About three years ago I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had two college degrees and a successful career. I have great friends and an amazing family. Then, one day, it hit me like a slow current move along the shore. It came in waves. And then completely hit me by surprise. I was in an abusive marriage. I was the victim of verbal and physical abuse that seemed to be getting worse. Once I was able to leave the marriage I began reflecting back on how I got there. And better yet how I might help others. While putting an end to domestic violence will ultimately take some legislative and state decisions there are many things we can do.
Finding My Voice
One of the most powerful tools we have is our voice. When the emotional abuse began in my marriage I shut down. I was too ashamed to discuss what was happening in my life. Equally important, I was afraid that someone would go back and tell my husband. How can a woman that helps others not recognize the signs of an abusive partner? What did I do wrong that someone felt it was okay to put their hands on me? I carried this weight around for a long time and went to work with a smile on my face.
One day I was sitting at work and a co-worker approached me. “Are you okay? You look really sad.” While she was not aware of what was happening in my home, this was a life changing moment. Domestic violence is never the victims fault. When another woman acknowledged my pain this was empowering. A few months later I got the courage to leave my husband and make some pivotal decisions.
I worked with domestic violence agencies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. I shared my story with my mom, attorney and later close friends and family. For many abusers their goal to silence you. To make you feel like you have no way out. No one will believe you. Well this day I took my power back, I began telling my story. While I am still healing from my abusive marriage. I hope to one day help other women find their voice again.
Safety planning is key when helping someone that maybe in a dangerous home environment. While there are several agencies committed to helping victims of domestic violence, safe planning is a very individual choice. A woman most considers the safety of herself and children. In some cases, women make tough decisions to make a better life for themselves. If you are unsure of what to do always start with safety. Help the woman develop a safety plan to get out of the relationship.
When a woman leaves a relationship sometimes the abuse can get worse. I believe that we need more legislation that protects women and their children. Unfortunately, sometimes a woman is unable to get a restraining order or relocate. The abuser may locate her and take his life and hers. Other times, a woman can be seriously injured.
How to Help
No woman deserves to lose her life at the hands of an abuser. More importantly, domestic violence agencies need more funding to provide services to our community. I believe that no one woman should safety plan without the support of loved ones. However, sometimes family and friends turn victims away. I think it is important for family and friends to take step back sometimes and really think about how they can help. Maybe you can go with a woman to file a police report. Maybe you can provide a listening hear for a woman that has decided to go to a domestic violence shelter. Your emotional support and guidance may help save a woman’s life.
Who to Contact
Domestic violence is not a personal problem; it’s a community issue that impacts Tampa on many levels. When you help a woman – you’ve helped her children and future generations break a vicious cycle. If you are a victim of domestic violence please contact The Spring of Tampa Bay 24 Hour Crisis Line (813) 247-7233.
Guest Contributor Marissa received her Bachelors of Arts from Spelman College and Masters of Social Work from The University of Georgia. She has worked for Hillsborough County School District for ten years as school social worker. In her spare time Marissa enjoys traveling, writing , and spending time with family. Marissa is the mother of an energetic and smart four year old daughter.