October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and on our blog we’ve shared different perspectives on this tremendously impacting issue, detailing how detrimental it is to our families, communities and culture as a whole. Every instance of domestic violence has multiple victims; multiple lives irrevocably changed. Below is such a life. Tanya Winje, an FCNI Program Supervisor, bravely shares her personal story of fear, hopelessness, survival and healing.
I learned about my father’s death from a Google search. It has been five years now since his obituary appeared on my computer screen. I met the information with mixed feelings of relief and sadness. It had been 24 years since I had last seen my father. And my last encounter with him was in a courtroom where he appeared in a county jail orange jumpsuit. I was in the courtroom to testify about the night he picked up a gun and shot my mother in front of me. I was 14.
As my mom physically healed from her injuries and we both took steps towards healing emotionally, we started to share our story with our community. Together, we’ve spoken out at our local shelter, juvenile hall, prison, youth authority, schools, domestic violence programs, and have appeared in our local newspaper. I shared about the nights of terror in my home, the black eyes my mom would try to cover up, the humiliation he subject her to, the financial abuses he inflicted, his repeated adultery, and the cycle of violence we would experience time and time again as we were victimized by this abuser. We would also share about the injustices we experienced. Like the time the court system, not understanding Domestic Violence in 1985, blamed my mother for staying with my father, calling what happened to her a "crime of passion.” Or when my father served only four years in prison for almost killing my mother. Or the battle my mom had to wage to end alimony payments to her abuser, as well as the stigma we faced and my mother’s battle with a traumatic head injury. Or even the time my father’s parole officer contacted my mother to seek financial support for him. Not to mention, our fight to find competent therapists who could address our trauma, and the on-going hypervigilance that trailed behind us when we knew our abuser was free from incarceration.
For years, my mother and I would share our message that we wanted the violence to stop, the abuse to end, for our culture to stop blaming the victims and to empower people to not fall into the same plight as my mother. We probably scared many men and women. They would look at the eight inch scar on my mother’s face and he graphic photographs of her injuries resulting from the shooting and gasp. My mom would always have to field the same question, “Why did you stay?” While I would consistently get asked, “Do you hate your father?”
As someone who has experienced Domestic Violence in my childhood home and now as a Social Worker trying to help others establish healthy and safe relationships, I work to break the cycle. As we mark another October where we bring awareness to the topic of Domestic Violence, I pray that we can again send the message that helps us transform our lives into a world where we can live free of violence and abuse.
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, please contact your local women’s shelter for critical support services. There is help; there is hope.