House of Ruth Survivor Panel
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, House of Ruth hosted Emerging Voices: From Healing to Wholeness – an intimate conversation with survivors of domestic violence. A panel of 6 survivors had open conversations about their stories, facilitated by Chief Program Officer, Melissa Pitts.
Each panelist had a story to tell, and a connection to House of Ruth. The panelists included: Krystal Minniefield, Cecilia Gonzalez, Ashley Henkels, Caroline Campbell, Martha Martinez, and Debbie Lopez.
They each shared a brief history of their story, how it affected them and the importance of having this discussion publicly. For several panelists, it was the first time they’ve told their story out in the open. They all hoped their stories would reach someone in an abusive relationship, so they would know they weren’t alone.
One panelist said, “I want to inspire hope. There are agencies like House of Ruth that will fight for you and advocate for you, so you can start over.”
They were asked questions like:
Did the abuse tactics end after you left? Many answered that the abuse attempts still occurred, in the form of power and control. Particularly when child custody was involved. The most dangerous part of a domestic violence situation is when the victim/survivor is getting ready to leave. Each panelist spoke about how they were able to navigate that safely. One panelist still battles the control of her abuser through stalled divorce proceedings. She’s been trying to get divorced for the past 8 years.
What made it difficult for you to reach out for support? Several panelists spoke about the inherent shame that occurs. It’s common for victims to feel alone and isolated and no one will believe them. Each person had different reasons for not asking for help. One was a law enforcement officer. She felt she needed to present herself as having her life together. She blamed herself and was worried about looking good. She did not feel safe discussing her abusive relationship with others, therefore she was alone. Another panelist said that her deep faith in her religion prevented her from reaching out for support. She felt marriage was for life.
How did hearing the question, “why don’t you leave?” contribute to the isolation and abandonment of family and friends? Leaving is difficult because of the control tactics. Often there are threats made – “if you leave, you will never see your children again.” Or “if you leave, I will kill you.” When family and friends keep pressing on “why don’t you leave?”, a victim will continue to withdraw into shame and fear from the threats. One panelist said she didn’t trust anyone. She felt dumb and suffered from deep isolation, abandonment, and betrayal. She said “my mother was in an abusive relationship, so I just repeated the cycle with my generation. When my mom said to me, “why don’t you leave?” I wanted to say back to her – why didn’t YOU leave?”
How do you think different oppressions and privileges affect survivors’ experiences?
One panelist said that every time the police responded to her apartment after an explosive argument, “She felt she needed to protect her husband. My husband was a black man. I would downplay what was really going on.” Another panelist said that she was afraid to report the abuse to authorities because her husband was undocumented.
What do you think is important for people to know as a survivor of domestic violence?
Each panelist offers these words of wisdom.
“It might get worse before it gets better. But a life without domestic violence IS possible. Healthy relationships are possible after DV.”
“I thought to myself, I’m broken. No one will want me. Today I have a healthy relationship.”
“Each one of us is a warrior. If we use that power, we can accomplish anything. I’ve lived through it. I’m almost better for it.”
“For me, it’s about turning your pain into wisdom.”
“The humiliation stays with you the longest. Everything else heals.”
What services/resources/people helped you?
Several of the panelists said that House of Ruth helped them with classes about DV 101, support groups, therapy – everything they learned helped them realize the cycle of abuse. But most importantly House of Ruth helped them re-establish hope for their future, belief in themselves, and the empowerment to place the safety of themselves and their children first.
When the facilitator opened up the discussion for comments from the audience, a mother raised her hand and said “I brought my teen daughter here tonight, so she could hear about how dangerous unhealthy relationships can be. I was in an abusive relationship, and I don’t want her to repeat that. I’m grateful that House of Ruth offers events like this to the public.”
House of Ruth fosters intergenerational connections within several of our programs. Part of providing culturally responsive services to our community is understanding the impact of multi-generational programs, pulling from the wisdom and practices of all cultures. We ask ourselves, “How can we challenge ageism in our society by valuing the knowledge and perspectives of our elders?” When our mission is to end the cycle of violence passed down in communities and families, intergenerational programs are a clear answer.