It's a cliche but I've had a full-circle moment. I've gone from a girl who saw her mom being beaten and her father being arrested and who couldn't sleep with the lights off until a few years ago, to the mother of a son who lives in a safe, healthy household with a father who protects him, to being invited to be in a room full of change agents who are working daily to end domestic violence.
On Oct. 27, I was honored to be a part of the very hard-working crowd at the White House event commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Vice President Biden, author of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and President Obama both spoke in detail about what they (and their partners) are doing to end violence against women.
The hard truth: One in every four women experiences domestic violence during her lifetime, and more than 20 million women in the U.S. have been victims of rape.
What excited me about the policy news was how comprehensive the plan is to combat violence against women -- and children. It includes everything from helping victims gain financial independence (jobs, housing, credit) to helping children recover from the trauma of witnessing domestic violence.
I was so proud to be able to speak personally with the Vice President and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) about the importance of helping domestic violence victims get on their feet and stay safe as they try to leave their abusers. The economic strategy piece is so needed. When my mom tried to leave her situation (back in the 1970s), she walked to the bank and asked the manager for $50 loan. Thank god he said yes. But that was her only hope. We need to offer countless lifelines instead.
For example, the President noted that the Department of Housing and Urban Development released new rules today to prevent the victims of domestic violence from being evicted or denied assisted housing because a crime was committed against them. And the Vice President and the DOJ are launching a new effort to help victims of domestic abuse find lawyers to represent them pro bono.
Also a focus: Children need help recovering or they'll be crippled by the effects of domestic violence. Worse, they could become abusers, adult victims, or addicts or otherwise miss their chance to thrive. Baseball manager Joe Torre spoke at the event about growing up in an abusive household and the lifelong scars he carried as a result. That's my story. And it's the story of tens of millions of other children. I got help -- I'm still getting it -- but many don't know how. Or when they reach out, the helping hand has been cut off (in terms of funding, that is).
Still there is work to be done. You need to decide if you support the agenda. The Vice President spoke of how 22,000 calls a month still come into the Domestic Violence Hotline, primarily from women. And those are just the ones who take the risk of reaching out for help.
The coordinated effort that is needed is being helped along by the White House Council on Girls and Women. (Thank you!)
Meanwhile, we'll be doing our part by teaching respect for oneself and others as well as building back respect when it is lost so that you can thrive.
The President also said, "If there's one group that I want to thank, am grateful for, it's people who are willing to tell their stories -- because it's hard." My father, who died 10 years ago, would be proud that I broke the cycle. Because he told me his truth, that he was also was a victim of abuse as a precious boy, and he eventually experienced some healing, too. Telling your truth is a "respect basic." And I'm glad it's something I have done.