All Articles Tagged "domestic violence"
Halle Berry Still Struggles With Domestic Abuse: I’m Tired Of Watching Women In Our Community Suffer
While it’s been several years since Halle Berry found herself in a physically violent relationship, the pain of the experience still lives on for the actress.
Speaking at the “Imagine” VIP cocktail party benefit for the Jenesse Center, a national domestic violence prevention and intervention organization, Berry confessed “It seems like I’ve overcome it, but I really haven’t. In the quiet of my mind, I still struggle. So while I’m helping these women, I’m helping myself through it, too. And that’s largely why I’m here.”
Recounting the helplessness she felt seeing her mother “battered and beaten many years” of her life, Berry explained many domestic abuse victims feel the same way, particularly due to the lack of sympathy towards this issue.
“For some reason, I’ve found after 15 years of working with the Jenesse Center that when it comes to domestic violence people just say, ‘I don’t get it. Why don’t they just leave? This is ridiculous!’ I call [these women] addicts. They’re love addicts … they’re addicted to the pain. And they’re largely addicted to the pain because they’ve been taught nothing else. They haven’t been taught that they have self-worth or value. They often weren’t loved the way they should’ve been as children from their mothers or their fathers. People didn’t say the things they should have said.
“They go into the world feeling knee-high to a bullfrog … and they’re not equipped to deal with that that is coming at them at rapid speed. They quickly become victims of predators who just prey on their insecurity and lack of knowing who they are and I am just tired of watching the women in our community suffer. I’m tired of watching them overlooked and made wrong and to be villainized for just trying to survive.”
Berry, of course, can speak to that villainization quite well. Just this week two of her exes accused her of turning them into the “worst guys in history” for leaving their marriages for one reason or another. And in the arsenal of “crazy” accusations hurled at the actress for her doomed relationships, no one seems to take into account that fleeing a violent situation is actually something to be applauded, not criticized. Already, in other reports on her speech, commenters are accusing her of being disingenuous and speaking out on domestic violence victimization as a PR move. In spite of the gossip and pending divorce, Berry recently told Extra “I’m doing okay. I really am.”
Bridgette* found the attentiveness she loved about her abuser would be the very thing to set him off when she wanted to do her own thing. Her ex played on her self-esteem and used physical abuse to control her, but once her daughter was born she found the strength to leave and never look back. Bridgette also didn’t let the abuse the father of her child put her through come between his relationship with his daughter, and she wants other women to know they shouldn’t either.
How did you first meet?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn and my ex’s family moved there when we were in junior high school. It wasn’t until we both graduated high school that we met over a summer day just hanging outside or whatever. He happened to come by with someone that knew some of the people I was standing with. We all were just standing around talking and that’s how we met.
I gave him my number and within two weeks we went out. We walked around just talking. Then a few times after that we went to the movies, just regular stuff. He was cute and ambitious. The other side of him — being angry — came out when he wasn’t getting his way in whatever we would be doing or talking about. Other than that, he was really nice and always wanted to spend time together. That other side was like, who are you? What is this?
Tell me about the first time the abuse happened
I was with him from 18-25 years old. The first episode happened sometime in the first year. It was the sign where I should’ve said “I can’t do this,” but of course, young and in love, I was thought, “Okay, he said ‘Sorry it won’t happen again,'” but it ended up happening again.
We had gone to do laundry together — something really simple. We were coming home with the bag and the lid on the bleach wasn’t tightened, and some of it leaked onto the clothes. A few of his items got messed up and he went off — shoving me, yelling at me, just all kinds of craziness — and apologized for it after. That was my first idea that I probably should’ve left, but of course in hindsight…
From there we had disagreements like any couple would and not all of them came to blows, but there were some that did. He’d push me or grab me really tight and be up in my face. I think it was more verbal like putting me down saying, “nobody is going to want you; I know you don’t think you’re all that.” Or he’d be controlling, asking “Where you going? Who you going with? If I tried to make plans with friends he’d say, “No, I don’t want you to do that; come do this instead.”
He had friends, but he didn’t really hang out with them so when I wanted to branch off by myself with other people that was a problem. He would also tell me, “You can’t wear that,” or ask, “What are you wearing that for?” All of those things in hindsight were him wanting to control things; at 18 and 19 years old I didn’t see any of that.
If we did have physical altercations he was always apologetic. I believed him and really wanted it not to be that way, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Although it didn’t happen a lot, one time for me is too much. Thankfully, I didn’t have broken bones, emergency room visits, or blackened eyes, but psychologically it was taking a toll.
Did friends and family have an idea of what was going on?
Probably a few of my close friends knew. They would say little things like “why is he always trying to stop you from going out with us?” or “you shouldn’t take that. Was he just yelling at you? That ain’t right.” Of course I made excuses for him. If my family knew they never said it to me directly.
What was your life like during that time?
I’d actually just gotten my diploma and went to business school for about a year and some change. Then I immediately started working. We got married four years into the relationship and moved to Queens, NY. It wasn’t a big change when we moved, but he was still controlling and domineering. The times I did decide to go over a friend’s place I came home and it was an argument. Sometimes it was shoving. He never really hauled off and punched me, but one time he reared back like he was going to punch me and I started yelling at him because I was about six or seven months pregnant. In my mind I was like, it’s bad enough this is happening, but I’m pregnant with your child, and you’re rearing back like you’re going to punch me. I was screaming “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” That was a point when I was like this can’t keep going on.
Why did you still decide to marry him?
When we both still lived at home I think the attentiveness when he was kind was really good. I didn’t really have a lot of dating experience prior. He was the second person I dated. Did I realize this probably shouldn’t be going on? Yeah. But I wasn’t thinking it was going to escalate to that kind of stuff. It was just the pushing or being controlling verbally in the pre-marriage time setting. As time went on he was shoving more.
What’s the worst memory of a fight you guys got into?
One time, which was the last time, we had a verbal argument after my daughter was born. He came home and I was in the process of getting her dressed to go out. Whatever he said, it escalated and he started pushing me. My daughter was in the car seat by the door and we were in the bedroom towards the back. He was pushing me and when he pushed me I grabbed his shirt so I wouldn’t fall back and then we started tussling on the bed. In the middle of that, we rolled off the bed and onto the floor. He pulled me by my ankles out towards the front of the house where the baby was. She was yelling because of the commotion and I was yelling at him, “Get off me, get off me, don’t you hear the baby!” In the middle of me screaming he was still hitting me. Finally he got off of me, and that was when I was finished. It was time to leave.
He had done this enough times to me but there would never be a day where I let him hit her. My daughter’s birth is the thing that forced me to make the decision to leave. She saved mommy because I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to get out of it and keep going without looking back or second guessing it.
Did he give you a hard time when you decided to leave him?
Actually, I found out that he was having an affair. One night when my daughter was six months old he was having a phone conversation with this other woman and I picked up the phone. At the end of the call he was saying to this person “yeah, I’m going to come over there and we’re going to resolve this,” and I said “good and while you’re there find where you’re going to sleep because you can’t get back in here.” He put the phone down and came running to the front where I was and yelling “I can’t believe you were on the phone.” I said, “Whatever you said, you said you were going so go wherever you were going.”
As soon as he left I called my friend who lived in Queens and told her “I’ve got to get out of here.” She said “Alright I’m putting my shoes on and coming.” She came to get me and I left. That was the last time I lived there. I realized when I was pregnant that he was having an affair and I knew I needed to start making some moves or whatever to get away from it. You aren’t going to be cheating and getting crazy with your hands when you feel like it. That’s just a little too much.
How did you get to a place of healing?
After I left him I started going to church and realized that despite everything we go through there’s one individual that loves you no matter what. I started reading the word and understanding God’s plan for my life and stuff like that. It made a shift in me to know that I’m not the things he said I was. He would say “You’re stupid. You ain’t that cute. Ain’t nobody going to want you. If someone does want you they just want to sleep with you. What do you think you have to offer somebody?” All types of derogatory things.
Because of that I was always in my head thinking maybe he’s right. I didn’t really have any previous relationships and I didn’t grow up with my father. I had a disconnect on how a man is supposed to treat me to begin with, and this was the first experience. I knew everyone wasn’t going through this physical thing, but again I didn’t know how it’s supposed to be. Afterward I realized people do like me, but it was still a process.
Has he changed?
I know his anger doesn’t really flare up as much. After we split we had to deal with each other because of my daughter. We would both be very argumentative with each other but I think, for him, when he realized I’m wasn’t coming back and he moved on in another relationship things changed. I don’t know if the relationship shifted him or if he just grew up some more, but the anger part is gone and even in different conversations we’ve had since then I can see he talks different now. It’s not aggressive with him trying to tell me what to do.
What was it like when you first realized he wasn’t that man anymore?
I was glad for him because the descent side of him was always really a good thing. I wanted him to have a relationship with his daughter so the better the person he is will ultimately make her life better as a result.
Does your daughter know about this angry side of him?
I waited a really long time to share with her what really happened. She was about 16 when I shared it with her. Prior to that I would just say, “Things just didn’t work out and we decided to live separately, but we obviously love you.”
It bothers me when parents tell so much of what happened in the relationship to children. Not that the child shouldn’t know anything, but you are hurting the child in the end because, though that parent did you wrong, the child still loves that parent and needs them. Now you’re putting your junk in the child’s mind and it shifts their thoughts about the parent. I didn’t want to be that parent.
I let her see for herself because her relationship with him is different than mine. I don’t want to dump my stuff on her and he’s trying to be a good parent and she’s looking at him sideways because mommy said you knocked her in the head. No child is going to be like “Dad I think you’re great and I know you shoved my mother.” No, that’s a problem so I didn’t want to do that.
How did she take it when you told her?
She was like, “Wow that’s a lot mommy; you should’ve let me know before. Why did you stay? You know that’s crazy right?”
What about dating afterwards, do you notice red flags sooner?
Heck yeah, you start saying something crazy to me I’ll be like “check please! We are going nowhere with this.” Sometimes I can observe couples and their interactions. He may not be physical, but I can see in their eyes, in her reaction, and how he’s speaking that something is going on behind closed doors.
What advice would you give other women to prevent it from happening to them?
Know that you are absolutely worth it, regardless of what anybody has told you. You do not deserve to be shoved, pushed, talked down to, talked about, or anything. If he’s not uplifting you, leave it alone. Period. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, leave it alone. You can go on and be okay without him. It’s going to hurt, but you can get over it. Low self-esteem is so horrible it really messes you up.
How Danielle Richardson Became An Advocate In The Number 2 State For Domestic Violence Deaths After Her Mother’s Murder
Danielle Richardson from Charleston, SC used her tragic childhood of domestic violence to fuel her into being an empowering author and domestic violence victim advocate. Using her trials and doing the work to heal herself and family has allowed her to fight against domestic violence in the state of South Carolina, and the compassion that other victims seek to get out of or over their situations too.
What was your first experience of domestic violence?
Me, my brothers, and my mom grew up in a domestic violence household. My brothers’ father moved my mother far away from her family and friends, this was around the time I was four years old.
You remember the abuse at the age of four?
Oh yeah, it was very scary. She would get jumped on and beat. My brothers’ dad was very controlling; my mom couldn’t go certain places or wear certain things. He had very strict rules for my brothers and I too. We lived in fear, she was very nervous and always making sure everything was perfect. He was the type of person to always find something to be angry about.
Was she ever able to leave?
They were together for 13 years and the abuse went on that entire time– in fact, it got worse once the crack epidemic got started back in the 80’s because he would drink and do crack cocaine. One time he held a double barrel shotgun to my mother. I called my aunt and told her what he did and she talked to my mom. This led to her putting him out. Then she got into a relationship with a white man who did the same thing to her. After six months she put him out and my brothers’ dad came back. Maybe six months to a year later he stabbed her to death 38 times; she was killed June 18, 1991.
How did the abuse escalate to murder?
It happened at two in the morning. My mom came home from her third job around 11:30 pm and my stepdad was at a party down the row from us. The guys were jeering him about my mom dating a white man. They said “oh you let your women be with a white man, living in your house, wearing your clothes…” He was the type of man who couldn’t takes jokes so he came home and started beating on her.
This night was really bad. I always slept light to listen out for my mom. As kids, we found ways to open the door (even though it was locked from the outside) so we could rescue our mom if we needed to. By the time I was able to get the hinges off the door, my mom was thrown into my room door as she was trying to run away. She was bloody and he was on top of her. At that time I didn’t realize he was stabbing her. I went berserk fighting him and trying to pull him off of her. My mom was about 115lbs and he was close to 300lbs.
My brothers and I started to fight him off of her. Things were so bad we created our own safety plan because we knew things would get worse one day. We didn’t have a phone in our house, so the two little boys knew one need to go through the front and the other through the back door and knock on our neighbor’s door so they would come and help; that’s what we did. We finally got her out from under him, but we had to get him out of the house because the ambulance wouldn’t come in. The policy was they can’t come in if the suspect is still inside.
My mom was bleeding, and one of the neighbor’s sons who was home from the military gave her CPR while the ambulance waited downstairs. Once the police came they were able to wrestle my stepdad and take him out of the house.
I was there holding her hand, and I knew she passed while the EMTs were working on her. Before she passed I was singing to her and making promises to take care of my brothers and stuff like that. She said “I know he didn’t mean to do it, I forgive him for what he did.” Once the ambulance came in I couldn’t go back inside the room. There was a tree in front of our house and I thought I saw my mother there. I ran and hugged the tree as if everything was okay. Then I was pulled away from it and placed in the back of the police car with my brothers.
Did her murderer go to jail?
Yes, he went to jail. Three days later when he came down off his high he didn’t even know he killed my mother. He didn’t even know why he was in jail. Two weeks later he died in jail from a massive heart attack.
What happened to you and your brothers?
We moved to my grandmother’s house, and my grandmother was diabetic and just had her legs amputated so she wasn’t in a position to take care of us. She was also depressed about my mother’s death. My mom died in June, she died in September.
Our family split us up. My youngest brothers, who were 7 and 8 years old at the time, went to Virginia with my uncle. My brother, Michael, who was 13 years old, went to live with his dad then with his dad’s parents, but by December they died and he was left homeless and floating around. I went to Columbia, NC, with one of my aunts; I was 16 years old.
My brother began to rob places so he could go to jail and have a place to sleep. One time I came home and he was sleeping on my mother’s grave. He said he’d rather be in jail than in the streets so I would know where he was and safe. He eventually went to jail for 13 years, but he’s out now, married, and a preacher in North Carolina.
My youngest brothers were abused by my uncle because their father killed his sister. He would physically, verbally, and sexually abuse them. My youngest brother was affected and when he moved back to South Carolina with a roommate he had a flashback and stabbed his roommate to death. He’s in jail on the mental ward side, and has to take eight or nine pills a day. Some days I talk to him he’s fine, other days he’s out of it. He’s only 30 years old now.
Once you were old enough to date, did you find yourself in abusive relationships?
No, in fact it was kind of like I was the abuser. My love life has been short lived because when it comes to relationships I have short patience. I’m not going to tolerate a lot of things because I don’t want to be put in a position like my mom. If we get into a disagreement I’m going to hit first, yell first, or just walk away because I don’t want to ever be in a position where I’m being abused or someone has control over me.
That’s why I’m still single now because I never want to be in that kind of situation. I can’t take people yelling at me. I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) which stems from growing up in that situation. My nerves are bad, so yelling and screaming like that doesn’t work for me. Hopefully, I’ll get to the point in my personal life that I can have a future relationship, be married, and live in the same household. My number one goal if I ever get into a relationship is to never be like my mom.
She was the sweetest, kindest person you’d ever meet, and my brothers’ dad completely took advantage of her. She’d make excuses for him like “he didn’t mean to do it,” “it’s alright,” “don’t worry about it.” Even a few months before she died I was telling her she couldn’t keep going through this. Going through that took away my childhood.
Tell me about your advocacy and how you got started?
After my kid’s dad died, I started looking into counseling for me and my kids because his death was pretty devastating. I didn’t understand because after my mother died I didn’t go see anybody or talk about it to anyone. It became a family effort to heal together. I wanted to heal so I could talk to my kids about it because they were asking me about death and stuff, but I didn’t really know how to answer them. We were crying all the time; we needed the help.
I was introduced to an advocate who also started the Homicide Support Group for the South Carolina chapter of the national organization. When I started going to the support group it helped so much because I was able to meet people that went through the same thing I did. I also started going to Ebenzer AME church and things started to get better.
One of my counseling leaders who is also the head victim advocate for Suffolk County, Easter LaRoache, asked me if I wanted to speak at a domestic violence workshop. When I did it I was so relieved and enjoyed people asking questions. A couple of people came to me privately telling me what they were going through and asking for help. I knew in my heart this was something I wanted to do. Domestic violence victims felt comfortable talking to someone who’d been through the same thing before because I understood how they felt and didn’t judge them.
From there I wrote a book, God Heard My Cries, which talks about my journey. This has opened up ways for me to advocate through telling my story. I recently started a Facebook group called Goodbye Abuse Ministry, it’s another space to tell our stories and support each other. In South Carolina, we’re training advocates so we can work with women all around the state on this.
I’ve teamed up with Real Mad, and organization of men against domestic violence in the Charleston area. We’re really pushing for advocacy in South Carolina because the state used to be number one, now number two in the country, for women being killed by domestic violence.
What was the response to your book?
I started writing the book as therapy, but my brother talked me into publishing it to help others. My book has become relatable. I just had a lady inbox me because her husband bought my book at one of my events and she liked the name of it. After it sat on the counter for a long time she began to read it. The woman realized she was going through so much already in her past like I went through and it helped her to get out of it. She told me ‘thank you’ because some of the things she was coping with she didn’t know how to get through it. Now she feels so much better. The book is also nominated for a 2016 Best Independent Book award for the Geecheeone Magazine, a local magazine in Charleston.
I have another book, Becoming A Phenomenal Woman, coming out spring 2016. It’s about the steps I had to take after everything I’ve been through in my past to become the woman I am today. My brothers’ dad used to call us ugly and make us feel like we weren’t enough, so it’s about becoming a women, accepting and loving myself, and going from that place to where I am now — a positive space.
In my first book I was able to forgive and I even wrote a letter to my brothers’ father to be at peace with everything that he put us through. That brought our family back together because there was a riff between us. Over the years they didn’t want to admit their brother killed our mother. Now we’re able to be close again.
I was watching the actress Kerry Washington’s PSA on domestic violence. I’d been seeing her around carrying a purple purse for some time, but never had time to really stop. There she sat in a pristine room, dressed like an angel, with the prettiest purple makeup you ever did see. It looked more like a promo for a movie called “Purple Princess.” She was saying that she’s working with the Allstate Foundation to bring awareness to domestic violence and financial abuse, which affects 98 percent of the women who are in abusive relationships. Purple is the color for domestic violence and the purse signifies the heart of a woman’s finances. By talking about this issue she hopes to bring it out of the shadows.
Honestly, I just couldn’t buy her as a domestic violence spokesperson. It was all too perfect, too neat. Domestic violence is ugly. Where was her black eye? Why was she even there? Not once did she mention what brought her personally to want to advocate for this issue. Was she or someone she knows ever a victim? It just didn’t seem connected to anything and left me wondering if she’s the latest celebrity jumping on a cause.
Is it even helpful to throw a celebrity out there to just start talking about an issue with seemingly no connection?
Ironically, the next day, I was walking home from school with my two daughters. My neighbor stopped me and asked if I had heard what happened in our building. “No,” I said, wondering what I had missed.
A woman on the first floor was getting beaten so badly by her boyfriend that my neighbor, who lives three houses down, called the cops. The police came and took the guy to jail.
Not in our building. Clutch my pearls. I asked him what the woman looked like and he said he never saw her face.
Whoa. Who is she? Does she live in the building? How did she end up in such a situation? I hurried my girls along. My neighbor is chatty and could have stood there talking about it all day.
Later, I found that I was still thinking about that woman. Maybe I could help her. But then again, if her man was crazy enough to beat her in broad daylight, what would he try to do to me? I’m smart enough to know that I can’t get involved. Even if she was my best friend I’d have to think twice, three times about how I could help. Better to mind my own business. But still, if I’m my sister’s keeper wouldn’t it make sense to try and do something?
I decided to speak to the family advocate at my daughter’s pre-school. I remembered they sometimes do talks on domestic abuse. She said that the only thing to do in the case of this woman is to call the police.
“You don’t want to put her in more danger by exposing the situation because now the man feels threatened and he could take that out on her.” Okay, but he already got arrested. Is there anything else I can do for her? She had no answer. I asked her if she’d seen Kerry Washington’s public service announcement and if talking about the issue could help. “Yes. Talking about it empowers the powerless and takes the shame off,” she said. “That woman can walk out of the shadows and realize that it’s not her fault. It also puts the blame back on the abuser where it belongs.”
Back to Kerry Washington’s PSA. Does it matter if she may not have been abused? Does that mean she shouldn’t talk about it? One of my favorite writers, Cat Marnell, is a drug addict and gets a lot of flack for talking about her addiction. When Whitney Houston overdosed she wrote a powerful essay called On the Death Of Whitney Houston and Why I Won’t Ever Stop Talking About My Drug Use
Her belief is that as soon as she stops talking about it she is going to ‘slip silently into the water and disappear.’ Just like Whitney. For Cat, talking about her drug use is a matter of survival. She can’t stop, won’t stop.
It could stand to reason that if we stop talking about our sister’s issues then maybe we’ll all disappear too. Isn’t that what the recent Ebony magazine cover with “The Cosby Show” cast is all about? Let’s just talk about it. Sometimes we underestimate that power. Somebody out there is going to feel validated, and will hopefully come out of the shadows. Then maybe we won’t all disappear.
Do you believe in the power of public service announcements to bring a greater awareness about domestic violence?
Tenisha Webb, 39, as once a high school dropout and teenage mother of three who grew up in a home where domestic violence was the norm. Today, she’s an advocate for preventing such violence from happening to other teens. Going from witnessing domestic abuse to being a victim of it first hand, Webb proceeded to get her GED, graduate from college, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Psychology to go beyond advocacy and further help those in need. In this interview she tells us about how she tried to protect her mother who was abused, and the years of abuse she suffered from the father of her children.
When did you first experience domestic violence?
As a child. My mother and stepfather went on a camping trip with his motorcycle club, and my grandmother, who my siblings and I stayed with, told them to call and let her know that they got there safely. When my stepfather told my mother he was going back down to make the phone call she said she was going to stay at the site. On the way to the telephone pole he got into an accident that left him in the hospital for six months to a year. He was in a wheelchair and had to gain back his mobility.
After that accident is when the domestic violence started between him and my mother. We would have parties all the time and every time there would be an altercation between the two of them. It got to the point where I hated parties and holidays because it was almost guaranteed that a fight would happen.
The violence became more frequent during the week when we had to go to school. Sometimes we would be tired going to school because we were up all night trying to keep them from fighting. My siblings and I developed a plan for when they began to fight. We would remove all silverware, pictures, and anything that could be used as a weapon, wrap it up and take it to the neighbor’s house.
My stepfather ended up getting my mom involved with crack. She was on drugs and constantly having to fight so that left the responsibility of taking care of my brothers and sisters on me. By the time we got home from school she’d be good and have snacks ready for us. After a while the time we were at school wasn’t enough for her to recover.
How did you meet your abuser?
I was in drill team at the park — that was my escape — and one day he hit me with a basketball. We started talking from there. I began to look forward to seeing him every time I came to the park because it was flattering as young as I was that someone a little bit older and intriguing was interested in me. Eventually, we started having sex and he went to my mother and asked for her permission to date me. My mother told him to take care of me, but my stepfather didn’t like it. We were open in the community about seeing each other, but hiding it from my stepfather.
Eventually, my stepdad became cool with him coming over if he gave him dope. Within a year-and-a half I became pregnant. My children’s father joined the drill team to be with me. It was socially accepted that this 18 year-old dude was dating me, a 12 year-old girl.
Did your boyfriend ever get charged with statutory rape?
Once I had my son, I went through this organization called El Nido to get assistance with medical, financial aid, and different things I needed for my baby. When I did the interview I didn’t know that if I tell her about my kid’s father and how old he is that she had to report it. When I told her his age she gave me this look, but tells me it’s her job to report this but not to worry, nothing was going to happen. Next thing I knew, Fullerton police was contacting us, and I had to assure him nothing was going to happen, but when he went to the police station they arrested him.
I felt like it was my fault. We had to go through a trial and he ended up doing three months in jail. They tried to give him eight years. He was released under the stipulation to never come in contact with me again. Of course, that didn’t happen because we had two more children after that.
When did he start to abuse you?
At first he was manipulating me before putting his hands on me. When we first started having sex, we were at the park very early and no one was really there. He pulled me to an isolated area and said, “You know I love you right? Because I love you that means I’m supposed to tell you the truth.” That’s when he told me he’d been sleeping with another girl. That became more frequent and whenever he would bring me flowers I knew he was sleeping with her. Emotionally, that was a lot for me.
My ex-boyfriend was living with my mother and I at the time. One day when we were in the bedroom and he was about to leave, I knew he was going to sleep with somebody else. I’d beg and cry for him to stay while grabbing onto him and he would drag me, or push me down into the closet, and then push his hand around my neck or head and smash it into the floor and say, “Don’t move, I’m leaving. I’m a man. I do what I want to do.”
He burned me with an iron after ironing his pants once. I didn’t know what he was going to do next so I ran out the door and he chased me. I ended up jumping a full flight of stairs to get away from him. I landed on my ankle and fractured it. Even during sex he would hold me in a way that it felt like he was raping me.
He also started dating another girl that was his age. I was pregnant with our second child, and there were issues between him, this girl, and I. My mother lost her apartment so I stayed with his sister. The other girl was pregnant and staying there too while he was in jail.
Once my mother died that’s when he began abusing me more. I went through a lot of mental, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse.
Did your mother ever try to leave your stepfather?
My mother did leave him. She lost the unit we lived in and got a trailer home on the other side of the projects. At this time I had my first son, and my brothers and sisters went to live with their father. Because he wasn’t my father I stayed with my mom.
My stepdad started using my brothers and sisters to lure my mother back to him. Whether it was other people doing stuff to them or he was threatening to do stuff to them. He told her, “If you want to protect the kids you’ll come back home to me.” My mother had the kids for a moment, after a visit she decided not to give them back. He came and stole them back from her and once he did that it was the last straw and she got back with him. She went through the abuse some more, but started to get tired.
You mentioned she died, tell me about that.
It was around Mother’s Day weekend. I was seven months pregnant with my second child and my mother and I spent the weekend together planning to make these famous enchiladas next week. The next week she came over and got a call from my stepfather saying that he’s going to do something to my brothers and sisters. I told her that he’s not going to do anything, but she didn’t trust it and left. I remember her walking down the hallway backwards saying “I’ll see you later, don’t worry about me.” She had on a white dress with fuchsia polka dots and it was like she was floating away.
I spoke to her around 11 that night to check on her and she said that he’d been threatening to kill her while arguing and fighting. I asked if she believed his threats and she said no, he’d been making that threat for so many years. By six the next morning I got a call from my little brother saying “dad stabbed mom” and she was in the hospital.
I went back to sleep for several hours, and when I woke up I realized it wasn’t a dream. I called around to get a ride to the hospital, and around 3 p.m. my boyfriend’s mother picked me up. On the way to the hospital she decide to stop and get food stamps for the other girl who was pregnant by her son. I was so angry she just ended up taking me to the police station.
I spoke with a detective and he was asking me a bunch of questions. In my mind, I’m like “I don’t have time for this, I have to get to the hospital to see my mother.” He said, “I’m sorry to have to be the one to give you the news, but she died at 7:30 this morning on the operating table. This case is now a homicide.” He gives me a yellow envelope with her earrings in it and had the nerve to ask me if I wanted her dress. I leave the police station in tears, and became angrier because, even in my grief, I still had to look at this girl who I don’t like. I felt like my whole world was crumbling.
When we buried her I didn’t want to leave the cemetery because I felt like I was leaving her alone. All those years she was being abused by him I always felt like I had to protect her. My stepfather only went to jail for two years after killing my mother.
What was the worse incident of abuse you remember?
One night he picked me up from school at 10 pm with the other girl’s brother and sister in the car. I don’t remember why he was angry, but before we got in the car he pinned me against the wall and choked me. He said, “b-tch, I’ll whoop your a–.” I got in the car and he was driving really fast, threatening to crash the car. I tried to get out of the car and he snatched me back in it and said “b-tch, don’t move I’ll kill you.”
We got to my house. My aunt was living with me and taking care of the kids while I was in school. I was crying, telling her what happened and he was asking me for money. I’m telling him the baby needs formula. The brother that was with him left money on the counter for me to get the formula and took my children’s father with him. I remember my aunt telling me to call my friend and have her come get me.
My friend picked me up and I went with her to her boyfriend’s house. Her boyfriend had a roommate that I knew of from around the neighborhood, but not personally. They left me in the living room and the roommate came back out of his room and asked me why I was in the living room by myself. He invited me to watch television in his room, but I was like “no I’m fine.” I called my aunt and she said I needed to come home because my son’s father was tripping.
I knocked on my friend’s door but they weren’t answering. I called my aunt back and she insisted I get home. The roommate said he wasn’t going to do anything to me and I should go in his room. I went in the room and he raped me while I was on my menstrual cycle. I didn’t know what to do, my friend still wasn’t answering the door, the guy who raped me was passed out. I called my aunt and she just kept telling me that I needed to get home. I had no money and it was after midnight in a gang-infested neighborhood. Eventually, I went back in the room and begged the roommate to take me home.
Only the driver side door opened so I had to climb over the seat to get in the car. When we get to my building my children’s father was hiding in the bushes. The guy told me I have to give him a kiss to get out the car and my children’s father saw this and thought I was sleeping with this guy. He and I go into the apartment and the first thing I did was go to the bathroom and shower. When I got out he started beating me like I was a man. I had two black eyes, a busted lip, a cracked rib, and he pulled out his .9 millimeter gun and said “b-tch, I’ll kill you.”
He left and my aunt called the police. A couple hours later he came back and apologized to me. We laid down together and went to sleep. When we woke up there were 10 police surrounding the bed with guns drawn. He was arrested.
How did you leave him?
He went to jail for two years for killing someone. When he was sentenced I was thinking about having to raise my three sons by myself. Then I realized I was already raising them by myself, he was just present. That was the first moment of letting go and I started building from there. I became tired while going to the family visits, sending packages, the calls, and everything became too much after everything he did to me. Eventually, I stopped visiting him.
By the time he was released I was emotionally detached from him. I was deeply in love and involved with my fourth son’s father. There was no going back to him at that point. When I first saw him after he was released I was in shock because I didn’t know he was getting out, but once I got over the shock I realized I wasn’t with him anymore. I felt empowered in that moment. He tried for years after to show me he changed, but I was done.
How did your advocacy start?
As a young girl I always wanted to give back to the community. I felt empowered when I went to vocational college, even though I still hadn’t completed my high school diploma. Accomplishing those basic milestones for me meant I had something to share.
This particular organization I was in told me I couldn’t mentor their girls in the program because I was in an abusive relationship with three kids at 18 years old and no high school diploma. They felt like I had nothing to offer the girls, but I felt like at least I could tell them not to do what I did. It left me feeling even more broken. I was invited to stay as a mentee, not a mentor. I left the group. At that point I let that dream die like so many others.
How did you eventually start your own advocacy group, Lyke Me?
My cousin is a spoken word poet, and we were looking around Inglewood and Los Angeles to hold a spoken word event. The woman he’s in partnership with has a venue in Inglewood. While talking with them about renting the space my cousin said to them, “she has an organization, and she’s a domestic violence survivor.” I’m looking at him like, “what?!” I didn’t have an organization!” But they became intrigued and asked about my story. After telling them my experience they told me about their organization and wanted to collaborate. It opened a door for me to make connections and learn about running programs.
Next thing I knew my sister was getting her hair done and the lady told her she has a domestic violence shelter that she’s trying to get off the ground. She told her about me and connected us. The lady called me and we talked for two or three hours. She told me about another woman, Kandee Lewis, CEO of Positive Results Corporation, and connected us. I began volunteering for her organization, and through volunteering for both organizations I learned more about non-profits. My cousin started designing a logo and materials for my organization, Lyke Me. Then I began holding introduction workshops and it’s been around ever since.
Elitia Mattox went from being a teen mom in a domestically violent relationship to making love work for herself and others. The New Orleans native met her abuser as a 17 year-old teen mom still in high school when he was 24. The man who was easy to talk to, attentive, and there for her when she needed in the beginning of their relationship also became the man who would punched her in the face and fight with her on a regular basis. After years of being in an abusive and volatile relationship, she knew something had to change in the way she loved herself and asked others to love her. In this interview she tells us how she moved past being a victim to a survivor and made love work in her life.
When did your teenage romance become abusive?
My father was addicted to drugs and stealing the WIC vouchers for my daughter’s milk. Raymond, my boyfriend at the time, knew this and brought up moving in together. I moved into his apartment because of the issues with my father, and because I was already pregnant with our daughter.
We would visit his family a lot after he picked up my daughter and I from school and work. I was pregnant, tired, and ready to go home. I became visibly frustrated and snapping at the mouth because I really wanted to go home. One day, I forget what I said, but he looked at me like I definitely disrespected him. He got in my face and slapped me so hard I fell back on the sofa.
His sister jumped in between us and said “you can’t do that, that girl is pregnant.” I remember him throwing an iron at me because his sisters were trying to protect me. Afterward, we calmed down and went home as if nothing happened.
Were you in love with him?
I don’t remember ever being in love with him or us even officially being boyfriend and girlfriend. I remember him being easy to talk to and being there for me and me for him. He always knew the right things to say. Plus, he had a car and his own place so it was convenient for him to be the savior for me during my challenges. We didn’t talk about our relationship or it being a relationship we just talked about things.
What was the craziest incident that happened during the relationship?
One time on the car ride home, with the kids in the backseat, we got into an argument and he reached over and smacked me so hard in the face my lip busted and my head snapped back like I was in a car accident. He didn’t miss a beat with the steering wheel. My reaction was to punch him and grab the steering wheel. I was very erratic. I forgot the children were in the car, and didn’t care he was driving. I wanted to hurt him as bad as he hurt me.
He didn’t even pull over, he just let me hit him. Every now and then he would punch me back and since his blows hurt so much more I felt like I was doing nothing compared to him. When we eventually got home I got the children ready for bed like nothing happened, did my homework, and then went to bed next to him, but I couldn’t put the event out of my head.
I kept thinking about it and how my face was swollen, and now I had to look in the mirror and see another bruise. I had to go to school with a black eye and busted lip, not that I was worried about what others would think, but it was more so about me having to walk around like that.
I was in the bathroom thinking about how I didn’t have make-up. What am I going to do with this? I have to go to school tomorrow.
His five or six hits really left my face bruised and my body sore. I kept trying to lay down, but I got up and boiled this big pot of water and said “I’m going to burn his f-cking a–” and that’s what I did. He was laying on his stomach and I threw the water on the bottom part of his body. It burnt the back of both his legs, one more severely than the other, and he jumped up screaming.
I said, “That’s what you get for hitting me, you don’t know who you’re messing with, you think you can just hit me like that? Look at my face, look at my face. You’re worried about your legs, look at my face.”
He was screaming out of control in so much pain. We went to the hospital and they asked him what happened and he said, “It was a motorcycle accident, I burned my leg on a pipe.” When he said that and his family started trickling in I looked away like I didn’t have anything to do with it.
How long were you in the relationship before you realized you needed to get out of it?
When we moved into a new apartment close to his sister the fights became less frequent. People would come over, we’d go into the kitchen and argue about something, throw pots at one another, then go back into the living room and entertain as if nothing happened.
One night my best friend who was dating his cousin was over. We were having fun hanging out and playing cards. The children were with their grandparents. We went into the kitchen and started arguing and fighting. Instead of us shutting down and going back to entertain our company we kept the fight going and it trickled into the living room and they were trying to break us up.
I was like “I’ve had enough of this, it doesn’t make sense.” I got black garbage bags and put all my clothes from the closet in them and my books. I took the keys to the car, threw the bags in the trunk and said “I’m leaving.” I didn’t know where I was going at the time. My friend was screaming at him for hitting me and her boyfriend told her to stay out of it because tomorrow we would be right back together. I left and stayed with my family for a few days, and then moved into an apartment on my own.
We eventually got back together because I had a daughter with him. He moved in with me, then we bought a house together.
How did the relationship eventually end?
One day after we had a fight when I was in college a girl in the class asked if I was okay. I sat with her after class and talked to her about being tired of us fighting all the time. The conversation was only 15 minutes but the fact that she noticed really helped me realize I had to do something different because the relationship wasn’t going to work.
One March I was planning his surprise birthday party. I wanted to do something really nice for him because he didn’t grow up with that. He was very surprised, all his friends and family were there. That night in bed he thanked me for the party and I said, “You’re welcome, we need to do better because I need you and love you.” He smiled so big and said “I love you too,” and we went to sleep. Three days later he was killed right in front of me. That’s how the relationship ended.
How did that relationship affect your relationships afterward?
That was the last physically abusive relationship I was in, and it made me more aware of the signs, like non-communication, knowing when my words would spark someone’s anger to the point of wanting to lash out, and how drinking affects someone’s behavior. In my future relationships I wouldn’t tolerate men drinking and smoking.
My first husband was emotionally abusive, but again I was able to pick up on those signs. Those signs aren’t as vivid as physical abuse, but they are there. You just know something isn’t right and I felt comfortable to take a step back and say something. I also took ownership on my part and no longer became verbally abusive to the point where men would lash out.
How were you able to overcome all of that and get to the point where you now have your own business, When Love Works, which encourages and teaches people how to love in a positive way in all areas of their lives?
Initially, it was when Raymond first died. I came home and did all the funeral planning at 20-something years old and was new to all of that. After I cried and even vomited I said, “Alright Lord you’re going to have to give me the strength to get through this because I can’t just fade into black.” Being alone with my daughters and having all of these responsibilities I asked for strength from a higher power, something larger than me.
Getting to a place where I was able to see love — what it looked like and felt like — was important because I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through this. I definitely saw how not having a father around impacted my daughter. I wanted to ensure love was still present in people’s lives, including my own, but I had to first start with me. I didn’t want to rely on someone else to love me and build me up. I understood that I needed to love me first then make sure I got it from everyone else around me.
I looked to see where I missed opportunities to ask Raymond to love me. Where could I have communicated to him how I wanted to be loved? That could’ve prevented a lot of those arguments and fights. Communication is very important in loving myself and getting the love that I want from other people. Once I used that in my steps to heal and overcome the relationship I started to hear from other people, common stories whether it was about physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. I kept hearing this disconnect of loving one’s self first then comfortably asking others to love you. No matter the form, it was the same idea that people wanted love but weren’t comfortable asking for it from the person they were in a relationship with.
Listening to it over and over again, thinking about it, sharing my story, strategies, and brainstorming with others to come out of their situation I said, “Okay, I have to do something with all of this knowledge.”
I looked into ways to help others. Psychology was one of them, but I didn’t want to be a therapist, even though therapy was a big help in my healing. My therapist told me after a few months I didn’t need it anymore because I was moving at an accelerated pace. That conversation made me look into this accelerated pace, and maybe there are people like me who have gone through some trauma, but can move through it at a faster rate. I discovered that’s what coaching is and got my certification. I found my passion isn’t general coaching, but focusing on relationships and how love looks and feels. I created a company that specializes in helping people with these types of challenges in their relationships with family, friends, or significant others and that’s how When Love Works was founded.
The key to my company is that you have to actually do something to get over the trauma and abuse: the work. The work is significant to move past the current hurt and pain.
How did you find love with your current husband?
When I moved to New York from New Orleans, people would always come visit. A classmate came to visit and she specifically wanted to go to the 40/40 club because it was new. I didn’t want to go, but when people visit me I try to do what they want to do. My husband was in the club because his friend drug him there too.
He was checking me out and noticed that I really didn’t belong there, and liked how I looked and carried myself. We eventually met eyes and talked to each other. We couldn’t hear because the music was loud so we stepped outside and talked, exchanged numbers, and eventually met back up with our friends. We’ve been married now for eight years.
I was sitting under the dryer at the beauty shop when I called my best friend. I hate the dryer and needed something to distract me from the heat. During our conversation she told me that she was going to have to take her niece to the dentist because a little boy at school pushed her so hard, she fell and busted her lip and tore her gums.
Though my friend’s niece would have to seek a medical opinion, to determine the extent of the damage, the boy was not officially punished through the school system. They simply told his parents about his actions.
Later, when my friend’s sister went to speak to her daughter’s teacher about the incident, the teacher rationalized it with, “He probably just likes her.” As if that explanation were supposed to erase the physical pain and emotional toll of being abused to the point of disfigurement.
A similar situation happened with another little girl. This time, this 4-year-old’s eye was blackened after a boy punched her in the face.
This time it was a nurse at a Children’s Hospital who told the little girl: “I bet he likes you.”
These are just a few examples, though we really don’t need them. Most of us have our own experiences with little boys who got physical, only to have their behavior rationalized and eventually dismissed as a school boy crush.
But what does dismissing these types of actions for young boys mean? You’re sending the message to both boys and girls that it’s appropriate to express love and affection through violence. You’re telling young boys that this action doesn’t warrant punishment.
What does ignoring or brushing off a traumatic experience do the psyche of a young girl? It could make her feel that her pain and emotions are valid or worthy of attention. That the best relationships come with some sort of physical violence.
Instead of teaching young boys to either leave the girls alone or instruct them on ways to identify their feelings, violence is normalized from a early age. And while we can argue that many of these young boys do eventually learn how to use their words and express their feelings, there is evidence that there are far too many grown men who haven’t mastered the skill. And just like in daycare or in elementary school, there is a structure of family, friends communities and even victims who excuse the issue.
As Romina Sevilla stood at the bus stop with her new girlfriend she was slapped in the face. At 18 years old, she experienced something 50 percent of lesbians have or will experience in their lifetime: domestic abuse at the hands of their same-sex partner.
For Sevilla, the physical violence didn’t stop at one act, it only got worse. “With my first ex I found myself in a situation where she would beat the crap out of me and I’d be too afraid to fight back,” she said. “I was really young and this was my first relationship.”
Not sure of what she was experiencing or who to talk to about it, Sevilla isolated herself from friends and family, though her family had already cut her off because of their disapproval of the relationship — not because of her homosexuality.
“I felt judged and was ashamed. I was also unaware that the issues we had were so bad. I was oblivious that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal, even though I never saw that in my household.”
Unfortunately for Sevilla, staying in that relationship meant the violence escalated from a slap to not being able to perform basic functions. “That person would beat the crap out of me to the point where I couldn’t swallow the next day or she would completely bruise me from the neck down.”
Today, Tishawn Meredith can admit she was emotionally and mentally abusive to her former best friend-turned-girlfriend, but back then she thought her behavior was normal. She and her ex moved in together with their children from previous heterosexual relationships and Meredith confessed, “I became the sole bread winner so I manipulated the situation to where she needed me financially. Once I got that control she did whatever I told her to do, and if she didn’t I would yell and abuse her verbally.”
The verbal and mental abuse eventually turned physical when Meredith started showing her ex-girlfriend pictures of the women she was cheating with.
“I was so abusive psychologically that I would show her pictures of other people and say ‘you wish you looked like this’ and in that situation she punched me in the nose. I didn’t expect her to punch me, but she did.”
Neither Sevilla nor Meredith ever reported the abuse to the police which is typical in same-sex relationships due to discrimination and a lack of knowledge by police, which often leads to both parties being arrested, especially if the one being abused fights back. Figures indicate as little as 17% of lesbian women report having been the victim of a least one act of physical violence perpetrated by a lesbian partner, the highest estimate being 45%.
In Sevilla’s last relationship they got into a fight after her abuser shoved and hit her, eventually punching her in the face. When the cops showed up, the first thing they asked when her violent ex-girlfriend who opened the door was “Where’s your boyfriend?” It’s a common assumption made on the part of law enforcement when responding to calls of domestic disturbances.
“I stayed in the room because I had a black eye, and didn’t want to go to jail because we would’ve both been arrested,” Sevilla explained. As she hid in the bedroom, her ex-girlfriend dealt with the police in their living room.
In same-sex domestic violence cases, you can’t assume the more masculine partner is always the abuser. Tamara,* who’s considered femme, became verbally abusive during her former five-year relationship. Entering her first lesbian relationship at 28, her frustrations led to constant berating of her girlfriend. Initially, she was unaware that she was being abusive because the relationship moved so quickly from a casual friendship to dating and living together. But eventually her trust issues came to the surface and abuse became the default.
“I’m a very nice person, but I turned into a different person when I dealt with her. I was very abusive, verbally, and doubting her all the time. I couldn’t trust anything she said, and I had no respect for her. I wasn’t thinking about if it was right or wrong. I started to realize what was happening and would apologize, and then it would happen again.”
For Meredith, once she broke up with her first partner and began a new relationship she realized bad habits die hard. This time, though, her abuse wouldn’t be tolerated. ”I tried to do the same thing with the other person, but her self-esteem wasn’t as low as my first partner’s. I wasn’t allowed to do things I was accustomed to doing.”
The allure of financial stability that Meredith held over her ex’s head is also what drew Sevilla to her first abusive partner who, at the time, was eight years older and much more established.
“I dated girls in high school, but that was it,” she said. “[My ex] was very much an adult with her own place, own car, and she was independent. She had qualities I wasn’t finding in people my own age. Her following girlfriend, who was 18 years her senior, appealed to her for the same reason, but she was also verbally abusive.
“She had cars, and things, everything you would want in a partner. I thought I hit the jackpot with that one, and felt like it was a come up.”
That feeling is exactly what allowed Meredith to turn her ex-lover into a victim. “When you’re self-sufficient you tend to attract certain types of women and they may stay there because they are benefiting and that plays a role in [the abuse] as well. That’s where the power and control comes from, you don’t have to hit them or be physical if you threaten to take their lifestyle away from them.”
Although Tamara didn’t knowingly use being the head of the household as a means to control her partner, the frustration she experienced as a result caused her to verbally abuse her ex-girlfriend on a regular basis. “I had a lot on my plate. I was in school, working, maintaining the household, and I had to deal with whatever she couldn’t do which was a lot.”
Now that’s it’s been several years since the abuse, Tamara can see the error of her ways.
“I’m in therapy and it helped me to realize what was going on, and what I need to do going forward I have to accept people for who they are and where they are in their lives, and if it doesn’t work for me that doesn’t give me permission to abuse them.”
Similarly, now that Meredith understands the psychology of her behavior she no longer finds women who accept her abuse attractive.
“Now, I meet the same type of women, but I’m turned off by them. It will make me revert back to my old behavior and I don’t want that. I don’t want to abuse anybody or manipulate them.
“For a long time I felt my lifestyle was wrong, but it was what I felt inside and it could’ve had a lot to do with my anger and how I treated women,” Meredith added, saying she believes a lot of lesbians feel this way, which may explain the high rate of abuse in these unions. “Some people have self-hatred because of that and who will you take it out on? The person closest to you, which is your mate.”
After three abusive relationships, Sevilla is finally in a place of healing, not only from the abuse but also several miscarriages she endured while trying to have a baby with her last partner. Being open with friends and family about her abuse has helped, and now she’s looking to start a support group in San Antonio, TX, for other lesbians who have suffered through domestic violence as well.
“We’re trying to pull together resources to create a space, specifically for women of color, to gather, talk, and share in a safe place. When stuff like this happens where do we go?”
While in law school in London, Armania Embaye found herself immersed in a fun romantic relationship that quickly became a nightmare that haunted the East African beauty for years. Seen as a strong, smart young woman, being in a domestically abusive relationship was something neither Embaye nor her friends and family ever saw coming. But after being involved with a violent man for six months, she spent another seven months fighting to get out of it and even more years letting go of the fear of dying because of it. Now the human rights attorney takes us through her journey of survival.
How did you meet your abuser?
In a nightclub. He tried to talk to me and I ignored him because the way he tried to talk to me by grabbing my arm was obnoxious. He should’ve introduced himself in a proper manner. My friend who was visiting hooked up with his friend and we decided she would get her luggage from my place and spend the night with him then go straight to the airport.
We were getting ready to leave in this tiny red car, then comes this nice, black, shiny Mercedes. The driver rolled the window down and it was him. He and the guy my friend was with waived at each other and I asked “do you know him?” Turned out they were friends so I asked to ride in his car because I was squished in the tiny car with my heels and everything on. We switched cars and he drove us all to my place and we talked as a group during the 15-minute drive. When my friend went upstairs to get her stuff I waited in the car.
He told me the battery on his phone died and asked “do you mind if I send a text from your phone?” I let him and then I said goodnight; my friend left and I went to sleep. The next morning he texted me “hey, I called my own phone yesterday, and would like to meet up with you today.” I had been going through a lot in my life with moving, issues I had with my previous roommate, and being in law school in London. I wasn’t interested at all due to everything going on.
I called a good friend and told her what happened. She said “You need a good time, even if you’re going to have a semi-pleasant time you should go out with him.” She was tired of me being miserable. So I decided to go out with him that night and it was one of the best dates I ever had. We went to dinner and just talked about everything. I felt like he was there with me.
How did the relationship progress?
Things moved very quickly with us. From our first date we hung out literally every day. We met in February and for Valentine’s Day we went to Barcelona for the weekend. After that it was obvious we were a couple, this was a week and a half after meeting. He wasn’t the man I was going to marry, but it was definitely us for the moment.
Did you see any red flags?
Yes, within three weeks. The first argument we had was about a male friend of mine that was coming to visit and stay with me. This was planned several months before meeting him. My friend would be sharing my room and bed, which wasn’t an issue for me because we are just friends, but when he found out he wasn’t having it. “A girlfriend of mine is not sharing a bed with another man. That’s so disrespectful.”
It was foreign to me because in past relationships my partners trusted me and whatever I said was taken as the truth. I never had to justify myself or reassure someone else. He broke up with me because of it for about five days. I knew in my mind it didn’t feel right and it wasn’t the type of relationship I wanted to be in, but at that point I already had very strong feelings.
What about the abuse? When did that start?
It became physical toward the end of the relationship, but it was emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse the majority of the relationship. We met in February 2009, broke up in March 2010, and our first physical altercation was the December prior. It’s sometimes hard to acknowledge it as physical violence because I wasn’t punched, kicked, dragged or anything like that, but it was more in a threatening way.
One time we were arguing and he called me a slut so I slapped him because that’s what I was taught to do when a man disrespects you. He held my arm down and I don’t know how it happened but I got hit in the face. There were instances when he would hold me down on my bed, he would hold knives against me. The worst part was that I believed he would harm or kill me, not necessarily that he did it.
He didn’t care about the circumstances in which we were together, he just didn’t want us to break up. I saw panic and control in him. He was freaking out because he didn’t have control or was trying to gain control. I was trying to navigate myself out of the relationship after the first six months. He would show up at my door without me inviting him. He even took it upon himself to pay a lump sum of my tuition to be a part of my life. It was a tool for him to control me and say that I owe him money. When he felt like I was slipping through his fingers he would try to get his things back so that I had to communicate with him. This went on for months.
Did this affect you being in law school?
I literally had my final exams for my law degree on Tuesday, was in court Wednesday, and had another exam Thursday. Our breakup resulted in a criminal case because I called the police on him. Things escalated to the point where I couldn’t watch television or keep the lights on because then he would know I was home. He had a friend who was my neighbor and would call and ask him to look and see if there were lights in my window. I would have to run out of my house, jump in a cab and go to a friend’s house because he would threaten to come over.
What incident caused him to be arrested?
I felt terrorized. I went home to Sweden for two weeks during my semester. He was sending horrendous messages to my phone 20-50 times a day. When I got back to London he knew within 48 hours. He came to my place screaming from downstairs for me to open the door. I had a panic attack and didn’t know what to do. I called a friend and she told me to call the police.
While on the phone with the police I felt compelled to go downstairs and try to calm him down because I believed I was the trigger and the remedy. The woman on the phone told me not to, but I had to. I opened the door and told him the police were coming so he needed to calm down. He went ballistic. I had on a bath robe and he pulled the collar on both sides in opposite directions and pushed me against the wall.
Then he tried to drag me upstairs but lost his balance and we fell. Within seconds the police were there. I was so glad I told them not to put on their sirens because he didn’t notice they were there. The scary thing was as soon as he noticed and we stepped out the corridor he completely changed his behavior.
The police were used to this kind of behavior, but I was scared that he was going to manipulate them and nothing would happen. When they separated us the police told me “I see he’s acting calm, but I know something happened. His heart rate is up, he’s freaking out but trying to keep calm so we don’t suspect anything, but we know something is wrong here.”
He was charged with harassment and common assault. He was arrested that night and had a no-contact order against him. He breached that twice and every time he got re-arrested.
We had two court dates, one was in magistrate’s court that dealt with the criminal case, and the other was civil court where I got a two-year restraining order.
How was the legal process as a woman in a domestic dispute?
The detective on the case would arrest him then release him without notifying me. They misplaced documents, took my phone for evidence for a long time and still didn’t retrieve it. It was frustrating because my phone was my life line, especially not being from the UK with my family abroad. It was a huge compromise to not be accessible. It was difficult, especially as someone informed of my rights, because you can tell police get away with things with people who are not as informed.
The criminal case was thrown out. He hired a lawyer and I had a prosecutor of the state who spoke to me maybe 10 minutes before the case started. There were a lot of things that weren’t handled well and the judge said it was a matter of a bad breakup. It was a punch in the stomach after doing what is supposed to be the right thing and not even getting acknowledgement that something might’ve happened.
What did you do after to protect yourself?
In December I moved back to Sweden because I didn’t have a life. I was too scared to go out at night and would always look over my shoulder because I didn’t feel safe. The impact of that relationship tarnished other relationships in my life because I was in a bad head space.
One year later he contacted me while I was in Sweden. The no-contact order was still in place so I went to the police to file a report. Even though it was in the UK the police in Sweden had to do something because of the EU (European Union), but they didn’t know what to do. There’s a great lack of knowledge when it comes to how to deal with domestic violence matters.
I realized I’m probably not going to be protected by any institution so he and I started communication because I was trying to confront this big, bad wolf. I also started going to counseling through a non-profit that helps women who have suffered domestic violence. In 2011, I went back to the UK and met up with him. It was emotionally difficult but it removed that extreme fear I had of him. I realized he’s a troubled person, but still human.
When you go through something extremely traumatic with a person, even if it’s their fault, they’re the only one who has somewhat of an insight on what happened. He was still verbally abusive because he wanted to get back together but I could never justify or be proud of that relationship.
You mentioned that the abuse was more psychological and emotional, what kinds of things would he do?
One very scary situation was when he said he was outside my house and I was trying to leave before he saw me. That was a fail! He told me to get in the car and threatened to make commotion if I didn’t. I got in and he lost it, banging his head on the steering wheel, saying “you don’t understand what you’ve done to me.” I started hyperventilating and he’s screaming “Why are you doing this? You’re ruining everything for us,” and said he would take me to the woods right now, cut me up and nobody would find me. I was in a state of shock. At some point we calmed down.
He would look through my trash bags, my phone, my papers, my bags. There would be times I’d come home and he’d cleaned my whole apartment. I knew he didn’t clean it for it to be clean, but because he wanted to go through things.
It was very psychological where I was terrorized by the threat of it, believing [violence] was the next step — like when he would hold a knife to my skin and say “what if I stabbed you?” I began to hurt myself to distract me because my panic attacks were so bad. Then he’d say, “you want to hurt yourself I can hurt you too.” It got to a point where it was better to have him close than away and just imaging what he was up to. I would think he was behind a bush or at my school.
My ex would tell me he’d pay someone to kill me. That’s another reason why I was paranoid; I wasn’t just looking for him to kill me, but having thoughts of who might be payable to kill me. I was looking around like who can stab me, throw acid on me, and kill me. He was very clear he could pay someone to kill me. You never know. I was petrified, especially when I moved back to Sweden because the country is so transparent.
Where are you now with dating?
It wasn’t until recently that I realized no guy has ever had a chance after my ex. I’ve dated, but unsuccessfully because I couldn’t trust them. Every time I met a guy, in my mind, the main question was “what is the likelihood of this person ever killing me?” So it’s been difficult because I give guys just enough to feel safe, which is very little. If a guy would touch my leg I would jump. My reflexes were still very much there. I was very jumpy. I told a few guys what happened but never expressed what it did to me as a person.
I’m dating a guy now and I recently told him that I thought he was a jealous psychopath that is going to kill me because he looked at my phone when it lit up at a bar we were at. Luckily, I don’t think that anymore and, more importantly, I trust myself to trust him. No matter what happens I’ll figure it out and pick myself up from it. I feel so much better because I’m in a space to try something unlike before.
What about your career?
I became stubborn when it came to my career. When I went through the abuse I was like “oh no, he’s not having that, he could do anything else, but my career oh no.” I finished law school even though I didn’t make the marks I wanted, but got them raised due to extenuating circumstances. I was in a funk for a year, but I got into action and did a couple of internships, then landed a job I enjoyed, and started working with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) of Stockholm. That’s where I found my passion to help people who are suffering dramatically and I have the skills to help them. I have personal experience because my parents were refugees from East Africa; I really enjoy it.
What was it like for your friends and family to find out all of this happened to you? What advice do you have for how people should handle their loved ones going through domestic abuse?
My younger sister was extremely worried; she was 14 at the time. I had a few friends say “I never thought that would happen to you, you’re so much smarter than that.” People have to be careful and understand that it can literally happen to anyone. Abusive men don’t come with a t-shirt and a sign on their forehead. They usually come in a very nice package. The package is beautiful, that’s why you buy it and put it in your purse.
It’s important for friends, family, and your surrounding community to not put an identity on what you look like to be in a relationship like that because it creates a barrier in communication. I shut down communication with people. I was in a new type of relationship that I’d never been in before and it was hard navigating through the complexity of emotions. When it became chaotic I lost even more control.
I knew it was wrong from the get-go, but I never knew it would get as bad as it did. It had nothing to do with a lack of confidence but it was a matter of people are scary and by the time you know them it can be too late. When I hear about stories like this now from friends I’m always in a place of no judgement because it happened to me and I know what it is to be in a sh-tty dark place, not understanding what to do. There was a lot of shame with it. It was too difficult to deal with at the time, and I still had things to do. When you tell people you’re going through something difficult you end up consoling them.
I told a lot of my friends after because they saw me as this strong, intelligent woman. For them, since they have clear images of what a person in that situation looks like ,it was a problem. I was the person who broke the mold in that regard.
I think every child should learn to have the confidence and strength to let their word be their word when they break up with someone because it’s so easy to get stuck in a relationship because a person makes you feel like your decision was not good. It was hard to get out then after a while it became dangerous. Friends and family can have more of an impact than they think.
The story behind the story told in Straight Outta Compton is coming to the small screen.
According to Variety, Michel’le Toussaint has partnered with Thinkfactory Media to produce a scripted television biopic about her life.
There’s not much information about the network where the film will air but there is a working title: “Girl From The Hood.”
The biopic will focus on Michel’le’s rise to fame, the domestic abuse she endured at the hands of both Dr. Dre and Suge Knight and its aftermath.
Michel’le, who shares children with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, has recently been quite vocal about what she experienced at the hands of both of these men.
In addition to the biopic, Thinkfactory and Michel’le will also work together on a documentary of her life.
In a statement, Michel’le spoke about the collaboration.
“I am so excited about my partnership with Thinkfactory Media. For many years I was unwilling to share my personal experiences. I am now ready to open up about my career, relationships and family.”
It should be interesting, to say the least.
Will you watch?