11/13/2012 01:48 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2013

Sex Abuse Victim Goes On The Offensive: Laura Cowan Shares Her Story On Anderson Live

When you meet Laura Cowan, it's hard to believe that she experienced perhaps the worst domestic abuse case in California history.

"It was physical, emotional, sexual," she said, holding back tears in front of a packed studio at Anderson Cooper Live on Tuesday.

Cowan's polygamist husband, Mansa Musa Muhammed, forced her and her two children to live for months in a cold, locked garage. He deprived them of food, subjected them to physical abuse, and left only plastic bottles as a bathroom. To keep her from escaping, Muhammed often had one of her children nearby, threatening to kill them if she ever fled.

On the show, Cowan read excerpts from personal letters she wrote during the ordeal.

"I want a normal life," one says.

Thirteen years later -- as a speaker, advocate, and abuse counselor -- Cowan is turning the tables on her trauma.

Women should know that "there are resources," she told me after the show. "There are women out there right now who are suffering and they can find help."

Here are just a few of the Cleveland-area initiatives that Cowan supports:

To find out more, read Cowan's story as told in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

Special thanks to Anderson Cooper and the Anderson Live team!