Living with domestic violence: A survivor recalls her experience

When I was 12, my mom married a man she had known less than a year. He came into our lives laughing and full of life and left our lives like the grim reaper.

October is the national month for Domestic Violence Awareness, and so I want to share my story to offer hope to those who may be experiencing something like this.

I remember the first time like it is burned into my mind. He came in the house upset that someone had put some glass bottles in the burn barrel. As he started lecturing us, he began taking dishes out of the cabinets and smashing them on the kitchen floor one by one. It started with broken dishes, but he was soon breaking my mom’s bones. He broke her hand. He broke her glasses so that she couldn’t see to leave. He disabled our station wagon so that we couldn’t escape in the middle of the night.

And after each incident, he returned bearing gifts and excuses that somehow my mom believed. My mom would tell us never again, but she couldn’t leave him. Not yet. My mom had two master’s degrees and was a social worker for Child Protective Services.

The fear and isolation that I felt will always be with me. Late nights when my schoolmates were fast asleep in their safe homes, we were hiding outside, trying to get away to a motel. I kept a bag packed and under my bed in case the time was ever right to leave. I always hoped for that day.

Our home was full of screaming and violence. Why didn’t the neighbors ever call the police? They must have heard something. I would scream for help as loud as I could, but they never came. No one ever came.

So one day, when my mom was screaming and then suddenly stopped, my brother and I got up the courage to kick in the door to my mom’s bathroom. He was trying to stick a towel down her throat to stop her from screaming. My brother pulled out his survival knife from behind his back — the kind some boys have with a compass and place to keep dry matchsticks — and told him that he would kill him if he didn’t stop. My stepfather walked away and left, but he came back again. We had been living with him for two years.

Finally one day we came home, and he was out behind the house. He had his gun. My mom told us to stay in the house, and she went back into the woods. She found him there with his shotgun, threatening to kill himself.  Someone finally came, and they took him to an inpatient hospital. He was there long enough for my mom to finally break free.

We are OK now. I’m strong. But no child should have to experience that fear. No child should grow up with violence. No child should have to see a man beating her mom.

If you know someone who is hurting a woman, if you know a child who is facing this fear, speak up and do something. Here on Vashon Island, I helped to start the DoVE Project. It provides help for those who are survivors. We are not victims; we are survivors. But we cannot survive without help. More than anything, this project needs your donation to keep going. We have a shoestring budget that is dwindling quickly away. We need help.

Three fundraisers are planned in the upcoming weeks to support the DoVE Project. On Oct. 21, we will host a one-woman comedy on misogyny, “Eve Was Framed,” at the Red Bicycle. On Nov. 4, we will host an event for men to share their songs and words on domestic violence, “Voices Against Violence — the White Ribbon Campaign,” also at the Bike. And on Nov. 10, we will show a film at the Vashon Theater called “A Lot Like Me” — a documentary that tells the story of one woman’s journey to explore her father’s culture, but finds that the violence against women in Tanzania was the real story that needed to be told.

You will also see the Island adorned with purple lights this month. Vashon is participating this year in Purple Light Nights, a national domestic violence awareness campaign in which businesses and residents shine a purple light in their doorsteps or windows in opposition to domestic violence. I imagine the lights as beacons giving hope to the survivors who may be afraid to leave and just need to know that we are there for them. I also believe the bulbs are shining on the perpetrators like an interrogation light that says, “We are watching.” You can get your lights at Vashon Youth & Family Services or at the Chamber of Commerce.

I spent two years with a monster in my home. If I can save one child from that experience, it is worth all the money I could possibly give to charities this year. Please come to these events and open your wallet for this important cause.


— Allison Shirk, a grant writer, is one of the founders of the DoVE project.

For more information about DoVE or to make a donation, visit www.vyfs.org.

The three fundraisers planned in support of the project include:

“Eve Was Framed,” a one-woman comedic show on misogyny, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at the Red Bicycle.

Voices Against Violence – the White Ribbon Campaign, an event where men will share their songs and words on domestic violence, at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at the Red Bicycle.

“A Lot Like Me,” a documentary showing at the Vashon Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10.


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