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Survivor Stories

SSLogoThis space will feature the words of actual survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional violence. If you would like to make a submission, please contact thecenter@ru12.org or call us at 802.860.7812.

I experienced a series of violent relationships with men during college just outside the border of Vermont. I was turned off by existing services who claimed to be culturally competent but didn't have the knowledge, resources, or experience to follow through. From then on, I carried a feeling of responsibility to other people who experienced similar violence to make sure they had access to better services. I feel that I am competent and capable of advocating for myself but when I was systematically running into obstacles and heterosexism, I realized there was a pretty significant problem with the way queer survivors are dealt with. I feel privileged to have been invited to work with a really great group of people to create new and innovative services for queer survivors in Vermont.

— Peter Jacobsen
Former SafeSpace board chair

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The following survivor stories are included in the 2000 National Coalition Domestic Violence Report. To read the full report please visit www.avp.org

When Tara and I began dating, it was with the understanding that we might eventually consider a committed relationship. Before doing that, I wanted time to make sure that I was making the best decision. Even though Tara had agreed to these terms initially, she put a lot of pressure on me to decide. When I did, I learned that Tara was dating someone else and I felt very betrayed. When I talked to her about it, Tara even denied that we had been dating. She pushed me against the sofa and, out of fear, I attempted to leave. Tara pulled me back down, wouldn’t let me leave, and screamed about how crazy I was.

— Charlene, 32, female, lesbian, woman of color, disability, urban
NEW YORK

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I’ve been with my partner, Rhonda, for three years. Our relationship is very deep, often in ways that I’ve never experienced before. All of my friends envy me. I have asthma and sometimes have to stay in the hospital. Rhonda is the only one who has ever been there for me.

There’s also a crazy side to our relationship and some wild fights. The last time we fought, Rhonda chased me up the fire escape with a knife. I escaped by climbing down the fire escape on another building.

Rhonda calls me at work all day. I have a new job and have to keep covering to make it look like clients are calling. She knows that. Some days I’m so nervous, I have a hard time doing my job. And whenever I see a car like Rhonda’s, my heart skips. I worry all the time.

Rhonda served time but she won’t tell me what she served time for. She told me that she’s killed before. I don’t know if it’s true but I feel trapped. I never thought it would be like this with a woman.

The NYC Anti-Violence Project helped me to think about how to stay safe when I’m with Rhonda. They also told me about domestic violence shelters and Orders of Protection. I keep a log at work just in case, and I even have the name of a domestic violence police officer who I can call.

As a woman of color and a lesbian, I don’t really want to take this to the police if I can handle it myself but it helps to know that there are people who understand and don’t minimize it because my partner is a woman.

— Betty, 25, female, lesbian, white, urban
SAN FRANCISCO

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I had sex reassignment surgery a year ago and recently relocated to this area to attend school. I started dating Tom a week after arriving here. My English was limited and I had no friends in the States so I looked to Tom for emotional support. He was very gentle and loving and told me, “I will always love you for the woman you are.” He was also very supportive of my educational goals and offered to help with my tuition costs. A month after we’d known each other, I moved in with him. That’s when the violence began.

Tom told me that I cared more about my classes and homework than I did about him and that I would quit school if I really loved him. I stayed in school and he began calling me “he-she”, “it”, and “boy.” He also said that he would tell others that I was born male if I ever tried to break up with him. I was frightened of how my classmates and supervisor at work would treat me if they knew I was transgender. After all, my own parents told me that I was no longer their child because I’m transgender.

I told Tom that I would try harder to be a better girlfriend. I began to clean the house, make all of the meals, and give my paychecks to him. I also began to skip classes to keep Tom pacified. I never thought he would physically hurt me. One evening, however, I came home to find Tom drunk and playing with a gun. He pointed the gun at me, yelled and berated me, and told me that he was going to kill me. I tried to leave the apartment but Tom chased me to the door, locked it, grabbed and choked me. I passed out. When I gained consciousness, he was raping me. He called me names then beat me unconscious.

The next morning, Tom apologized and told me he loved me so much that he couldn’t help himself. He promised he’d never hurt me again. I eventually escaped after developing a safety plan with my counselor and relocated to another state. I haven’t heard from Tom and pray that he never finds me.

— Ana, 25, Transgender, female, heterosexual, South American immigrant.
CHICAGO

* * *

I called the crisis line after my partner told me, “I’m going to find your daughter and rape her. That’s what you get for fucking with me.” I had left my partner, Derrick, after ten years of emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse. I’d been a prisoner in my own home.

When I met Derrick, I owned my own company and condominium and was doing very well. I had joint custody of my daughter and shared every other weekend with her. After being with Derrick for a year, my success evaporated. Derrick would hit me for no reason, make me sleep on the bathroom floor, force me to have unsafe nonconsensual sex with strangers (he wouldn’t allow me to use condoms), and would yell at and hit my daughter.

When I tried to reason with Derrick and plead for my daughter’s safety and mine, the violence escalated. I eventually became HIV positive after being raped by the men that Derrick brought into our home. Derrick stabbed me several different times but I usually didn’t go to the hospital for treatment of my wounds. The one time that I did go to the emergency room, Derrick told the doctors that I was clumsy and that I had cut myself while preparing dinner.

I became increasingly fearful for my daughter’s life as well as my own. I told my ex-wife that our daughter could no longer visit but I couldn’t explain why to her—Derrick would have killed me. She went to court and was granted full custody. Derrick didn’t permit me to go to court that day and told me that I didn’t deserve to be there.

We had numerous friends who saw my black eyes, cuts, bruises and the silence. One of them confronted Derrick and Derrick refused to speak to him again. Derrick continued to reduce our social life until we were totally isolated and only had each other —exactly the way he wanted it.

I lost my six-figure income, my condo, my daughter and my health. Derrick and I continue to live together in public housing but I can’t leave because I’m afraid that he’ll kill my daughter and make my life a living hell. I’m in therapy now and working on a safety plan. I can’t leave Derrick until I know that my daughter will be safe.

— James, 36, male, gay (not out), African American, urban
CHICAGO

* * *

I met Robert while I was on vacation in Los Angeles. Robert was handsome, charming, and swept me off my feet. We ended up spending every single minute together that I was in California. After I returned home, Robert and I talked on the phone twice a day.

I flew back to L.A. the following month and spent several days with him. He was drinking a lot at that time and had just lost his job because he was drinking at work. He told me, however, that he lost the job because his boss was homophobic and I felt a lot of anger at the “system” for doing that to him. Because he had nothing to keep him in L.A. anymore, he returned to Boston with me. He told me that he wanted to be with me, couldn’t imagine living his life without me, and that he was madly in love with me. I thought it was too soon for us to live together but I felt flattered by everything he said and we ended up moving in together.

We started fighting a lot. Robert got mad at ridiculous things and then I discovered that he was cheating on me. I confronted him and asked him to leave. Instead of leaving, he hit me and said, “Don’t you ever tell me to leave this house!” The next day, he apologized and promised he’d never hit me again.

For the next two years, Robert beat me up on several occasions and finally broke my jaw. A week later, he knocked me into the wall so hard that I needed stitches in my head. I got a restraining order against him the following day. He called to apologize three days after it had been served. He was being so nice that I let him back into the house and, as soon as he was inside, he became abusive again. He broke the dishes and called me a “faggot spic.” I called the police and they arrested him.

Later, Robert called me from the police station and said that since I got him arrested, I should bail him out. I did bail him out but I didn’t let him come home with me. Several days later, I returned to court to request a year’s extension on the restraining order. Even though the judge told Robert that he would be arrested again if he came near me, he kept calling and asking that I forgive him and take him back. Hoping that he’d changed, I let him back in the house a couple of times but he was violent each time. Two months ago, I visited my family in Puerto Rico. When I returned to Boston, I heard that Robert had moved back to the West Coast. I hope he really did. I’m getting phantom hang-up calls at least once a day from anonymous numbers and I fear that it might be him.

— Javier, 34, male, gay, Latino, urban
BOSTON

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Laura and I met just as I had finally managed to extricate myself from my abusive partner, Margo. Laura and I became friends and fell in love. In fact, it was Laura who actually protected me from physical assault by Margo as I gathered my remaining belongings from the home that Margo and I had shared. I felt eternally grateful to Laura for her protection of me from my violent ex-lover.

The first six months with Laura were full of romance and relief but as we entered the end of our first year together, Laura became controlling about where I went and with whom. She was especially threatened by my relationship with my mother and sister and began to make outrageous demands. She insisted that I cut a one-week vacation with my family short because she said she was having a mental and emotional breakdown (which began the day I left for vacation).

Laura also made frequent suicide threats and I began to feel emotionally stressed. Although I barely had any energy left for my job and home, I overlooked it thinking that I could make Laura’s life easier with the power of my love and dedication. In addition to her controlling behaviors, Laura was the most compassionate, wise, spiritual person I’d ever met. She was also a political activist and frequently spoke to the public about queer rights, gender issues and same-sex domestic violence. This made me feel secure and I told myself that Laura was someone who wouldn’t hurt me.

During the second year that Laura and I were together, she told me that she had always felt like she was in the wrong gender-body and was considering transitioning. I felt completely supportive. I loved Laura very much and her happiness was important to me.

I spent the next couple of years transitioning in my own way as I examined my beliefs about gender politics. I accompanied Laura "now called Larry" to support groups and various functions in the transgender community. By the time Larry began testosterone shots, I had completely accepted my partner as Larry and was grateful to be a part of the process with him.

Larry’s moods began to fluctuate more frequently and he began to take his periodic rage out on me more and more. He intimidated me, yelled and threw tantrums to scare me.

At the same time, Larry was constantly struggling to maintain his job and rented room. He began having health issues and underwent several surgeries. He also began taking strong prescription medication for chronic pain relief. These events pulled me even closer to him and I didn’t want to leave him in such a vulnerable state. I had hardly any time for myself, my friends or family, however, because Larry demanded that I spend all of my free time with him. I hung on hoping that things would change.

During our sixth year together, Larry shoved me to the floor so hard that I bruised my back. We tried breaking up several times but were never apart for more than several months at a time. We saw a couple’s counselor who recommended that Larry attend an anger management group but he never followed through. I lived in fear of Larry and his constant abuse. I cried a lot and he would apologize or tell me to get over it and stop being afraid.

When Larry left for five months of travel, I began to regain a sense of myself again. Just as I was beginning to feel good, he came back to town. He intimidated me into a six month trial run of living together. Several months later, I was so depressed that I was barely able to function.

All I did was work and take care of Larry who spent most days at home getting high and watching television. When I planned a vacation for myself, he exploded. I was, once again, afraid all the time.

One day, Larry shoved me down the stairs and pushed me out the front door of our building. At other times, he would block my path if I attempted to leave. He stole my keys and locked me in a room. Once, when I told him that I was going to call the police, he pulled the phone out of the wall and said he would kill himself and me before any police came to our house.

I left one night and stayed at a hotel in another city then moved in with a family member. He found me and starting stalking my family members and me. I filed for a restraining order, which was very difficult since Larry had helped me out of my last abusive relationship and because he was a speaker and educator about domestic violence.

I obtained help through a local group for lesbian survivors of domestic violence. The group has given me the honesty and courage to stay out of denial. I am happy to be alive and committed to not entering another abusive relationship.

— Janet, 35, female lesbian, white, urban
SAN FRANCISCO

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