RHIA STEELE photograph

Open Letter on Domestic Violence by Rhia Steele

If you were to see me walking down your local street, or in the market, you would never realize that I am a survivor. A survivor, of epidemic proportions in the United States. The physical scars have long since healed, yet the mental and emotional scars upon my heart are there. In some ways they will always remain deep inside of me. You see, I am a lucky woman. For I am a survivor of 17 years of domestic violence. I am one of the fortunate ones, but just this past week here in the state of Washington, one young woman, only 29 years old, with a young child only two, was not fortunate at all. As she had reached out for help, from the law, friends and family, less than 24 hours later, in front of her young child, she died at the hands of her abuser, her husband.

Those who have never suffered physical, mental, and emotional abuse, often wonder "Why we stay"? Well, there are many answers to that question. We stay because we are terrified if we try and leave we will die. We stay due to in some way we feel "We deserve it". We stay for our children, out of shame, out of fearing no one will believe us. We stay because we feel there is no other place to go. We stay because we know if we call out for help and the police come, they will only leave with the reply, until something happens there is little the laws can do. Not until something horrible happens like the death of this young woman in Washington is there little victims of abuse can truly do.

I stayed for 17 years for many of the same reasons most do. Fear of being killed, fear for our children, fear no one believes us, feeling like I deserved it, shame and the whole gamut of emotions that take over. We often go into denial, thinking we can change the abuser. If we love them more, do more, change our selves, that we can make them love us, and quit hurting us. But that denial is false. We are not responsible, we cannot heal them from the sickness that plagues them, we can only get out, hide, change our entire lives, and hope they do not stalk and find us again. For if they do, we are certainly doomed.

I often tell my story, not for glory, or for sympathy, but so other women, men and children who may be in an abusive situation can see there is hope, there is a way out, and we are worth far more than being hit, tortured, mentally and emotionally devoured by the violence of another.

You see, even though I was lucky enough to escape the abuse of my ex-husband, the scars within my soul stay. The night terrors haunt me almost nightly, the thoughts of him finding me are real. I suffer from Post Traumatic Shock, anxiety, and feelings the go up and down at times, from the past pain and fear, I lived in for years. After almost being killed on several occasions, hundreds of calls to 911, restraining orders, hiding so many nights, and then even leaving the state, at first most people that knew me thought I was the one with the problem. They could not understand why I left my home, why I hid out many times, why I stayed home so many days from my job, and all of the other things victims of abuse do. For my abuser, was and still is a grand manipulator. He led everyone to believe in public he was a sweet, caring husband and Father. Even my parents were deceived for years by his lies and cover-ups. I was too ashamed and afraid to tell a soul, so beneath the shadows of fear, I hid also, all of the pain deep inside. I shut down my emotions, to just survive.

Now after almost 6 years of being out of that nightmare, I live with the left over pain, mentally and emotionally. But, I am alive. I have dealt with man of the issues, and now my own family and friends finally know the truth. My relationships with my parents, other relatives and friends, now have healed for they found out all of my odd actions were to save my own life, and the life of my two children. For that I am blessed. I am blessed now to be able to finally love myself, and have someone that loves me back in the way I deserve. But still the battle scars affect even my wonderful relationship at times, just due to things that sometimes trigger old memories and pain.

Today, after a strong burden on my heart, I write this email. I know I am only one person, but something deep inside of me says I need to make a difference. Our laws are still not nearly enough to protect victims of domestic abuse, as I and this state knows from just the past death of a young woman this week. All she tried, the system failed her, and her child. Until her death, basically he was free to continue to reign his wrath of violence upon her, and her life was needlessly taken, leaving a small child with a Mother or Father, due to our legal system and no laws strong enough against this plague. Domestic violence I know kills more women in the U.S. in a year than cancer and heart attacks. Many of these needless deaths probably go not noticed and covered up by the abuser.

I feel I need to fight! Fight for the victims still out there, for new laws, tougher punishments, BEFORE someone has to die!

I have began by emailing friends and family, and posting my intentions to some groups I belong to. I have started making a list of things I can do, such as design a website, get a non-profit grant, email newspapers, other support groups, TV News stations, to get more awareness out there about this horrific and most of the time hidden epidemic that plagues so many of us. I am asking for information, suggestions, ideas and help. From petitions to help change laws, or any information or ideas you can send me, I feel the need to open more eyes and ears to what is right in front of our faces, from the next door neighbor, to a co-worker.

I urge you to take a good look around, search deep in your heart, and email me back any ideas, help or suggestions you have to help me with this most valuable and needed cause, TO STOP DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BEFORE IT KILLS!!!!

With my honor, best wishes, and appreciation,

Rhia Steele

copyright 2005, Ria Steele

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