Posts tagged Activism 101

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Stephanie Hassler, 40, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our twenty-fourth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Stephanie Hassler from the USA.

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

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The Survivor Bio:

Stephanie Hassler fights every day to transition from victim to survivor of domestic violence. In the early morning hours of November 15, 2004, she had her ex-husband arrested for hitting her repeatedly with a casted hand that he’d broken while beating her a few nights before. She left her life in Pennsylvania to build a new one in her home state of New Jersey with her then 10 month old son. She is happily remarried to a wonderful man with whom she shares four beautiful children. She owns a marketing agency and hopes to someday be a victim’s advocate.

Stephanie Hassler1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

My first-hand experience with domestic violence began in May of 1996 when I met my future ex-husband, and ended in November 2004 when I had him arrested for assault. He was only the third man I’d ever dated – a successful electrical engineer who graduated at the top of his class, was fit and handsome, and clearly out of my league. Though I’d tried to leave him early in our relationship, he attributed his rage and control to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)– which was clearly exhibited in many of his behavioural habits.

I felt sorry for him. I felt like I could help him. I had no idea what was happening. He controlled my finances, my clothing, my relationships with friends and family, my career path, what, how, and when I ate, etc. I did not realise the man he was or the woman I had become until my son was born and it was nearly too late.

Though I am happily remarried with three children in addition to my son, the physical, verbal, financial and emotional abuse has left permanent scars that neither time nor a healthy relationship will erase.

 

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

We’d been in court before. He’d been in altercations and had citations from both friends and strangers. But I still didn’t see it. It wasn’t until the evening of November 15, 2004, when he attacked me for not snuggling properly, that I finally had him arrested. While we lay in his mandatory position in bed with the metal splint on his right hand resting firmly and uncomfortably between my breasts, I must have squirmed…or sighed…or somehow expressed discontent, which triggered a reaction.

Rather than engaging him (since the splint was a result of a boxer’s break he’d suffered while beating me a few nights before), I left for the guest room. He followed me and proceeded to beat me. I called 911. He left the room and I stayed on the phone with the operator until Officer Joseph Dows arrived. Officer Dows reviewed my options with me and I decided not to press charges, until my ex-husband told him that the next time they’d be called to my house, they’d be arresting me. It was then and only then that I made the decision to have him arrested (which he resisted).

I have never looked back.

 

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

My son has been my beacon. I realised that it wasn’t just about me and what I could endure anymore – it was also about what I was exposing him to. We left our home in PA the night I had my ex-husband arrested.

I constantly shared the company of supportive people who never pushed me, but fuelled my determination. My work family was very supportive and allowed me to keep my job until I found a new job. My parents shared their home, helped me find a lawyer, encouraged me to seek counselling, supervised my son’s visitations in their home, transported me to bi-weekly custody exchanges, and accompanied me to all of my court appearances. My older brother moved into my new home with me so that I felt safe. My ex-husband’s friends testified on my behalf.

I have had setbacks – my ex-husband’s abuse of the court system aimed at ruining me financially, and then having to vacate my home when he relocated from PA to just a mile from my new home. His presence will always unnerve me, but I am determined to live and to survive one day at a time.

 

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

I wish there was something that I could say to make every woman see her own light. Unfortunately, it shines within each of us. I will not frame myself as a martyr. Though I didn’t realise what was happening, I do acknowledge that I ignored my mom’s warnings, his arrests and confrontations, and my initial instincts. I wanted to see the good in him that simply did not exist.

I know now that my personality is “co-dependent” and that classification is what threatened me and eventually saved me. It was the realisation that I would be raising my son in an environment fraught with unacceptable behaviour that forced me to acknowledge our circumstances and fight for a better life. So, I would tell someone like me to fight back. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Life is worth it. If you don’t have positive influences in your life, call me. I’ll help you find them. I’ll try to be one for you.

 

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

The best support I received came from my women’s support group. I could talk to you at length about what happened to me, and it’s just a story for me to re-live. But, if you put me in a room with other women who have been through it, we cannot hide from the raw emotion of what we’ve been through. To end violence against women, we need more women to talk about it. We need more women to be lauded for surviving it, rather than being shamed for having been a part of it.

We need to find a way to provide support and stability for women who want to move on, so that they don’t get sucked back into abusive relationships. To survive these situations, the court system needs to be better – harsher and more consistent penalties, strict and permanent restraining orders, financial and emotional assistance. Until we prove that women can survive violent situations, they will continue to be vulnerable prey.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

As a child of the 80s, I grew up thinking that something so socio-economically related like this would never happen to me. That was my first mistake because violence against women knows no race, no socioeconomic status, and no educational background. It can happen to the most vibrant of us, to the quietest. It can take a life in a heartbeat or scar a life forever.

The goal of The Pixel Project is to raise awareness about violence against women and I believe that where there is awareness, there is hope. The more I talk about what I’ve been through, the more friends I have who confide in me about their own ordeals. We are an underground current that needs to rise to the surface. I believe efforts by organisations such as The Pixel Project are helping us find our way, and I want to do what I can to support that.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Sara Ackerman, 36, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our twenty-third 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Sara Ackerman from the USA.

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The Survivor Bio:

Sara still gets excited about going in to work every morning, even after over a decade on the job. Not only does she have a great job teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and helping immigrants, she gets to explore her other passions during the summer. When she’s not teaching grad classes or speaking professionally about ESL, she likes to write. Recently Sara published her first novel and will be releasing her second one by June of 2016. Sara is a survivor of domestic violence. She is grateful every day for second chances, and a fulfilling life with her husband and two beautiful children.

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

I am a survivor of domestic violence. My ex-husband was an alcoholic, drug addicted sociopath who tormented me psychologically and physically for eighteen months.

 

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

One night he called me at work to yell at me. He was angry that his alarm clock did not go off, so he missed work. He blamed me and then threatened to kill me and take the baby.

That’s when I knew that I could not stay with him anymore. I called my parents and went straight from work to their house. I don’t know that I would have left had he not threatened my baby.

 

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

I threw myself into providing a good life for my child and me. With the help of my parents and friends who had not abandoned me during the abuse, I went back to school, got my teaching license and became a teacher.

Additionally, I started therapy and was treated for depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I suppressed much of the trauma I had experienced until I was mentally ready to deal with it. It’s only been in the last three years that I have been working through the most severe trauma of the abuse with my therapist. It’s hard, emotional work, but I am in a loving and stable relationship and in a safe environment. I finally feel like I can let go of the past.

 

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

If a relationship hurts you or makes you feel worthless, then it is time to get out. It is a scary proposition and easier said than done, but it is so important to get out before it’s too late.

Find someone you can trust to help you – a parent, a neighbour, a friend. If you don’t have someone you trust, go to a church, or a women’s shelter. Just take that first step and go.

 

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

It is so important to talk about domestic abuse and other types of gender-based violence. Many survivors feel shame for what happened because it is still a very hush-hush topic in today’s society. Survivors need to be encouraged to speak about what happened to them so that others can understand the myriad of factors that comprise gender-based violence.

I think society as a whole has an image in their head of what an abuse victim looks like, but it’s so much more all-encompassing than the average person could ever realise. Abuse touches everyone in every social class, ethnicity, religion, and age group, but perversely, no one ever thinks it could happen to them. Only through the process of honest, non-judgemental dialogue with survivors of gender-based violence can members of society begin to truly see the toxic prevalence of abuse found in their own neighbourhoods. Only then it is possible that true change can occur.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

I support The Pixel Project because it’s Survivor Stories campaign provides survivors with a platform for their voices to be heard and recognised. Perhaps our collective voices raised up in strength and unity will give those who remain in silence the courage to finally speak.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Ruth Piper, 46, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our twenty-second 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Ruth Piper from the USA.

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

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The Survivor Bio:

My name is Ruth Piper and I was married for seven years to a very abusive man.  It has been 14 years since I was able to leave him the final time.  We had two children together.  They were 1 and 3 when I left their father. I had no job, no money and no family close by.  I am now a legal advocate for domestic violence victims, working at Catalyst Domestic Violence Services. My dogs and my kids are my two greatest joys in life.  I have three sons and three dogs.  Since my sons are all almost grown now, my dogs and I spend a lot of time in the park chasing balls.

Ruth Piper 2_cropped1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

I was in a very emotionally/verbally abusive relationship for seven years.  I was not allowed to leave the house without him, nor was I allowed to answer the phone.  I had become isolated from friends and family and I did not have much, if any, contact with anyone other than my husband.

Over the seven years he repeatedly told me that I was stupid, crazy and worthless. I believed him.  He had me convinced that I was lucky to have him to take care of me because no one else would put up with my ‘sorry ass’.  My three year old son had also begun to treat me just like his father did, and that scared me.

Both children had witnessed much of the abuse that had happened.  At that time, my three year old son had grown accustomed to spitting on me and calling me names just like his father.

 

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

My mother had finally become aware of how volatile my marriage was and witnessed my husband verbally attack me and promise to kill me. Although she lived over 400 miles away, she managed to call me every day, sometimes two or three times a day, to tell me that I was NOT stupid, NOT crazy and tell me all the good qualities that I possessed and to tell me how she feared for my safety all of the time.

After some time with her consistently calling, I began to get stronger and more aware of the reality of my situation, which in turn gave me the tools I needed to see my own situation for what it was, and to realise how wrong my husband was and how unsafe my situation had become.  It did take some time to get my husband to really understand that we would never be together again, but eventually he stopped pursuing me.

 

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

The first thing that I did was to begin to surround myself with people who saw me in a positive way and who were supportive.  I found a part-time job and enrolled at the community college.  The first two years I had to have a roommate so there was another adult in my house to help keep my husband at bay, and to help with the kids.  Eventually I became more and more independent and no longer needed so much help.

After two years at the community college I continued my education at the State University, graduating with a BA in Psychology.  In my last year of school I started volunteering at my local Domestic Violence agency to work with others who were in the same situation as I had been.  Out of everything, the one thing that proved to be the most healing was working with people who were in abusive relationships.  It allowed me to feel like what I had lived through had a purpose.  And I was able to pull the positive things out of the experience and use them to help others.

 

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

Always stay in contact with at least one person who is not directly involved in your situation. Someone who can support you any way you need, remind you that you are important in this world and have a lot to give, and that you deserve to be treated fairly, with kindness and compassion.

If you do not know anyone, start telling yourself in the mirror positive affirmations every day. And don’t ever give up on yourself.  Your strength is within. Whatever is happening, it isn’t your fault and you are not alone.

 

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

Educating our children as early as kindergarten about healthy relationships and how to treat each other with kindness and understanding.  Stop exposing them to the violence you find on the television and see in the advertisements.  Stop allowing for sexism in any form.  We passively support violence against women by allowing magazines, big business, and marketing companies to continue using the female image to promote their products. We buy into it, and that would have to stop before anything else can change.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

I support The Pixel Project because their Survivor Stories campaign seems like a good idea because it is important to share our stories, because our stories are what really help people understand the seriousness of the issue.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Monika Korra, 26, Norway

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our twenty-first 2016 Survivor Stories interview,, in partnership with CLIMB, is with Monika Korra from Norway.

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The Survivor Bio:

Monika founded The Monika Kørra Foundation and wrote the book Kill the Silence published by Penguin Random House. Monika is now a sought-after speaker, inspiring others to work their way through any kind of personal life challenges. She has been the keynote speaker at more than 60 events. Sports is the love of her life - cross-country skiing, running and yoga. The outdoors, spending time in nature and at the family cabin in the mountains brings peace to her mind. She is a cross-country skiing coach for youth skiers in Norway. She also loves spending time with her little nephew (two-and-a-half years old) – when he was born everything else was put into perspective.

Monika Korra_cropped1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

In my sophomore year of college, I was kidnapped at gunpoint and gang raped by three men. This was a stranger rape case. Thanks to the Dallas PD, they were all found and the case was brought to court a year later. I testified against them, confronting each man in court. Two of them received life sentences and one received 25 years.

 

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

After they had taken what they wanted from me that night they placed duct tape over my eyes and pushed me out of their van. The police found me later than night and brought me to the hospital.

 

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

It all started with the decision to find my way back to a normal life. I knew that I wasn’t going to make it alone, but that I needed to let others help me along the way. Openness, writing, exercise and forgiveness were the key elements in my healing process.

 

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

Don’t face it alone, let others help you along the way. We are so much stronger together than we’ll ever be alone. It’s okay to feel the pain, to cry, to be frustrated and angry, but there is a way through. Healing can be a rollercoaster of emotions, but in the end there is great hope. Life can be better than it’s ever been before.

 

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

To end violence against women, we need to kill the silence surrounding it in society. No more victim blaming and focusing on the victim. There is no excuse for violence against women. We need to focus on the perpetrator and how to prevent this horrible crime from taking place in our society. Awareness, education and changes in attitudes are core elements to end violence against women.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The goals and values of the Pixel Project are in line with mine, and to fight this horrible crime we need to stand together – we need to work together, because together we can make a difference.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Rachel Zader, 22, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our twentieth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Rachel Zader from the USA.

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The Survivor Bio:

Rachel Zader is a fashion model, probation officer, commercial actress, journalist, investigator, and volunteer sex crimes victim advocate. Rachel obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Criminology from U.C. Berkeley, and, determined not to shy away from her industry after her rape, is currently earning her private investigator’s license. When she is not fighting crime or posing for the camera, Rachel spends her time painting, researching, and programming electronic music. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Rachel Zader1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

In 2014, I was raped by an acquaintance.

 

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

When I regained full consciousness, I pretended I was oblivious to what had happened, pretended I had to go because my boyfriend was looking for me. Down the street, I waited for the police and the ambulance to take me to the ER.

You don’t really ‘escape’ rape because the act itself is symbolic, and a violation of your control and your identity. I could escape my attacker physically, but what he did to me I can’t escape. It was not as if I had been mugged for my wallet – I was attacked because of what I was to someone, and he did something to me that I will never be able to forget, no matter where I run or hide. I wouldn’t expect anyone to “get over” their rape – but you can learn to live with it.

 

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

I didn’t even want to get out of bed, but there was a voice in my brain that kept insisting: This is not how it’s supposed to end for me.

When you’re raped, you want to disappear. But I knew my rapist wanted me to disappear too , so the first thing I did was start talking about it. Giving that monster permission be ‘real’ was incredibly hard, confronting it allowed me to process it and redefine how it was going to exist in my life. I forced myself to go to therapy and told myself I couldn’t let my fear take away my dreams for my career.

I worked hard to help the police in the investigation, but the 1.5 year process was excruciating. I’ve since begun to pursue justice in civil court instead. Next to the rape itself, seeking justice was the most confusing and painful experience of my life in spite of my familiarity with the system and process. Because of that I’m currently working to speak out about the process, to improve it for those who come after me. That’s really what gets me out of bed in the morning – that’s why I won’t give up.

 

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

For sexual assault victims, the current legal route is not one-size-fits-all, and many aspects feel more victimising. For instance, when you’re shuffled through an investigation or report, you’ll seldom be asked what you want to have happen. Having to ask for it can make you feel unimportant or invalidated (and you probably already feel enough of that). In my case, I felt even more of a loss of control and identity in the process. However, even though I ultimately didn’t participate in my rapist’s criminal conviction, I realised even the unsuccessful efforts could be healing, because they were mine.

Know this:

  • That you have a right to your own experience as a victim, and you have a right to control your own narrative. Know that it should be – this is your experience. Don’t accept one that will not work for you.
  • That you are far more powerful than your rapist, because you dare exist. You have survived, and the person who raped you now has blood on his hands. You have more choices and more power than your rapist wants you to realise.

 

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

Education. If you look at rates of gender-based violence and other forms of gender inequality (access to resources, literacy, etc.) across the world, we find that education has a lot to do with the cause. If we continue to shame girls for wearing spaghetti straps to school because they are “too distracting” to boys – implying males are all savages who can only be be expected to disrespect a girl at the sight of her collarbone – we continue to teach into a harmful, false narrative about men and women. It’s toxic for everyone.

We also need to put more power in the hands of victims. I have a law enforcement background, a Bachelor’s in criminology, and did everything ‘by the book’ – but I felt completely lost and helpless most of the time. If ‘doing the right thing’ for someone as prepared as I was is the equivalent of fighting a war, it’s clear that something is not right. This is the reason why most victims never come forward, and 99% of rapists walk free; this is where a big part of the change needs to start.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The Pixel Project continues the conversation about ending gender-based violence by involving both men and women, which is crucial – violence against women is not a “woman’s” issue, it’s everyone’s issue.

I encounter a lot of men in my life who either want to support my own recovery and women’s rights on the whole, but are confused on where to start, what initiative to take, and how – so I’m happy to see non-profits like The Pixel Project that offer ways for them to learn how to help. That is, without a doubt, powerful stuff.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Paulissa Kipp, 50, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our nineteenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Paulissa Kipp from the USA.

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

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The Survivor Bio:

Paulissa Kipp, CPSWS, is a certified Peer Support Provider with extensive lived experience in child sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.  Through her advocacy, she educates community partners and dental/medical/nursing students about the affects of trauma and the importance of listening to survivors when they self-advocate. Paulissa facilitates healing art for trauma survivors through her company Paulissa Kipp’s Art of Becoming.

Paulissa Kipp1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

I was 23 years old and had been a victim of child physical and sexual abuse. I went from my mother’s house to playing house when I met a travelling musician – a man more than 20 years my senior.

He was charming and handsome and he promised to take care of me, which is just what a child of abuse wants – to be cared for. I quit my job, sold my car and followed him to another state. Shortly after we set up house together, the beating started: for not having dinner ready early enough, for having it ready too early, for showing cleavage, for getting a spot of paint on a window screen.

The phone was either on or off to serve his needs, the electricity and water were often off, and he would take off for days while I was home with no food. He intercepted my mail, isolated me from others and we lived 5 miles from the nearest neighbour.

 

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

He came home drunk one night after spending 2 weeks in Oklahoma City “looking for work”. It was 3 am and he came in demanding dinner, which I refused to heat up for him. He hit me so hard he dislocated my jaw.

I barricaded myself in the bathroom and put a chest of drawers between myself and the door and pushed with all my might. He threw butcher knives at the door, missing my face by inches. When I thought he had passed out, I opened the door, only to be hit again. I ran into the basement and hid for what seemed like hours until I heard him snore.

I packed my legal documents and some personal effects and walked out the door but not until I held a shotgun to his temple and nearly pulled the trigger.

The knowledge that I could be pushed to the point of nearly committing murder is what made me leave. I walked out the door and he woke up and began shooting. I ran in the dark, sprained my ankle and walked 5 miles to the nearest house I could find. The owners took me to a women’s shelter where I spent the next 4 months before deciding to return to Nebraska and rebuild my life.

 

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

I stayed with friends after returning to Nebraska, got a job and saved for a car. I sought out counselling, which helped me with recognising the red flags that were present. I began telling my story and realised that I was not alone in my experience.

 

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

You may wonder if you will ever feel safe again. Safety is many things. You will learn what safety, at its deepest level means to you both within and outside of yourself. Maybe safety for you means being able to freely express yourself:  to write, dance, speak, journal or make art. Maybe to listen to music that speaks to your soul.

You will learn to navigate the world in a different way and you will be the person who will see what others don’t. To ring the bell when something isn’t right. Because with survival comes wisdom.

You may think you are alone and you may doubt your worth and judgement.  You are not alone. So many of your sisters and brothers see and hear you and we are holding space for you. We have loving hands for you to hold onto and strong shoulders to help carry the pain. You will learn that your gut is your best compass and you can trust it.

 

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

It takes everyone. I believe that learning non-violent communication skills, teaching men and women about de-escalation techniques and self-defense is a start. Also, teaching that domestic violence has many forms beyond just the physical form goes a long way.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The Pixel Project’s goal and mine is the same: To advocate, educate and inform about violence against women and its effects. The use of social media and technology as well as the international focus and the engagement of men in the cause ensures that the focus stays on education, empowerment and prevention of violence against women. We need every tool in our arsenal, and the resources provided by The Pixel Project are invaluable in doing this work.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Molly Taylor, 36, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our eighteenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Molly Taylor from the USA.

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

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The Survivor Bio:

Molly is a writer at heart and has been able to use her journey recovering from an abusive marriage to help others through writing for the blog Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. She has also been able to raise awareness for domestic violence support and education by enlisting Jason Alexander (of TV’s Seinfeld) to be a part of the Blow the Whistle Challenge for BTS. Her day job is as an executive assistant and being a single mother to an amazing daughter. Her passion for changing the conversation around domestic violence fuels her daily life. She enjoys photography, time outside and coffee dates.

Molly Taylor1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

My marriage was riddled with abuse. It began with mental, verbal, and emotional abuse during our dating life. I just thought we handled stress and anger differently.

When we got married, it moved into the realms of financial and spiritual abuse. He would talk at me for hours, forcing me to stay awake, sitting in the closet. I was not doing my “wifely duties” so it was not his fault he had to deal with me in this way.

Finally, when I was 8 months pregnant, things turned violent. He said it was “just bruises,” and it wasn’t a big deal because he never “hit me with a closed fist.” During the next months, there were 5 to 6 instances of abuse until the final week where there were three different nights of torture, culminating in a final night that was the worst physical violence I’d experienced at his hands.

I left with a bruise across my jaw, bruises up and down my legs, across my buttocks, a 3 inch one on my hip, distinctive knuckle bruises on my rib cage and finger print bruises on both arms. Those on my arms lasted for over 2 weeks.

 

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

That last night, he was so intensely out of control that he put the baby down to slap me across the face and she fell off the bed. That was my wake-up call. We had to get out.

I had only slept for 3 hours the night before and slept for 45 minutes that night. I was a zombie. He would not allow me to sleep, and it was catching up to me emotionally and physically. I was in a fog of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and barely functional apart from taking care of my baby.

I had a flight booked, a trip to see my best girlfriends. I had packed for 9 days in a carry-on bag for myself and the baby, and I never went back. My friends saw the bruises and flew into action mode – making plans for us and helping me get into counseling right away. They saved us when I couldn’t save myself. And I was across the country which finally made me feel protected.

 

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

Counselling, counselling, counselling. I can’t emphasise this enough.

I had to quiet his voice in my head before I could move forward. No contact was key to this step. As long as he was sending me hourly emails, 300 texts a day or calling 10 times in a row, there was no chance for me to heal. When I could legally block him, I felt a tremendous weight fall from my shoulders and true healing began.

A support group was crucial for me too. You are able to connect to others and talk through your abuse in a way that helps you see the light on the other side. Abuse thrives in silence, so taking back that power by telling your story is an amazing step when you are finally able to remove yourself from a violent situation.

 

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

Tell someone you trust. If you don’t know how to leave, maybe they will. Call a shelter. Be careful and protect yourself as much as you can while still sharing space with an abuser. Keep passwords hidden. Make a list of what you need when you leave. I did not have any important documents and had to leave my dogs behind which broke my heart.

Many shelters now have plans in place to take in pets, so look into that if this is a concern for you. There are resources.

Also, keep records if you can so that if you have to go to court you have documentation. That helped me significantly in getting full custody of my child. Save texts. Take pictures of bruises. Write down dates if you can but keep everything hidden so that you can stay safe until you’re able to leave.

 

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

Education and resources are key elements of ending violence in our society against women and children. We absolutely have to talk. It is difficult and painful to discuss at times, but it is extremely necessary. Pride and ego have to take a backseat so that we can own our stories and help others. Violence can, and does happen to people of all demographics and backgrounds.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

I have found a passion inside myself for domestic violence victims because of my experience.

I believe in organisations such as The Pixel Project because our visions are in alignment. The goal of The Pixel Project is to raise awareness and help to end violence against women. The push towards conversation and involving men in making positive changes in this area is a goal that I fully get behind. I feel like the strongest version of myself on the other side of abuse and want to assure others that there is an incredible opportunity to thrive on the other side.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Maralee McLean, 60, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our seventeenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Maralee Mclean from the USA.

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The Survivor Bio:

Maralee  McLean is a child advocate, protective parent, domestic violence expert, professional speaker, and author of Prosecuted But Not Silenced: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused Children. Maralee has written several articles for the ABA Child Law Journal, Women’s eNews and other publications on the problems of family courts not protecting abused children. Maralee works with several media platforms and speaks about these issues all over the US. Her passion for advocacy developed through living a mother’s worst nightmare. Fighting the system with body and soul, she gained the insight that this was not her nightmare alone. She organised a National Rally of Mothers at the Colorado State Capitol and has been involved in legislative work that spans more than two decades. She testified before Congress to promote judicial accountability to better protect sexually abused children’s rights in the US courts. Maralee’s other interests include regular morning walks, riding her bicycle, skiing, enjoying the beautiful mountains of Colorado, traveling internationally, and socialising with family and friends.

Maralee McLean1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

I was in a marriage with an abusive husband. I filed for a divorce and this is where the real abuse took place. I had full custody of my then 6-month-old daughter and he had limited visitation.

By the time my daughter was two, she disclosed sexual abuse by her father. I spent 10 years in the courts trying to protect her. The more evidence that came out about the abuse, the more time she got with her father. By the age of 4 she had three doctor’s reports stating abuse, three hospital reports, and physical evidence of sexual penetration.

I lost my daughter to the abuser. Our constitutional rights were denied and gender bias is at the foremost reason for this. I testified before Congress, went on CNN International News, and now work on legislation and speak on this nightmare for the thousands of women and children going through this today with no protection from our courts.

 

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

I spent every waking moment trying to save my daughter from her father’s abuse and was blocked by the courts every time. I was not free from the abuse by the father because he used the courts to continue to abuse me with coercive control and re-victimising by getting the control to continue to abuse my little girl.

 

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

I have been rebuilding and am still rebuilding by helping other women and children. By giving them a voice through my speaking, publishing articles, my book and media coverage, and working every angle to get this horrific crime out and bring awareness to the damage it is causing in society.

 

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

I work with “protective mothers” – good mothers losing their children every day from every state. I get calls from moms suffering in England, Canada, Spain and every country. This is a huge issue and no one even knows how huge it is.

I share my book and offer advice on what can help them. I speak at the Battered Mothers Conference, law schools, and the International Summit on Violence, Abuse and Trauma.

 

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

By being vocal and bringing in the good men to stand up and protect women and children, changing laws, and letting society know the damage and the financial cost to them.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The Pixel Project has done an incredible job at building awareness of  violence against women. It is so inspiring to see them in action taking on all the issues and being volunteers who understand the huge crisis this is for our society. They work tirelessly and have taken this globally to make a difference in educating public about the social change that is crucial to saving women and children.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Lisa Murray, 50, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our sixteenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Lisa Murray from the USA.

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

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The Survivor Bio:

Lisa Murray has spoken at various GreenHouse17 events with the encouragement of her advocate, Darlene Thomas; and also in the classroom of University of Kentucky, Policy Studies on Violence Against Women, by invitation of Carol Jordan, the Executive Director.  In 2014, Carol featured Lisa in her book Violence Against Women in Kentucky:  A History of US and State Legislation Reform.  Lisa works full time for Alltech, Inc. a leading global biotechnology company.  She credits much of her healing process to the understanding and encouragement of her employer. She is an avid equestrian who has owned multiple World Champion horses.  She has spent her life enjoying competing with her various breeds of horses.  

LisaMurrayBioPhoto_cropped1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

Just imagine, you are in your home, a place of sanctuary. Within a split second, you are tackled to a hardwood floor, completely pinned down. You can’t move your hands or legs; a man’s knees are pressing so deeply into your hands that you feel as though your bones are breaking.  His breath is hot and angry, spewing vulgarity.  Yet this is no stranger – this is your husband, the man who pledged his lifelong love – and he is bashing your head into a hardwood floor over and over, choking you, beating you in the face. That is what happened to me on the night of September 20, 2011.

Although I had suffered previous assaults, both physical and verbal, this final attack, which put me in the hospital, was to be his final act of vengeance towards me.  As I lay in the hospital room, fearing for my life, I knew that I could not go back.  I could not be “this” woman.  I had a grown daughter and two granddaughters who look up to me, and whom I have to set an example for.  I threw my wedding ring into a hospital trash can, then obtained an EPO (emergency protective order) and filed for divorce.

 

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

I escaped only after the brutal assault in which I feared for my life.  For years I had suffered mental, emotional, verbal and “some” physical violence.  I felt as though I was living in a maze.  I was so embarrassed and didn’t even tell my own family for days that I was in the hospital.  However, finally, after confronting the reality, I had 110% family support.  It did take a while for me to find Domestic Violence resources, but after finding Greenhouse17.org, I was able to stand tall, go through a relentless court battle, and see my attacker sentenced to jail, then onto federal prison.

 

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

I will be very blunt: this process was extremely difficult, and that is the one thing that drove me to finding answers.  It was so hard, and because it was so hard for me to find answers, I dug in and continued to persevere. Information in the State of Kentucky was so contradictory that I felt I could lose my mind. One attorney said to me “Lisa, don’t stop asking the questions.  You may not get the answer you want to hear, but keep asking!” I started searching for more and more information, and began seeing a counsellor.  Piece by piece, I was able to reassemble my life and today I am proud of how I was able to come out on the other side.

 

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

I have had many women open up to me as my story went very public.  I was a bit afraid at first, but I am not ashamed of what happened to me.  It’s something that happened, it does not define who I am or lessen me as a person.  I was a woman, who loved her husband, and tried to make her marriage work.

My first comment to women is to seek out an advocate.  If you’re asking me, then you must be questioning something.

I constantly share information and books that were helpful to me.  I have bought extra editions of Lundy Bancroft’s book, Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, and have shared with women who I know are struggling and looking for answers. I also talk about having a safety plan,  just in case.

Lastly, I listen.  Sometimes a woman just needs to know she is being heard and that someone understands.  It’s important to never minimise, but truly listen.

 

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

I think ending violence has to start in the home.  I have now learned from my ex-husband’s family that he was extremely abusive to others in his family when he was a child and teenager.  I believe that this behaviour begins at an early age. So you have two sides, the aggressor and the victim.  I talk candidly to my granddaughters now, even at a young age.  For example, if a boy hits you or speaks hatefully to you, it’s not because he likes you.  It’s because he’s a bully, plain and simple.

When they are old enough to begin to date, the conversation and education will increase from both my son-in-law and daughter, and me.  It will be a joint parental effort.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The Pixel Project is an amazing outreach organisation.  The thing I like best about this organisation is that it addresses the fact that there are no cultural or social barriers when it comes to Domestic Violence and other forms of violence against women.  Victims need to realise this can – AND DOES – happen in all walks of life.  Education, education, education.  Sharing stories, sharing hope.  Sharing an open door to a better life.

As the momentum on this topic is gaining attention, The Pixel Project has made ending violence against women and girls their top priority.  The time for complacency is gone.  It is now time for stronger action and improving the knowledge base for ending violence against women.  The Pixel Project gives a voice to survivors and stands on the belief that women have the right to live free from violence; and they generate this conversation by tearing down taboos and creating safe online spaces to generate discussions, while getting the global community emotionally engaged and actively involved.

THE SURVIVOR STORIES PROJECT 2016: Leslie Ann Epperson, 60, USA

The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 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 campaign 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.

Our fifteenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Leslie Ann Epperson from the USA.

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The Survivor Bio:

Leslie Ann Epperson is an Emmy Award winning director and creator of Many Bones, One Heart, an independent documentary feature. She began her documentary career at WILL-TV, PBS, producing documentary programs for distribution to nationwide PBS affiliates. Epperson went on to direct a nationally distributed science magazine series for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. PBS affiliate KUAT TV, PBS, engaged her to produce segments for Arizona Illustrated, a nightly news magazine, and to produce In the Field of Time, which was distributed to PBS affiliates, and Divine Mission: San Xavier del Bac, about the restoration of a 300-year-old church, which received five Rocky Mountain Region Emmy Awards and was broadcast by the PBS network. Epperson’s films reside in library collections throughout the United States.

Leslie Head shot jpg_cropped1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?

I was frequently physically punished by my father after my mother died when I was 12. I hooked up with a man similar to my father when I was 18 and we later married.

My husband was an alcoholic, and when drinking, he hit me a few times, but the primary form of abuse was verbal and emotional. He stopped the physical abuse after sobering up, but he continued to sabotage my self-worth, and demanded that I support him financially while continuing to be emotionally cruel.

I found solace in work and making art, and kept myself very busy.

 

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

I was in a car accident while my then husband was in school studying veterinary medicine. He began stealing the pain medications I was prescribed for injuries. I caught him and began locking my medicine in a safe. Shortly thereafter, he began stealing pain medication from the teaching hospital where he was enrolled. I caught him shooting up narcotics twice. Combined with his growing surliness and the emergence of ever greater cruelty gave me reason to leave for good, after 27 long years.

 

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

I was physically injured by the car accident and emotionally shattered. I made art to express my feelings, and for several years I just took it a day at a time. I sought out counselling and after being informed by my ex’s psychiatrist that my ex had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I researched the hallmarks of that disease. Understanding that he was sick helped me.

At first I had struggled hard to understand how he could treat me the way he did and I felt in some ways that it was my own fault. When I realised I would never understand it—that I am not like him – I began to find some peace. I am now helping a friend who has had a similar married experience to be okay with leaving and taking care of herself.

My friends and family are helpful to me as well because they do not yell at me, or try to hurt me or twist my words and way of being to suit their needs. I know that is how it should be, and if I have to be without a spouse or lover to stay safe and sane, well, that is okay!

 

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

I suggest counselling, being with friends, letting the tears fall when they need to. And if asked, I freely share that I had to leave, and that I am forever grateful to my counsellor and his psychiatrist for helping me understand that he was never going to change.

I talk to my friend who is separating from her abusive partner quite a bit, and I reassure her that she can get through this, that she will find a new sense of herself with time and with the willingness to be open to her feelings and learn from what has happened. I find that letting her just talk without trying to fix her does wonders.

So I guess my suggestion is keep your good friends close, let them help you. I tell my friend that although I am sometimes lonely, I am not frightened or hurt or confused anymore. I can handle a little loneliness, and I think most of that loneliness comes from comparing myself to the image of the “ideal woman” which is a married woman with a family, money, etc. That is not my fate but my life is beautiful if I pay attention to today.

 

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

There is much that has to change. Women have been hurt because men are physically stronger and can get away with it, which is terrible and must stop. It must be stopped wherever it is seen. Women need much greater protection and care from police and laws.

Education is key. We must teach our children to respect all of life, human and otherwise, and learn to care for ourselves, each other, and our world in equal measure. It is a spiritual journey, and I think humanity is on the right path, even though it often seems too slow. Much has changed in my lifetime—and much remains to be transformed. We must teach children that love really is the answer, and that violence never works. Violence only begets more of the same.

Education, compassion, and service are necessary. Gentleness and humility should be something we all try to cultivate in ourselves. The false gods of money, fame, control and domination just lead to more cruelty, more lost lives, more wars against each other, more grief, and more lost potential.

 

6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?

The Pixel Project’s anti-Violence Against Women campaigns combine the power of social media and the internet with pop culture and the arts to raise awareness and educate people worldwide about violence against women. As an artist and filmmaker, I believe that literature, films and art provide the cultural bridges needed for us to be better to each other. Art helps us cultivate tolerance and kindness, for when we empathise with a character in a film or book, we are open to learning something new about a different person with a life experience unlike our own.

With empathy and compassion, we develop greater tolerance, greater willingness to share our world and our selves with one another. Art is the best path to peace that I know of. I have been a journalist, too, and pointed out injustice in my work, but I find that for me, confrontation with problems is painful—but creating stories that bring people to a richer understanding of the “other” gives me peace and even joy. I seek to inspire the best in a viewer, for I believe inspiration moves us to a higher ground of being.