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Why I AM a Domestic Violence Cyber Advocate

by Carissa Daniels

I have had people ask why I care so much about social justice issues. Why did I work for Bernie Sanders presidential campaign when I was already “so busy,” and why do I do the work I do for domestic violence, homelessness, poverty issues and the environment. This will help people understand why I do what I do.

I am

a single mom of a grown daughter

a nontraditional student — a senior at University

Majoring in communications with a minor in film

I am

a voice for those who have no voice

Who cannot speak because their lives were taken

who exist in a broken shell.

Those who were abused, raped, left prisoner in their own mind,

and those who were

murdered by someone who said he “loves” them

I am

a Survivor

of domestic violence

sexual assault

and child abuse

but I am much more.

I am

Strong

Powerful

Protective

Persistant

and

a Resistor

Nearly 19 years ago, I was forced into a situation that no one wants.

My relationship of 8 years exploded into violence, and I was ordered to leave my own home, and leave behind the daughter who was my miracle child.

I was broken

But I refused to abandon my child.

The one I nearly died to have. Multiple times over.

Hell would have frozen over before I could have left her,

the child the doctors told me was “impossible” for me to have.

And so I put a few things in a small suitcase, grabbed her and her diaper bag,

put them into the stroller and walked out the door,

and left the rest behind.

I spent four months as a resident of the labyrinth of underground shelters

where those of us whose lives have been threatened with death, survive.

Scurrying in the corners to stay hidden during daylight.

Hurrying to get back behind closed doors where we can be safe.

Safety is a concept that you never really think about

unless it is threatened

at which time it takes on a whole new meaning.

I was safe behind those doors, until a shelter broke protocol

and forced me to get an order of protection,

which meant he was served with papers.

All he had to do to find us was to

come to court with his big bucks attorney.

Funny how he never had money for milk or a high chair for the baby

but he coughed up thousands to get even with me for leaving.

His slimy attorney served me with a ream of papers about three inches thick

gleefully singing “you’ve been served!”

My fragile world crumbled in that moment.

The legal advocate who was with me took one look at the papers

saw “custodial interference” …

I was accused of kidnapping my own child…

to keep her safe.

He didn’t want to pay child support, and he didn’t want me in their lives.

My goal was never to keep her from him

only to make sure that contact was done in a safe way

for all of us.

And so began several years of trips back and forth to court,

fighting tooth and nail to keep my daughter

and stay safe.

After those four months underground, I started over in a place we knew no one.

Climbing out of the pit one broken finger nail at a time.

Healing, fighting in court, working to create a new life

When it wasn’t safe for my daughter to do visitation with him alone,

the therapist said I needed to go with

since there was no one else.

He threatened to drive us into Puget Sound,

while we sat in the car

his foot lightly on the brake,

inches from the water.

When I saw his foot shift

I undid my seatbelt

and started climbing over the seat to get to my daughter.

When he saw I didn’t get out,

he put his foot back on the brake and

backed up without a word

and took us back to the drop off point.

It was the last time we saw him

but not the last time we heard from him.

He was trained by the government

and is an expert at psychological warfare

and evasion.

Because he is a computer genius

I had fears that he could use that medium to find us

so I avoided having a computer online in my home,

knowing that it could be possible for him to harass or even track us online.

I’ve watched him hack into supposedly unhackable places in the past.

It wasn’t until about nine years after leaving that we took the plunge,

getting online to seek support for what was still a very scary situation.

I had been trained as a domestic violence victim advocate

through a local shelter

but couldn’t work there because of health problems.

I was seeking support and help myself,

but ended up using my experiences and my knowledge to help others

in what was then a whole new kind of social media forum.

Answering a single letter turned into thousands…

too much for one person to handle.

With the support of the expert who trained me as a shelter advocate,

I trained the first

domestic violence cyber-advocate,

a whole new kind of support system.

Part crisis counselor, part resources and referral person,

part cheerleader and mom;

with the goal of making sure people had the help they needed 24/7.

What happened in the group is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

I helped someone, who helped someone, who helped someone else.

It was the most powerful thing in the world.

Changing lives,

and saving them.

I knew I had found my passion in helping others, but it took a while to figure out exactly

how I would use my skills long term.

My daughter, meanwhile, was growing up.

Once she turned 18, I could legally speak out without fear of losing custody.

Just about that time, I got a phone call from the

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, wondering if I would be willing to share my story at a press conference called by Senator Patty Murray,

who was working on the

reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

I spoke up, and my daughter was there with me, recording everything on video.

Our world has never been the same.

I was invited to Washington DC to testify before Congress on the issue

but had no money to travel.

Senator Cantwell asked my permission to share my story on the floor of the

United States Senate, during debate on Violence Against Women Act.

I sat at school at the computer lab, with silent tears streaming down my face,

watching the closed circuit television online, as my story became part of the public record…

part of history.

I never dreamed when I walked out that door fifteen years earlier that one day that would be me.

Growing up and later living in abuse,

I was told that one person cannot make a difference.

They lie because they don’t want us to know how powerful we can be.

I did not know that there was a lioness in my heart

waiting for the right moment to

emerge.

They say that every person gets 15 minutes of fame.

My life isn’t about that.

It’s about using my gift of communication to the best of my ability,

educating as many people as I can, about the life and death realities that victims,

mostly women

face behind closed doors

living in poverty and fear.

It’s about creating the changes we need

to stop the bloody epidemic

that keeps cutting down some of the best and brightest.

Protective parents and kids.

Gone in a heartbeat, or with agonizing slowness.

Leaving a hole that no one else can fill.

We have no idea who we have lost:

a researcher who could cure cancer,

an emissary of peace who could bring the Middle East together?

If by walking the halls of congress, and meeting with legislators,

testifying at hearings and press conferences, and working with the media

I can make a dent in this

it will have been worth it.

I was disabled many years ago in a nearly fatal car crash

before my daughter was in the picture.

At the time, I was a singer-songwriter

getting ready to go full-time in my music.

The experts told me it was just a matter of time

till I had a hit.

We didn’t know that instead of a platinum, mine would be a pickup truck.

Striking me from behind,

shoving my little Mustang forward and sideways

into the car in front of me and

into the headlights of oncoming traffic.

For a long time, I wondered why I didn’t die in the crash.

What was the point of my still being here, since I couldn’t do the one thing I had lived and breathed for since I was five years old.

My whole world was pain.

I found my answer in the most difficult experience of my life.

Harder even than trying to survive in abject poverty after the wreck,

Unable to support myself due to major health challenges.

Leaving the person I had loved,

becoming homeless

struggling to stay

alive,

was part of a much greater plan.

I knew within a couple of years of getting out that one day I would be helping others

to survive and to heal

to build new lives and success

after pain, abuse and more.

I just didn’t exactly know how.

If someone had told me what was to be, I would never have believed them.

You just never know what is meant to be.

Today I hold 3 National, 1 Elite International Lifetime, and 5 State titles in communication skill based competition. I use the opportunities given by competing to educate and work for change. The crown and banner are part of my work clothes,

Opening doors to places I couldn’t go otherwise.

Enabling me to meet people who wouldn’t talk to me without my regalia.

Rhinestones and satin break down barriers.

Many of them know my story because they have read it in the paper, or online,

or seen me on television or heard me on the radio.

The crown and banner have saved lives.

I am a member of not one but two honor societies,

proud to attend one of the top schools in the United States.

A place where they understand what it is

to train people for serving others.

Social justice.

I don’t know what lies ahead for us.

I graduate from University next Winter, and am looking forward

to finding out where I am meant to go next.

I know I have to find a way to make money to survive.

In the years since we left, he has taken off and stopped paying any support 26 times,

without warning. It’s called financial abuse.

We know we cannot depend on him,

and I have a job to do.

The particulars are a little fuzzy, but they will come in time.

Just like that press conference four years ago.

I am

Safe and Silent No More

and

I am

just beginning.

It matters

NOT

just for me

but for the future

and

it’s my calling.

Carissa Daniels is a domestic violence victim advocate, survivor, mom, social justice activist as well as a Founder at Women For Justice.

“Ten years ago, I pioneered work in domestic violence cyber-advocacy.

My own life experiences showed me how critical the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is to victim safety and stability.

I would urge you to contact your Congress people and tell them not to cut funding for those seeking safety.

VAWA saves lives. 19 years ago, my daughter and I were two of them!”

Women for Justice is an all-volunteer team of activists.

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