The Pixel Project is proud to present our second annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2015. The project runs throughout the month of May 2015 and features an interview per day with a survivor of any form of violence against women (VAW) including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, forced/child marriage, sex trafficking, breast ironing etc. A total of 31 VAW survivor stories will be featured. This project was created to provide:

  • VAW survivors a platform to share their stories and solutions/ideas on how they rebuilt their lives and healed/are healing.
  • Girls and women currently experiencing or who have survived VAW ideas, hope, and inspiration to escape the violence and know that there is light at the tunnel and there is help out there.

This project is also part of a programme of initiatives held throughout 2015 in support of the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign that is in benefit of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and The Pixel Project. Donate at just US$1 per pixel to reveal the mystery Celebrity Male Role Models and help raise US$1 million for the cause while raising awareness about the important role men and boys play in ending violence against women in their communities worldwide. Donations begin at just US$10 and you can donate via the Pixel Reveal website here or the Pixel Reveal Razoo donation page here.

Our twenty-third 2015 Survivor Stories interview is with Donna Cairy from USA.

TRIGGER WARNING: The first two Q&As in this interview may be distressing for some Domestic Violence survivors.


The Survivor Bio:

Donna Cairy was born on an Air Force base in Texas. She was raised in Illinois and currently lives in Wisconsin. She graduated with a BA in Deaf Education from Northern Illinois University and a MA in Education from the University of Wisconsin Platteville. She is a wife, mother and teacher of students with hearing loss. Donna is a survivor of domestic violence and for the first time in her life she is comfortable in her own skin. She is now married to her best friend and soul mate with whom she shares the most challenging and rewarding job she has ever had: raising their two young sons. 

Donna Cairy1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

I am a survivor of domestic violence. I began dating my ex-husband while I was in high school. I did not know enough to see the warning signs while we were dating. He was an 18-year old alcoholic and I was a girl in love. The first act of violence that I remember was a night that it was snowing and cold. He pushed me down into a snow bank. We “mended” our relationship and got married when I was 18.

During pre-marital counselling the priest told me that my future husband would not be easy to live with. That prediction was true, my ex-husband was controlling and manipulative from the very beginning. He would constantly tell me that I was selfish and that I did not work hard enough. I was a full-time college student and working two part-time jobs. I had to keep everything in order at home: cooking, cleaning, and all of my “wifely duties”. Dinner had to be on the table at 6:30 pm sharp every night. I had $37 a week for groceries and I was required to eat all of the leftovers. More than once I got food poisoning from eating spoiled food.

I was also controlled sexually. I was given black eyes and bruises, all of which were “my fault”. I was raped multiple times and forced to do things in the bedroom that included being whipped for his pleasure. He would lock me in our apartment for 24 hours and force me to have sex every hour. He also whipped me every time I did something wrong.

2. How did you escape the violent situation/relationship/ritual?

My ex-husband decided that he wanted to be with someone else and moved in with another woman before we separated. He came home one night, said he was moving out and left. I stayed home from work the next day, cancelled joint credit cards, opened a bank account, and filed for divorce.

The next few months were not easy as we owned our home jointly and he would come in at all hours and further abuse me. I put a dead-bolt lock on my bedroom door and slept with a hammer for self-defense. I kept all important paperwork and valuables in my trunk. I moved out of our home two weeks after my divorce was final even though our home was unsold. We finally agreed that if he refinanced the home in his own name without me, I would pay off $6,000 in credit card debt. I lost a lot financially but it meant nothing as I gained my freedom and safety.  Those things meant the world to me because I knew what it felt like not to have them.

3. How did you heal and rebuild your life after the violent situation/relationship/ritual? What actions did you take?

The healing was incredibly hard. I lost many friends and acquaintances, who did not understand why I lied to them about my relationship and also did not understand why I stayed. I began counselling while I was going through my divorce and joined a divorce support group. Both were helpful, but I left counselling because I was just not ready to deal with me.

It was not until after I met an incredible man who is everything that my ex-husband was not that I began looking at me and why I chose an abusive relationship. I started counselling for anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I worked for seven years on how to learn to trust others and most importantly love myself. I refused to allow my abusive past to repeat the cycle with my children and my new husband.

4. What would you suggest to or share with another woman or girl facing the same situation as you did?

Please do not  listen to the judgments of others who have not walked in your shoes. People mean well but do not  understand the means you have to use to just survive. Also, there are resources and people out there who can and will help. Use these resources and people and if you have to use them more than once it is okay.

5. How do you think we can end violence against women?

Violence is a learned behaviour. Children learn from the relationships and patterns they see as they grow up. Men and women need to teach their children that violence is not acceptable. Above all actions speak louder than words and parents need to live what they teach.

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

Organisations like this are vital in spreading the awareness of violence and letting women know that they are not alone. Violence against women crosses all races, colours, and creeds.  The Pixel Project demonstrates this and connects survivors across the world.