I Know What It Is to Be Silent
When it comes to domestic violence, I know what’s it’s like to feel alone. Here’s why I decided to use my voice.
Editor’s note: This story contains references to domestic violence. If you have questions or concerns about domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) and find helpful resources on its website at www.thehotline.org.
I never thought that I would experience domestic violence or intimate partner violence. It seemed like something that happened to other people. Weaker people. It happened to me on university property, perpetrated by an ex-boyfriend. I was 20 years old and had recently ended a relationship with S, who was insecure and hell-bent on controlling me. When he stalked and assaulted me, silence felt like the easiest way to get past it, but that’s not how healing works.
Back then, in 2006, I had heard rumors about Whitney Houston and Tina Turner experiencing domestic violence, and I was determined to save myself. One unannounced visit to the office I worked in was fine and a one-off question about my whereabouts was negligible, but I was not prepared to be surveilled. I saw the red flags and ended the relationship. S insisted that we were still together. I firmly said, “Both people have to agree to be in a relationship, and only one person has to decide it’s over.” He was enraged, and I knew I had to stay away from him.
One evening, S blocked the entrance to my residence. With no one around, S physically assaulted me, took my phone and left. When I told a friend what had happened, he insisted that we go to residence security even though I didn’t want to have to tell the story. Security told me they had to call the police. I resisted, again trying to choose silence, but they insisted that they had to do it. I would have preferred and felt safer in silence.
This all came back to me when I read about rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s recent claim of violence perpetrated against her by rapper Tory Lanez. Reportedly, there was an argument and Megan wanted to get out of the vehicle. She claimed she had been shot in both of her feet. When police stopped the vehicle, Megan was injured and was said to have “a cut” on her foot, but she didn’t say she had been shot. She later explained that she was trying to protect Lanez. (Editor’s note: While the name of the person allegedly assaulted was not released, the county’s district attorney office reported in October 2020 that Lanez has been charged with “assaulting a female friend” in the Hollywood Hills, including assault with a firearm, during the time period alleged by Megan.)
I didn’t want to engage the police either. I told them I didn’t want to go to court. They assured me that I would not have to do anything else, and that was true. S was charged, found guilty, given community service and would leave the country immediately upon completion of his program that year. The university offered support services, and I felt guilty and weak for using them. I declined most offers of action that would negatively affect my ex’s academic life. I wanted to be kept safe, and for him to be kept away from me. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to be judged. I wanted to keep my private life private. My silence was both a product and a tool of shame, and it delayed my access to counseling that was critical to my healing.
Having felt the comfort and the betrayal of silence, I now advocate for and support women who are experiencing domestic violence. I know from my own experience and witnessing the experiences of others that survival is constant work and commitment to healing, and I don’t know how people can do it in the public eye. I can, however, refuse to be silent now. I can amplify other people’s voices when they are ready to share their stories and demand justice.
I am a women’s human rights defender, and in 2014 I started Equality Bahamas with a focus on the pervasive issue of gender-based violence. There is no day that I don’t think about violence and discrimination against women, but there are many days that I don’t think about that night outside the university residence, in the dark, out of sight.
I know what it is to be silent, to have none of my peers on my side and to feel completely alone. I know how comfortable it can be to hold a story close and pretend that it never happened or, at the very least, that no one has to know about it. Zora Neale Hurston and Audre Lorde told us, and I am reminded, over and over again, that silence does not protect us. Silence has never protected me. Trying to keep what happened to myself was like a punishment I didn’t deserve. I had to say the words, be told that it wasn’t my fault and feel the support of people around me.
It has always been better to state my discontent, speak my truth and demand justice, even if there is inadequate response. In many cases, people disappoint, but that is not a good enough reason to let them go unchallenged and think they are right. It is better to have tried. To have made the issue known. To have been a warning for someone else. The stories of domestic violence experienced by celebrities showed me the red flags. The broken silence helped me see and break a pattern, and I got free.
Breaking my own silence helped me heal. I can’t hold silence anymore.
Image: Stock photo. Posed by model.