“Get out of my room!” he screamed at me.
I said nothing, except for knocking down his video tapes. It was at this point he charged me, and knocked me to the ground. I used my will and all my strength to fight back while trying to escape his apartment.
I finally escaped and walked down what felt like the hallway of shame. It was one of the longest walks I ever took. Once at home, I closed the dark brown wooden door behind me, and walked towards my mirror.
I stared into the mirror but a different image was looking back. It wasn’t me.
I saw a young woman with hair out of her head and blood and bruises on her face. When I finally realized that image was me, I started to cry. I cried about all the pain that was inside my past, and started to connect what had just happened to me with former abuse that was in my household.
Violence occurs in cycles, especially when it comes down to domestic violence. Domestic violence will continue until we, as a society, stop expecting that the victims should be the only people stopping this violence.
Children and youth who grow up in households facing domestic violence are more likely to emulate this violence.
Dating violence is more prevalent in Washington, D.C. than New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Diego. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, D.C. has the highest rate of teen dating violence in the country. Children who grow up in abusive households are more likely to repeat this pattern of abuse in their first dating relationships.
For me as well, the abuses in my household were interconnected to my domestic violence situation.
I cried for what seemed like hours, maybe even days. When I finally I came to, I remembered I had a meeting for work. I was so embarrassed to call my work to tell them what had happened, and was planning on saying that I was sick.
When I called a co-worker, an outpour of tears flooded my thoughts, and I couldn’t speak. She listened to me, and I finally stated, “My boyfriend hit me.” The next thing I knew, she was knocking on my apartment door to make sure I was fine.
I cried with her, and told her what I could verbalize. She supported me in doing whatever I needed. In fact, she told me about one of her friends who ran a Protective Restraining Order Clinic. She provided me resources and emotional support. When I was asked to do a spoken word piece based on my experience with abuse and Intimate partner violence at V-day San Francisco 2002, she was there in the audience supporting me.
On that day, I learned that the V stood for Validation. That validation led me to call the cops and start filing my case. In 2006, the number of domestic-related crime calls in the United States was 29,000. In 2005, the Metropolitan Police Department received over 27,000 domestic-related crime calls – one every 19 minutes–an increase of 22 percent over the past three years.
Validation is very important to all domestic violence survivors and their experiences. Many times we are told by our police, workplaces, and families that our matters are ‘lovers quarrels’, and ‘that it’s our fault’.
When we choose to speak out and decide to escape our situations, the most important thing is to be validated by the people and institutions we tell our stories to. That validation is strong enough to lead to an abuse-free world.
Validation first starts with supporting our survivors’ ability to take paid time off from work to take care of their security. Often, survivors need to take time off to get a restraining order, go to court, attend counseling, and for their very safety.
Many survivors, frequently women, are not validated by their workplaces and have been fired by their jobs. In fact, 98 percent of employed victims of domestic violence encounter problems at work (including losing their jobs) as a result of the violence. Most companies have no idea how to validate domestic violence survivors through their human resource polices. Less than 30 percent of businesses in the United States have a formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence, even though seventy-eight percent of human resource directors identified domestic violence as a substantial employee problem.
It is ironic that as a society we tell our survivors to leave their situations, but we don’t provide them with the tools in which to do so, and we condemn them as they take leave to care for their safety.
After experiencing domestic violence, I would have flashbacks of the violence, and would many times be scared to leave my apartment. I was not alone. Thirty-one to 84 percent of domestic violence victims exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms across varied samples of clinical studies, shelter, hospitals, and community agencies. It was important for me to take the time off to mentally and physically recover as well as to look for a therapist.
In current proposed legislation, the Paid Sick and Safe Days Act of 2007, any employee in the District of Columbia would be able to take a paid sick and safe day. A ‘safe’ day would apply to a victim that has experienced stalking, sexual assault, or intimate partner violence. A victim of domestic violence would be able to seek out shelter, file a restraining order, or receive counseling without losing employment.
The U.S. General Accounting Office found that 24 to 53 percent of domestic violence victims lose their jobs due to domestic violence. This bill would enable all survivors to seek services and resources to keep them safe while sustaining their employment. Maintaining steady employment for many survivors is what prevents many from going back to their abusers.
If it was not for the understanding of my two part-time jobs of allowing me to take time off when needed, I might have gone back to my abuser. I might have never fought for my domestic violence case to get picked up by the District Attorney. I might have struggled to find food to eat.
Paid sick and safe days are crucial to not only a victim’s health and our children’s health, but to our society’s health.
Mari Villaluna is the legal and policy associate for D.C. Employment Justice Center, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation