Women of PWN-USA Talk Intimate Partner Violence

by Emili Ema Sedlar

Violence against women is one of the greatest global human rights issues. Throughout the years, many organizations and media outlets have come together and started investigating the lives of many women who have gone through physical, psychological, sexual violence, focusing not only on statistics and perspectives by many researchers, educators and lawyers, but also different personal angles from the brave women themselves.

According to the World Health Organization, violence against women today is still one of the biggest issues regarding women’s human rights. In a global study, one-third of women who reported having been in a relationship also reported having experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime. Looking at further statistics, reported in the Violence against women: an EU-wide survey published by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), in the 28 European Union Member States, 43% of women have in their lifetime experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner.

These numbers are shocking, and not many organizations have done a thorough investigation of violence against women living with HIV specifically. One conducted by Fiona Hale and Marijo Vazquez, published in 2011, Violence Against Women Living with HIV/AIDS: A Background Paper, illustrates the connection between violence and HIV. For example in Tanzania, women living with HIV have identified domestic violence as one of the biggest issues connected to HIV. In that same study, both authors cited a WHO study, in which it states that 20.5% of women living with HIV reported physical abuse because of their status, while in Kenya the number is 19%.

It is shameful how in today’s world of wide access to these kinds of studies and research, many are clueless about the crucial issue of violence, women and HIV, especially because it is a worldwide topic that needs to have global goals on ending violence against women as a whole. However, in order for this to be accomplished, it is vital to educate on the subject of violence and its correlation to women. That means empowering women, listening to them and their stories.

Gina Brown is a 51-year-old mother and grandmother who loves to read and watch cooking shows. For this article, Brown emphasized how she was able to find a way out of her painful struggle of being abused.

“I left my abuser when he attempted to hit me while I was holding my baby. That was the final straw, I didn’t want my daughter experiencing violence (mind you, I have a son who is almost 12 years older than my daughter) although my son had witnessed it for years“, explained Brown.

Gina Brown

Brown added that it was a very long and difficult process for her to open up about her experience of being a survivor of intimate partner violence. However, once she started to talk about her story, she soon realized how much she had helped other women that had felt trapped and lost to reveal their innermost worries and doubts.

“I’ve cried with other women as they recount their abuse, laughed as we spoke about some of our outrageous wishes at that time (I used to wish I could turn into the Incredible Hulk), and encouraged them to seek a professional to help them through the process,” revealed Brown.

In order to talk more about intimate partner violence to the public and media, we should all talk about this issue in non-judgmental ways, according to Brown. “For instance, stop calling women who have or are experiencing IPV victims. We are survivors. We should never speculate why the person stayed, that’s not important, the bigger question is how we can help her/leave/stay gone (if that’s her goal). We have to talk about survivors of IPV or any other trauma, as if we were speaking about our mothers, sisters, or daughters,” concluded Brown.

Tiommi Luckett, a woman of trans experience who is currently the B.L.O.C. Project Coordinator for Positive Women’s Network-USA and the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, agrees with this. Luckett talked about her experience of being a survivor of intimate partner violence, admitting it took a long time before she was able to react. “I was with a man who really took advantage of me because I allowed it to happen for so long. Not only did we argue, but things got physical a few times. That looked like me getting choked into submission. He would force himself on me sexually. He would say hurtful things that really made me question my womanhood,” commented Luckett. 

Tiommi Luckett

This was not the only experience she had gone through. “Because I was raped in my 20s and people learned of it, I felt as though I would never be removed from the trauma I faced. I was attacked in my sleep by someone I was close to, and I questioned myself over and over about what I had done to bring this about,” explained Luckett.

In addition to this, Luckett illustrated how it had been hard for her to talk about her experience out of fear of stigma and pressure. “People in my neighborhood knew and I felt overwhelmingly scrutinized as a result. Years later in my late 30s I was sexually assaulted by a complete stranger, and with much conversation from leaders in the trans community, I filed a police report only for it to never see the light of day. Again, I felt I had done the wrong thing,” recounted Luckett.

Even though many people helped Luckett after she opened up about her experience, there were many who did not. “As a black trans woman, the majority of my black community would never try to understand what my life is like. Honestly, people get so caught up in my looks that they don’t pay attention to my circumstances although I am very vocal about what is going on with me. I can post a photo on social media and get more likes than people I actually know, but when I speak about the truth and hurt I go through, I can count the likes on one hand,” highlighted Luckett.

One of Luckett’s wishes is to help survivors of IPV become more connected. “We are stronger together than we are on our own. I didn’t get through my situation alone although I still tend to isolate in order to avoid dangerous situations. Even in my isolation, I can reach out to countless women who make themselves available,” confirmed Luckett.

Teresa Sullivan head shot
Teresa Sullivan

Teresa Sullivan aids and supports women who are survivors of intimate partner violence. One of her goals is to help women support each other through dialogue and not isolating each other’s feelings and worries. Sullivan herself is a survivor of intimate partner violence and it took her seven years to openly talk about her experience.

It took me some time before I could share my full experience of IPV with others. I needed to heal first and once I was on that path I felt that if I was truly going to heal, then I needed to write about my survival of IPV so other women like me could understand they too are worthy of happiness and free from power and controlling relationships,” explained Sullivan.

Much of the help that Sullivan received after opening up was from PWN-USA and from family members.The advocacy done within the PWN-USA organization increased my skill set and knowledge so as to help other women dealing with the trauma of IPV and begin their healing process. I also received support from my family members who supported me throughout my process. Yes sometimes, I felt like people just did not understand the depths of power and control one may be dealing with in a violent relationship. It was hard to to explain to other people who were not experiencing it or living it day in and day out“, said Sullivan.

Vickie Lynn is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida, College of Public Health, Community and Family Health in which she is specializing in Behavioral Health. 

“I was barely 18 years old when I dated an older man who tried to control every aspect of my life. After a few beatings, bloody noses and black eyes, I left that relationship only to find myself in similar relationships”, described Lynn. Also, Lynn said how substance abuse was her escape from the trauma she had gone through. “When I used substances, I felt nothing, which is how I wanted to live. I went through life without emotion without compassion or hope for myself. I refer to myself during that time as ‘a lost soul,'” added Lynn. 

Vickie Lynn

When talking about intimate partner violence, it is important to highlight how the fear, guilt and stigma is still strong among many of those that have gone through this kind of violence.

Lynn was raped by an acquaintance when she was 16 and had a very difficult time talking about it. “It took almost 20 years before I told anyone, as I always felt it was my fault for letting him in the house. Unfortunately, there are many women who experience trauma but rarely if ever discuss it with anyone,” revealed Lynn.

Likewise, one noticeable issue that goes on with intimate partner violence is blaming the victim, which is exactly why many avoid telling others. Lynn opened up about the difficult struggle she had gone through with the court system, which was not supportive and helpful. “The court system and the authorities are often not designed to actually help women. Some of the policies and procedures alienate survivors and make it almost impossible for women to get help,” pointed out Lynn.

Moreover, one of the most complicated moments for Lynn was when she tried to tell to her mother about the abuse she was going through. “She thought that because the guy had money, I should just ‘deal’ with whatever he did to me. It was not until I showed up at her front door wearing a peach skirt and white blouse covered in blood with a black eye and swollen because he had beat me with a police baton, did she allow me to come back home,” said Lynn.

One of Lynn’s wishes is to let women know, no matter what they have gone through, that they are worthy and valuable. Also, Lynn highlighted how one of the most important prevention efforts is to talk about this issue and helping women and girls by empowering them. Talking about personal experiences is vital and women can help each other by becoming each other’s inspiration in very troublesome times.

She concluded, “It is never too late to change our surroundings and our life and to start fresh. I have been raped; I have been beaten; I contracted HIV; I was homeless; I was close to death; I was addicted to substances, but today I live a much different life, one with courage, love, and hope. I pray for all–may you find your power, your inner strength to become a new healthier you.”