A Conversation with “Jennifer”, a survivor
How has the experience of moving from domestic violence victim to domestic violence survivor changed you?
Jennifer: It has given me a deep sense of gratitude. I had lived with abuse all of my life, from childhood and into marriage. I never learned how to have compassion for myself and now to know that, to live it every day and to be able to have that same compassion for others is something that I am deeply grateful for. This compassion has brought me confidence, strength, love, and forgiveness, because I now know it was never my fault. As a victim, my only goal was to get myself and my children through each day. Now I don’t just get through the day; I actually live it.
What has surprised you about yourself and others through your experience moving from domestic violence victim to domestic violence survivor?
Jennifer: I have thought quite a bit about this question…of course, to find human kindness was the first thing that surprised me as my transition began. Safe Harbor has been an integral part of that since I moved to South Carolina. They have given me a chance to heal and taught me that I have self-worth. Also, a childhood friend of mine has been a wonderful sister to me and is still a source of strength for me .
There is a flip side to this that surprised me even more and it needs to be talked about. The biggest surprise to me were the people who ran away from me, that abandoned me in the aftermath. The friends and family that you needed suddenly weren’t there. Even casual acquaintances shied away. People did not want to hear about it, made you feel as if you should have ‘stayed in your place’ or that you somehow carried a plague. They would remark ‘it takes two to tango’, or ‘maybe you were not supportive enough’ or would assume that I had bad judgment because of the abuse I ‘allowed’ to happen. Some parents did not want to let their kids spend the night with mine anymore, because they saw me as a bad person. These negative influences greatly impeded my recovery. It took a long time to figure that out and understand that escaping abuse is about changing your whole life, inside and out. As you become healthier, you simply don’t want negative people in your life anymore, and the new people that you meet are life-enriching. I not only began to love myself more but also became a better parent! Actually being able to parent instead of just protect was a wonderful surprise!
Simply put, what surprises me is how no one heard me in the abuse, and the people I counted on did not hear me afterwards. I used to feel bitter about this; but not anymore, because I come from a place of compassion and gratitude. I am inspired and determined to make sure that this changes for other victims. They should not have to suffer like this. I want to educate people about domestic violence. Now that I am a survivor, people hear me when I speak at events or when I show my paintings. I am happy for that, and hope I say something or paint something that inspires someone to action. We need to hear the victim; we need to educate the community to understand this issue. Domestic violence is a crime.
As a survivor, what would you share with a victim currently facing domestic violence about Safe Harbor?
Jennifer: Safe Harbor is a place where she can be safe. It is a place that does not believe it is her fault, and it is a place that will help her start a new life. Safe Harbor will stand beside her every step of the way through housing, counseling, court dates and protective orders. They will be there for her no matter how long it takes for her to finally be free.
What do you think will end domestic violence?
Jennifer: Realistically, I don’t think that domestic violence can be ended, but it can be reduced. There will be people who hunger for power and control; they will prey upon those with vulnerabilities, and they will know how to manipulate the system. That is a sad fact. The goal is to hold them accountable, to make it a social stigma. When we start treating domestic violence as a community issue instead of a family issue we can affect real change, and we will see domestic violence crimes go down. By educating the community, we can hold abusers accountable. The community must be the victim’s voice, because often times the victim is held prisoner in her own home. The community must call the police when they see the abuse or hear screams. The community, victims and abusers must be educated that domestic violence is a crime, and our court systems have to emphasize this fact. Counseling for the victim is a must. Counseling for the abuser is a must; if possible, he needs to be educated so that his behavior can change. Also, it is important that domestic violence is handled in a criminal court. It is in fact a worse crime than had the abuser assaulted a stranger, and the punishments should reflect this.