“I Have a Voice”
Bringing Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Survivors Out of the Shadows
Dallas/Fort Worth |Christian News Service| — Few problems are so pervasive, yet shrouded in secrecy, as domestic violence and sexual abuse. The statistics are staggering. They are reflected across every demographic. Nearly one in every four women is beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood.One in every four girls and nearly one in every six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18—but until recent years, these widespread problems were rarely made public. This October, in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Shannon Deitz, author, speaker, and founder of Hopeful Hearts Ministry, is inviting abuse survivors to step out of the shadows and bring their stories to light.
Through the I Have a Voice project, Dietz encourages survivors of domestic violence to give voice to their past. The I Have a Voice project consists of seven intensely moving interrelated videos, all with a collective purpose to help survivors recognize the abuse they have suffered and expose the truth; understand that they are not alone and that the abuse does not define them; and overcome being a victim and realize the full potential of their lives.
True-life scenarios shared in the videos include stories of rape, incest, sexual abuse by clergy, domestic violence, and severe neglect. Each emotionally-charged testimony in the series clearly speaks of the courageous journey back to wholeness as well as the devastating effects of the abuse—particularly when that abuse occurred at the hands of a family member. “Being abused by a stranger is bad enough, but being hurt by someone who claims to love you or who is obligated to take care of you is worse,” explains Deitz. “It’s one of the main factors that keeps victims imprisoned in shame and secrecy.”
In one of the first videos, Deitz relives the heartrending memories and feelings related to the abuse she endured by her own grandfather. By allowing herself to be vulnerable and honest during the filming, she believes that others may be stirred to open up about their own “secret” and move past feelings of victimization to focus on the things gained through the adversity. “Abuse changes things forever, but healing is possible if the choice is made to overcome the victim mentality and work hard to become a survivor,” Deitz stresses.
The videos also raise public awareness by demonstrating both the prevalence and the insidious nature of abuse. “Most people don’t realize that domestic violence rarely begins with actual violence. More often, it starts with emotional and verbal abuse, which erodes self-confidence and self-worth and causes the victims to question their instincts,” Dietz says. “The weaker the victim, the more dominant the abuser becomes. Ultimately, this dominance turns to violence when the victim begins to show signs of strength and defiance. This is why the highest rate of domestic violence fatalities occur when the victim has left the abuser.”
Hopeful Hearts Ministry has heard from survivors in Africa, Poland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and across the US. Each video gives a survivor the opportunity to speak about their story in their truth, discarding the shame that they have carried but was never really theirs. Viewers recognize their own story in the voice of other survivors, and the videos are encouraging them to speak out about the abuses they've suffered and to seek help if needed.
“I simply want to say thank you for sharing your story…through the HHM website, Exposed, other resources shared, and your powerful I Have a Voice video, you have given fresh insight to my own dimly lit and locked up places of shame and victimization,” says Lauren, a 24-year-old abuse survivor. “Your I Have a Voice video is definitely the most eye-opening [resource] I have seen. I identified with the raw emotion of it.”
The Hopeful Hearts Ministry website guides viewers to a variety of resources designed to help them move forward in their journey of survival, including classes in stretching and relaxation that help abuse survivors manage the stress and paralyzing fear that can be triggered unexpectedly—even years after the abuse has ended.
"I've attended the healing stretch classes since mid-September 2014, and I am so thankful. Each time I have had a very positive experience,” says Jennifer, age 42. “The very first class I attended was the day after I was released from the hospital. I had been in a crisis, feeling suicidal, and needed close monitoring during that time. I was terrified to go to a new place, and I was filled with self-hatred. Through stretch and breathing techniques, I experienced a bodily connection to my feelings. I had been separated from my feelings for so long that it was overwhelming to reconnect in such a positive way.”
For those who want to help a friend or family member who is living in an abusive situation, Dietz offers this insight: “Remember the dignity and worth of the victim has been worn thin, which is what causes them to stay. Do not add to the abuse by belittling or degrading them because they are unable to see the situation as clearly as you can on the outside.”
Deitz is the award-winning author of Exposed: Inexcusable Me, Irreplaceable Him. She was also recently listed as one of the best authors in Houston by CBS Houston Radio. For more information about Shannon Deitz and Hopeful Hearts Ministry, please visit www.HopefulHeartsMinistry.com
Shannon Deitz is available for interviews.