Domestic violence, as explained by the Joyful Heart Foundation, is a “pattern of abusive behavior characterized by the intent to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner or other family members.” It can take many forms: Physical, Sexual, Emotional and/or Verbal, Economic, or Psychological. Melissa Holmes, founder of the organization Love Shouldn’t Hurt, New York Inc., and author of the recently released book: Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Putting an End to Domestic Violence, sat down with us to talk about the state of domestic violence today, and the growing trend of women empowering women to speak out against their abusers.
Melissa, whose advocacy efforts have opened doors for many opportunities, recently launched “From Pain to Purpose, My New Chapter”—a domestic violence seminar/workshop on October 24th, 2015, which expanded to a tour which included New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Maryland. Holmes is also promoting her new book, Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Putting an End to Domestic Violence, which she tells us is a deeply personal telling of her own story of escaping from not one, but two brutally violent relationships which almost cost her her life. Reviews of the book are shining, and highlight well just how much Melissa’s audiences are connecting with her passionate storytelling and advocacy efforts. One reviewer, echoing the sentiments of many, wrote that “as a domestic violence survivor, this book was somewhat painful to read. I cried, prayed, and wanted to help Melissa take down her abusers…(her) NEVER GIVE UP mentality gave her the strength and determination to allow her to tell her story and as a result she has advocated to awaken others who go through these chaotic and traumatic relationships to get out, get support, and love themselves!” When we asked Melissa what to expect from this book, she said reality. “When I ask audiences, what is it that moves you so much?”—in reference to those hearing her story, Melissa says, “they tell me, “I felt like I was there with you…it’s your delivery.”” And that is saying a lot, indeed. Being “there” with a domestic violence victim is intense, say the least. Melissa’s experience with abusers is all too common. “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.”(-thehotline.org) Melissa’s experience involved verbal, psychological, AND physical abuse, to the point where she was being choked within seconds of dying, had a gun pulled on her, and even after she bravely fled the second abusive relationship, was stalked by her perpetrator for a year. It has been six years since she was freed from the abuse, and she has been on a journey to help others do the same since.
When we asked Melissa what kept her, and other like her, in these years long abusive relationships, she said “Fear is number one.” Fear that your friends and family won’t believe you. Fear that your perpetrator will make good on threats of violence against your family. In some situations, Melissa shared, if you’re a male victim of violence, there is a fear that the authorities won’t believe you, and may even laugh you out of the precinct, as one victim disclosed to Melissa. “Abuse is abuse,” she says, and while it isn’t to the same degree as women, men CAN be victims of domestic violence as well. This fear, and this shame are what keep domestic violence victims suffering in silence for so long, and from reaching out for help. This knowledge and experience are part of the reason that Melissa began doing what she does today—creating forums for other victims of abuse to feel safe in. As well, she travels to organizations and speaking engagements in order to share her knowledge and help others to understand what used to be a silent epidemic, but what is now finally finding its voice as women are finally saying ENOUGH! No More!
Actress Mariska Hargitay has joined with women like Melissa, and so many others, to create what is now a national movement where victims are striking back against domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Women are sharing a message that says it’s time to end this violence. (Internet trending–#enough, #nomore, #breakthesilence) Melissa recalls hitting that point when she said to herself “this is NOT right!” And with courage and great strength she left her abuser and started a private facebook page to serve as a journal to document what she calls her journey from being a “Victim” to becoming a “Victor.” When she opened that page to the public—facebook.com/loveshouldnthurtdomesticviolence—in 2010 something amazing happened; something, Melissa says, “was meant to happen. It was a private page and I opened it up…and when I let them in, people would come up to me and say, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one!” We were connected.” The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Hargitay in 2004, was the product of a similar situation that Hargitay found herself in when she began playing the role of Olivia Benson in the popular crime series ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’. Real victims would identify with her character and reach out to her, like many do with Melissa, through letters and messages, disclosing their stories sometimes for the first time. Joyful Heart, Love Shouldn’t Hurt, Love is Respect, Break the Silence, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, to name a few, have been working side by side to shepherd women out of the darkness. They work together to help these victims realize their own personal strength and get to the point where they can find their own voices, speak out about their suffering, and emerge victorious. This has become Melissa’s mission as she continues to encourage and inspire victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse, who feel misunderstood or are afraid to speak out.
If you, or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence or abuse it’s important that you know that there are safe places you can go to talk, or to get help. The Love Shouldn’t Hurt facebook page is still an active place to go for help or support. NoMore.org and NDVH (thehotline.org) are excellent resources for those who may suspect violence and are seeking help for a friend or family member, or for those looking to leave an abusive relationship themselves. For those who may not be in a place where they can leave, Melissa knows that position well and has a message: “I just ask that you don’t wait too long to make that call…” Too many are falling between the cracks in a broken system. Too many lives are lost. There is hope. Women like Mariska, like Melissa are saying No More Silence! “Speak out,” Holmes says, “your story might be the story to save a life. Anyone can leave an abusive relationship; it takes courage and strength. Help IS available.”
For more information on how to identify the signs of an abusive relationship visit: theredflagcampaign.org. To support Melissa and purchase a copy of her book, visit: loveshouldnthurtny.com or amazon.com. To contribute to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s campaign, visit: joyfulheartfoundation.org. If you are in need of services, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If there is an emergency, please dial 911.
-If you would like to contact Melissa to book her for an interview or a speaking engagement, you can reach her via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org , or via Facebook at: facebook.com/loveshouldnthurtdomesticviolence/