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.