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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

International Woman's Day Speech

Hello, for those of you who don’t know me already, my name is Valerie Douglas and I’m the author of five traditionally published and 21 independently published novels. Two of which deal with domestic violence.
All of you with pink post-its please stand up. 1 in 9. That’s the number of people who’ll face domestic violence this year.
(Fire the popper.)
One of you is dead.
Statistically you’re one of the 4,000 people who will die annually from domestic violence. Depending on who’s counting anywhere from 3-9 people die daily.
Thank you. You can sit down again.
International Woman's Day Award
All those with yellow please stand up. …. 1 in 3 - That’s the number of people each of us knows who experience domestic violence. If it isn’t you, then it may be someone else at the table. One thing is certain - if you didn’t  think you knew anyone who was a victim, you know two now. Not all those who experience domestic violence are straight out of the TV show Cops, it cuts across all socio-economic levels. Recently I was watching TV and they had an advocate for programs about rape and domestic violence on. I kept waiting for her to mention Domestic Violence, but neither she nor the host did.
Oh, someone asked me what my qualifications were for giving this talk – more than the advocate, who is just an actor. She’s never actually experienced it.  I experienced it and rape as well.  That’s not uncommon, to have suffered multiple versions of sexual assault, and abusers often take advantage of that vulnerability. “No one else will ever hurt you.” Well, no one besides them.
Back to the TV program – so I waited to have them mention domestic violence. Not just for those who experience it as adults but for those who face it as teens. About 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age. Many of whom are vulnerable and struggling to define themselves. Look at the message the media sends young women and young men about their bodies and value.
As pervasive as domestic violence is, not one mention was made of it on that show except “to learn more about…” at the end of the program. That lack of mention is fairly common – rape is easy to explain and there’s a clear victim. Domestic violence is a little more complicated.
You need more and better information, especially if you’re in the process of becoming a victim. Notice I said becoming. Because once you are, you probably won’t be able to gain that access.
Books about domestic violence come in two varieties – psychological and, increasingly, fiction. I did a search of books about domestic violence on-line and was startled to see by one of the covers that it was clearly a romance. There are a lot of romance novels out there with an abuse subtext, even unintentionally.
How many of you took your kids to see the Twilight series? Or like it yourself? Show of hands, please.
It’s almost a primer for becoming a victim of domestic violence. She is portrayed as having low self-esteem and unable to comprehend Edward's love for her. He’s lies to her, disappears, and she accepts it. The unspoken message is that she’s nothing without him.
Increasingly, boys are facing the same body image and abuse problems…if they don’t become an abuser themselves. He gets the message, too. Either he’s a victim or the one with the power.
After a while, the person who experiences domestic violence begins to make excuses for his behavior. "He can be sweet and gentle."
And abusers can be charming. How many admired Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee who ran in the Olympics? I know I did. Now it’s coming out that he liked guns and was ‘an angry boyfriend’ according to an old girlfriend.
For many it sets the pattern for all their relationships. It becomes an ego thing.
“If this person would only love me then I must be lovable.”
Having had their self-esteem shattered by abuse, they’re constantly seeking that affirmation from the outside rather than the inside.
Oh, and 50 Shades? It started out as fan fiction – a sort of knockoff – of Twilight.
How many of you would think to question a bruise? The ‘they walked into a door’ syndrome. Many abusers are smarter than that they know or have learned the hard way, to hit the places you can’t see. Boxers know to go after the kidneys and breadbasket – the gut. And then there are the guns.
As for the books, most abusers are also financial bullies, and they keep track of every cent. Can you imagine the reaction an abuser would have to his victim purchasing a book on domestic violence?
Many victims of domestic violence, escape into poverty. Statistically people give more to pet shelters than domestic violence shelters.
Why?
Because most people silently blame the victim.
“Why would someone like you get involved with someone like that?”
Sheesh, it’s not like he had a big red A tattooed on his forehead…although that’s not a bad idea come to think of it. Like many, my ex was charming, handsome and from a good family. You wouldn’t see him as the stereotypical guy on Cops.
We should all know by now that domestic violence doesn’t start with a slap or a punch. It starts with little things, the occasional negative comment. The argument that ends with him pounding on a table or punching a wall.  But we don’t.
Leaving isn’t easy either. Many victims don’t have access to bank accounts or charge cards. I had been saving to go to college, when I left I discovered he’d emptied the joint account into a personal account. He’d also sold my car.
It’s like they have a sixth sense that you’re thinking about it, and, unless you contact a shelter, where to find you.
Leaving means losing your home, leaving behind the children’s toys, if there are children. For many, they run to their parents or a friend’s house. Or, as one man did this last Christmas, he arranged to meet his ex-wife and her friend to exchange papers. The friend is dead. So is the husband. Shot in front of his kids and ex.
The next question is “Why do they go back?”
Because many do, for a variety of reasons.
First, there’s that validation thing – maybe he really does love me, maybe he will change. And then there’s the poverty for many, being dependent on family or friends. There are also the guns. My ex went to the pastor who married us and convinced the pastor to arrange a meeting with me. What the pastor didn’t know was that my ex came armed and was quite prepared to shoot anyone who got in his way. So I went back.
After I escaped again, and went into hiding, I wanted answers, particularly to one question. “Why?”
So, I researched. If there are any maxims for writers they are these – research and write. Once you reach 100,000 words you can consider yourself an expert and a writer. By that standard I’m an expert.
That research came in handy when I finally decided to write a book about my experiences.
A few things I knew – I wanted to use accurate information and I wanted to get that information out in an entertaining manner. It also wouldn’t be strictly a romance unlike the movie Sleeping with the Enemy – which was wrong in so many ways. Trust is an issue many of those who’ve gone through domestic violence have to deal with. And PTSD. After living for months and sometimes years with fear and sometimes outright terror, many suffer nightmares, have an exaggerated startle reflex – you don’t want to sneak up on me – anxiety, avoidance of triggers and anger or depression. Classic symptoms of PTSD. Having Domestic Violence ingrained, it often takes therapy to deal with those issues and to learn not to repeat the cycle with someone else.

No one talks about that much.
I also wanted to show someone who not just lived through it, but lived through it and thrived. So that’s what I wrote.
The person who called me to ask me about my qualifications wondered why there was nothing on my home page about domestic violence.
If new information comes up, I have and do post it there, but only rarely do I say I experienced it myself.
Why?
Because of those bloody questions, for one thing.
For another, I didn’t want to be defined. I hate labels. Society loves them. Everyone can then put you in a neat mental cubbyhole.
You may have noticed that I haven’t used the words survivor or victim. Survivor – what other choice was there? (The games of Russian roulette were happening more often.) Victim – an unfortunate person who lives with some affliction.
I’m neither. I still remember the night I decided to redefine myself, and not in terms of victimhood. Domestic violence is something I experienced. It’s not who I am or what society says I am.
We have to stop allowing society to define who we are and define ourselves. Get rid of the labels. If you survived domestic violence you’re not weak, you were strong enough to end it. You’re alive.
Define yourself.

The Last Resort is available for $3.99. 20% of all sales go to domestic violence shelters.