Image of woman with a black eye.
KIakhun wart/ Flickr

On a recent rainy Monday night as I was walking to wherever I can lay my head after a long day of selling Street Sense, I passed a McDonald’s. A lady asked me for some change. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t help you because I’m homeless as well.” As I looked into her green-blue eyes, I saw a bit of myself.

She was a beautiful Italian-Native American. We spoke for a few moments. She was an educated, good-hearted mother of one and a grandmother of two. When she showed me her scars from her ex-boyfriend, it reminded me of my abusive relationships. With great candor, she discussed how she was left for dead under a truck because the ex kicked out all her teeth. The wounds were so severe that her stomach was violently scarred. The next thing she remembered was waking from a coma three days later.

With tears in her eyes, she told me she was dead inside. I told her emphatically that she was NOT dead. “Lady, if you have tears, you have life,” I said. “Woman, you should not be ashamed of your scars. They are battle scars. You are a survivor. Be proud. Keep your head up.”

I am telling this story because the same treatment can happen to any of us. I don’t know the numbers, but many women stay in abusive relationships out of fear–of being homeless, of being alone, of the unknown. The last category is particularly pernicious. Questions such as “what will happen to my children,” “what will my friends think,” and “what about my husband’s career” are hard to answer. However, the most difficult is “after all, I’m nothing without him.” When the abuser says that phrase often enough, the person being abused begins to believe it.

Abuse comes in many forms: mental, physical, emotional, even an extramarital affair. When President Bill Clinton cheated on his wife Hillary and President John F. Kennedy did likewise to his spouse Jackie, I believe it deeply hurt the women. Adultery is mental abuse, which can be as damaging as physical abuse.

So, here I am homeless because of domestic violence. My wounds are so fresh that I am still uncomfortable discussing them. I am doing it because I want to help others avoid what happened to me and the friend I met outside that McDonald’s. Just because a woman is on the streets does not mean she is a street walker. Would anyone want their siblings, their parents or their children treated as I have been?

Make no mistake: domestic violence occurs across gender, race and social class. IT IS NOT JUST A FEMALE ISSUE!