at home – I need help – domestic violence” on TikTok. 

The driver called 911, asserting that the passenger in the silver Toyota, “appeared to be in distress.”

NBC News is reporting that, “Brick is facing charges for unlawful imprisonment and possession of material showing a sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18, according to the sheriff’s office.” (Acevedo, 2021)

Knowing the Sign When You See It

The Laurel County Sheriff’s Office never stated definitively which sign was given in this case.  It is possible that the specific information needs to be kept confidential at the moment for purposes of trial.  That being said, a hand gesture that was originally popularized by the Canadian Women’s Foundation has spread through TikTok (ForSure7, 2021).

While the office didn’t comment on the gesture, they have uploaded a video to YouTube that shows a sheriff demonstrating that particular gesture.  That video was uploaded on November 6th; two days after Brick was apprehended.  There is a link to that video, and other descriptions of the gesture at the bottom of this blog (WHAS11, 2021).

Essentially, to make the signal, lift a hand with the palm facing towards the intended recipient.  Keep the thumb tucked over the palm, with the four fingers pointing towards the sky.  Once the recipient sees the first part of the sign, fold the four fingers over the thumb.  With the movements being so subtle, it is not likely to draw much attention from an abuser, and it can easily be explained away if it does attract questions (#SignalForHelp, 2020). 

Awareness Is Key

Last month was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and that is very important in our community.  Not only do we want to raise awareness to the size and scope of the problem; but we also want to raise the profile of other forms of abuse that aren’t physical, while also helping bystanders identify abusive situations.  Something as simple as sharing this hand signal could potentially save lives in a very tangible way. 

We are inundated with pictures and videos of our friends on social media.  From vacations to fancy dinners to school functions to multi-level-marketing jobs, the people in our lives often share images of themselves to the point that it can be annoying.  Those seemingly mundane social media posts could provide the lone connection of victim has to the outside world.  Even with a controlling partner who has access to the accounts, these covert codes can subvert the walls an abuser puts up to trap a victim.

The best part is that it takes practically no time at all to share this story with friends.  It is simple.  We don’t have to feel powerless.  It is hard to change laws.  It is hard to get the local police department to take domestic violence seriously.  It is hard to convince a friend who is in an abusive relationship to leave.  It is easy to let someone know about this potentially-life-saving signal.  Imagine what could happen if we all told five acquaintances. 

References

Acevedo, N. (2021, November 8). Missing N.C. Teen found after using TikTok hand sign alerting she was in Danger. NBCNews.com. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/missing-n-c-teen-found-after-using-tiktok-hand-sign-n1283401.

ForSure7. (2021). Violence Against Women . TikTok. Retrieved from https://www.tiktok.com/foryou?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1.

#SignalForHelp. Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2020.)., from https://www.instagram.com/p/CHvIal5r3B_/.

WHAS11. (2021, November 6). Watch: Kentucky sheriff shows how to do Tiktok Hand Signal for help that led to Teen’s rescue. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6XOeVkQYEk.

When Being A Survivor Hampers Your Career

by Rick Dougherty

Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels

When I started volunteering for Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence, one of the ideas I pitched was delving heavily into ways that survivors face tangible economic struggles beyond those normally mentioned in such conversations.  That piece is coming, but I often see anecdotal examples of this in my own life.  

When Values Hit Your Pocket Book

My main source of employment comes in the world of sales.  This job was drastically hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has only been in recent months that many of my colleagues and I have been able to start working our ways out of the hole of the last year-and-a-half.  Anything that might help bring in more sales and more potential clients is welcome at this time.

With that in mind, my boss managed to pull off something really big.  He put together a virtual event to which all of us could invite clients, potential clients, and friends.  This was going to be the biggest push yet towards helping us all snap out of the slump.  

As a survivor of abuse, sales have been a little bit of a struggle for me.  While I am very personable and knowledgeable about what I am selling, rejection is not easy for many survivors. Rejection is, however, a constant in the world of sales.  Still, I have powered through that discomfort to try and succeed in this job that I absolutely love.  

This event was going to be perfect.  We weren’t going to pressure anybody to buy anything.  We were just going to have a fun night that was going to make potential clients feel like friends.  It was just going to remind them that we are here.  It should have been a great opportunity for someone who doesn’t ever want to be pushy.  I couldn’t wait to start inviting my friends, family, and potential clients.

The Announcement

Finally, my boss announced everything that was going to be happening at this virtual event.  There it was…the major focus of the event.  He had secured a musician who is very popular in our industry to serve as the headliner of this virtual event.  This was someone extremely popular in our small community.  Our clients would know him, and many of them are probably fans of his work.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a boon.  I have friends who have literally posted on Facebook about their fandom for this performer.  This event had the potential to supply me with goodwill from friends; contacts from potential clients who, by sheer knowledge of this performer, are the exact type of people who would spend a lot of money with us; and would have made a good impression on my boss.  The fact that he went to all of this trouble to get this performer was a big deal for him.

The only problem was that this performer also had multiple, credible accusations of sexual harassment leveled against him.     

If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything

At that point, I had to make an important decision that I believe all survivors deal with in one way or another.  I had to decide whether I would move forward with being a part of an event that would undoubtedly have helped my career, but would also have tested my morals.  

Our ideals are always solid when they are just theories.  When we are tempted, especially with potential financial gain, it really tests those values.  As survivors, we always seem to face the path of most resistance.  Most of us had to experience that resistance on a daily basis for years.  Nothing was ever easy.  Simple household chores could lead to explosive outbursts of anger, violence, and shame.  I think a lot of my fellow survivors would have given me a pass for just taking the path of least resistance this one time…especially for a little personal gain.  

There were a lot of things to consider.  Not only would turning down this opportunity potentially cost me sales that I desperately needed, but I would have to handle any withdrawal very carefully to not anger my boss.  Let’s be honest, survivors are always worried about being the ones who are “no fun.”  People tend not to think that they support abuse, and when you suggest that they may be supporting it in a particular instance, they aren’t likely to appreciate it.

Speaking out would also have the potential to serve as a big trigger in my own personal healing.  I have never met a survivor who hasn’t heard someone give their abuser the benefit of the doubt.  We have all had our stories questioned by those who don’t want to deal with the gravity of these situations.  The thought that my boss (although I have no reason to believe he would do this) would try to defend this man, or minimize the trauma of his victims, was not something I was prepared to put myself through in this circumstance.  

Acceptance

In all actuality, there was never any question.  I was going to do the right thing.  It didn’t seem like a place where I should alienate my coworkers and boss by making a scene about it.  They have all shown support for me as a survivor.  These are potential allies in other situations.  I decided that I would find an excuse that would make it seem like I just wasn’t able to be there for the virtual event.  This allowed me to keep my personal dignity, without putting myself through the awkward situation of distancing myself over my values.

I am not sure if I did the right thing, sometimes.  It makes me wonder if I could have made more people aware of these credible allegations.  Maybe if everybody knew the details that his victims discussed, they would support me in having him removed from the event.  In the end, I did what I thought was the best for my mental health, while also holding the line that I would not make any money off of a predator.

These are the small financial hits that do not show up in research papers on the effects Domestic Violence plays on finances.  Many of my coworkers who did not make the same moral decision I made were able to make a lot of money off of that virtual event.  They benefited financially from someone they were most likely aware was a sexual predator.  In the long run, we have to live with ourselves.  Had I racked up the sales after attending that event, I never would have been able to forgive myself.  I couldn’t take the blood money.  

Lessons

This was just an anecdote.  There was no research.  That research will show up in my future work on the financial impact of Domestic Violence.  With this story, I hoped to remind you of similar situations in your own lives.  Maybe you had to make a similar decision, and nobody gave you that proverbial pat-on-the-back.  It would be great if you could see, through this piece, that many of us have made similar sacrifices, and we appreciate you.  If you faced a similar situation and decided not to rock the boat, I hope you read this and can understand how close I came to making that same choice.  There is nothing wrong with doing that.  

As survivors, we often hold ourselves to higher moral standards.  It is inevitable that we will do that.  Still, it should not be expected of us.  We are allowed to make mistakes, and we shouldn’t be forced to hold ourselves to a higher standard of integrity.  

Even after we have healed, we must see all of the ways that our past abuse can hinder our future growth.  The very act of healing can hinder you, as a matter of fact.  The only thing we can do is reach out to other survivors when needed and do our best.   

Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels 

Pride is Power

Similar Goals:

As we come to the end of Pride Month in the United States, we have all hopefully been reminded of the important language of inclusion necessary for the continued advancement of members of the LGBTQ+ community.  Many of us can remember a time when multinational corporations were not rushing to show their support for these marginalized communities.  The LGBTQ+ community has led the charge towards gaining support; controlling the narrative, and eventually empowering the language in a way that forced the acceptance we see today. 

Intersectionality is real, and many Domestic Violence survivors have yet to realize the strong connection we should feel towards a group of people that shares many similar characteristics and obstacles.  We need to make sure that we are always leading the charge in acceptance, and that we are learning the techniques that have been successful for our LGBTQ+ friends.  Most importantly, we must recognize that a large number of victims and survivors are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Heteronormative Conversations:

So much of the dialog surrounding Domestic Violence can take on a heteronormative slant.  This is not a problem exclusive to Domestic Violence.  Topics of racial, religious, and ethnic identities and issues also commonly fall into this trap of heteronormativity.  We must break out of this narrow viewpoint to really thrive in our desire to include LGBTQ+ allies into our movement and to be better allies to those in the LGBTQ+ movement.

Pride was created as a way to escape the closet and to raise awareness.  Visibility has been a prominent reason for many of the advancements that have occurred in recent years.  The work of inclusion and equality is never finished, but many heterosexuals began to ally with LGBTQ+ goals when they saw the common bonds.  A Gay relative, Lesbian friend, or Transgender co-worker has often provided an example to many people that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. 

This visibility should not be limited to issues of marriage, adoption, and health care.  As survivors of Domestic Violence, we must make sure that the LGBTQ+ community is heard in the conversation.  Too often we paint the abuser and victim narrative in simple male and female terms.  This framing completely removes same-sex relationships from the conversation.  It also often removes straight men or straight women who were abused in a domestic setting by a member of the same sex, who is not a romantic partner. 

Heteronormativity is inherently patriarchal.  It presupposes a way a family is supposed to look.  These are the same preconceptions that allow Domestic Violence in all of its forms.  The more visibility the LGBTQ+ community gains in all conversations, the more we will see that all families are different.  The more we stop accepting the outdated narratives surrounding power structure in the home, the more we will empower survivors. 

Pride is About Power:       

In the Domestic Violence conversation, we are aware that abuse is almost exclusively about control.  Somebody with power tries to maintain or expand that power through physical, emotional, financial, or psychological abuse.  In short, the purpose of Domestic Violence is to remove the victim’s pride.  The abuser intends to humiliate, and subjugate the target.  Pride is about power. 

Stonewall, often cited as the igniting incident in the fight for Gay Rights should be an event to which many Domestic Violence survivors can relate.  After years of having their Gay bars busted by the NYPD, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against the random threats.  The raids of Gay bars were meant to be arbitrary.  Just like an abuser will alternate between love-bombing and tantrums, the NYPD would go for long spells without random arrests in Gay bars.  That would be followed by sweeps that would find many members of the community put behind bars with ramifications that extended to their jobs and home lives.

These are the patterns of abuse.  A person who is always afraid is always on edge.  This is one reason that Pride celebrations have proven to be so important.  Standing up and refusing to live in fear is a powerful statement against patriarchy, abuse, and inhumane treatment.  Beyond gender identification or sexual orientation, all survivors of Domestic Violence can take a message from that.  Pride is power.  Pride is the very quality the abuser is trying to take from you.  Pride is what gives a victim the strength to escape an abusive relationship.  Just like it led the brave customers of the Stonewall Inn the courage to stand up for themselves back in 1969, pride is what can lead so many of us to stand up for ourselves in the battlefields of the home.

Learning From Our Allies:

It is no coincidence that Stonewall happened in 1969.  Members of the LGBTQ+ community had been watching other groups make great strides through concrete activism for the better part of the decade.  Black activists fought for justice, and it directly resulted in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  The American Indian Movement raised awareness to issues faced by a group of people this country and long been ignoring.  Women began to demand equal treatment and went a long way towards changing the conversation for future generations.  Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers fought and won many battles.  Pride did not happen in a vacuum. 

Again, intersectionality is real.  Many of those heroes at Stonewall were also members of other marginalized groups.  The first brick was thrown by a Black-Transgender-woman.  It is here where our movement against Domestic Violence can learn lessons from Pride.  The same methods that the LGBTQ+ community used to raise awareness to its issues and concerns are the same methods that will work in combatting Domestic Violence.

When the NYPD successfully scattered the patrons of a Gay bar, those people were easy to control.  When Queer people were kept in the closet and ashamed, they were easy to control.  They lost their power.  Pride parades and celebrations were ways for LGBTQ+ people to remove the stigma surrounding their lives on their own terms.  As survivors of Domestic Violence, we can take so much power from that.  The stigma that surrounds abuse permeates through so many of our stories. We can remove that stigma by refusing to stay silent.  By sharing your survivor stories with us at BTSADV, you are throwing a metaphorical brick-like those tossed so many years ago at Stonewall.  Instead of scattering into the dark allies, we are coming together as a community with pride. 

There is no monolith among Domestic Violence survivors.  There are women, men, and gender-non-conforming survivors.  Survivors are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and European in ancestry.  Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all other religious groups suffer from (and members of those groups also commit) abuse.  Yes, survivors are Gay, Straight, Transgender, Lesbian, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, and many other classifications.  Pride can remind us of the diversity in our ranks.  It can also remind us to stand up for ourselves. 

The Language of Pride and Phobia:

Quite possibly, Pride has made the greatest impact on society in our language.  Recently, even the business networking website LinkedIn added an option to include your gender pronouns on your profile.  We are learning to speak in ways that include more people.  We are learning to avoid phrases many of us once incorrectly thought were inoffensive.  We have started to separate from some of our preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity.  With that, we have changed our terminology in these areas.

The way we talk about things matters.  Homophobic phrases that serve to emasculate men for sensitivity or compassion only perpetuate the same patriarchal preconceptions of toxic masculinity.  We have all heard male survivors of abuse be subjected to these slurs.  By challenging transphobic, homophobic, and sexist terminology in our daily lives, we are actually making it easier on survivors of Domestic Violence to reach out for help.

Yes…All Men

all men

Hiding Behind A Hashtag

#NotAllMen was trending once again on Twitter within the past few weeks.  It rears its ugly head quite frequently.  Whenever there is some public sexual harassment or sexual assault scandal, we hear the same cries from “the good guys.”  These men will post about how they “respect women,” and may even mention that…surprise, surprise…there are also female members of their family, and they love those female members of their family.

Unfortunately, it is all men.  

The Problem With “Not All Men

Why this hashtag, and sentiments like “nice guys finish last” have such a negative effect on our discourse about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and Domestic Violence is that the people who are saying it honestly believe it to be true.  Of course, there are men who intentionally and deliberately use this as a weapon to control the narrative, but bad-faith actors aren’t the only ones using the hashtag.  Many of the men saying “not all men” have never intended to hurt a woman.  Many of the men saying “not all men” have probably even tried to be allies to women in difficult situations.

The sheer fact that #NotAllMen can trend on social media indicates that many men are oblivious to the problem.  In fact, the absurdity of men flocking to Twitter to say that they have never sexually harassed a woman is a big part of the problem.  They are setting themselves up as the defendant, defense attorney, and judge in a proceeding that doesn’t even have an accuser.  These men may not be aware of times that their words or actions have made a woman feel uncomfortable sexually.  These men may have had interactions with women that have been resolved through a conversation.  They may even have learned from those interactions and conversations.  Learning does not absolve.  Forgiveness does not absolve.  It is still a mistake.

Missing the Point

#NotAllMen isn’t a symptom of the problem, it is the problem.  The hashtag reframes the discussion to be one of intent.  With an act of rhetorical slight-of-hand, sexual harassment is no longer the center of the conversation.  The proverbial magician has created a diversion with his left hand, while pulling out the Ace from his right sleeve.  Conversations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and Domestic Violence need to focus on the women, and often men, who are victims of this behavior.  This isn’t the time to coddle male egos.  Instead of hijacking the conversation with a hashtag intent to vindicate you from any potential criticism, join the conversation.  If you truly are a “good guy,” irradicating sexual harassment would be a higher priority than a preemptive public relations campaign against non-existent accusations.

As a man, I have 100% made mistakes in this area in my life.  It was never my intent to make someone feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t matter.  It may be a hard pill for a lot of us men to swallow, but there are probably times that we have made people feel uncomfortable sexually in public or business settings, and nobody ever told us.  We could be blissfully ignorant of the joke, comment, or well-intentioned compliment that someone just accepted as a “cost of doing business.”  How can we claim #NotAllMen, when there could be dozens of these little moments out in the universe?  

Accountability of All Men Over Taglines

Justice is hard.  We have to be able to admit #YesAllMen, so that we can turn the mirrors towards ourselves and our own actions.  As men, if we accept that we have almost certainly made mistakes, we can work on not making those same mistakes in the future.  In recent years, it has become glaringly obvious even to the most unreceptive observer that sexual harassment is a huge problem that permeates all aspects of society from sports to politics to Hollywood to offices.  People are being harmed by this every day.  We can’t shirk responsibility.

Luckily, many women commandeered the hashtag to tell their stories about harassment.  We need to hear those stories.  Men, we need to stop making this about our intentions.  Most abusers don’t view themselves as abusers.  Most harassers don’t view themselves as harassers.  It is a small segment of society that goes out and tries to harm people.  Until we can all listen to victims of sexual harassment without getting defensive, we will never learn ways to be even better.  We can’t be “good guys” until we have learned what that actually means, and how it looks in our societal interactions.  We can’t be “good guys” until we can look back on a situation and admit we made a mistake.  To truly be a “good guy,” you have to work towards equitable workplaces and public spaces where people can feel safe and comfortable to interact.