Originally published April 12, 2012 at 4:24 p.m., updated April 17, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.
The 14th Annual "In the Company of Women" luncheon will be held Monday, April 16th. "Sarah," a local woman who escaped domestic violence, will speak to a standing-room-only crowd
Actress Ashely Judd was the keynote speaker at the YWCA's "In the Company of Women" luncheon Monday.
Judd said because she is the survivor of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse and also the victim of adult rape, it’s important to her to connect to other women who are survivors.
The luncheon is a major fundraiser for the Y's social programs including "Becky's House" for battered women,"Passages" for homeless single women and "Cortez Hill," for homeless families.
“I don’t think I’m unique or different. Every two seconds in this country a woman is the victim of assault. And I’m just one of the millions; there’s about 22 million female survivors of rape in the United States right now. And what I’ve learned is that when we’re secretive and isolated and ashamed, it’s really not our shame. We’re carrying the perpetrator’s shame,” Judd said.
“I was a blameless victim. I was a dependent child and I was exploited and taken advantage of. And I have absolutely no reason to be clandestine about that because it wasn’t my fault,” she continued.
“So, once I had the opportunity to do inpatient treatment and to look at my own trauma, I was able to give all that shame back to the perpetrators …where it belongs. And then create really strong female-to-female alliances with other victims and help them the way I was helped (to) journey along that spectrum from victim, to survivor, to thriver," she said.
Judd said it's an important part of the healing process to share her experiences and was pleased when the YWCA asked her to speak. She said she and her grandmother enjoyed the recreation programs at the Y in Kentucky.
She has a master's degree in administration from Harvard University. Her emphasis was on human rights, feminist social justice, global public health and the use of narrative in social change. In addition to her speaking engagements, she visits hospitals, orphanages and bordellos in third world countries to promote saving what she called "the lost children" from becoming lost adults.
Judd said that in treatment, she learned how to forgive -- but she also learned how to prosecute.
Following Judd was a powerful presentation by the young woman known only as "Sarah." Sarah stood alone on the stage as she spoke in a shaking voice about escaping from domestic violence.
She said her partner went from initially being kind and helpful to being cruel by hitting her, depriving her of sleep and food and ultimately, putting a gun to her head.
Sarah said that when she escaped, she had absolutely no resources. She ran to a bus stop but didn't have money for the fare. The bus driver saw her desperation and gave her a free pass.
At this moment in her talk, that San Diego bus driver climbed onstage and stood behind Sarah.
Sarah didn't have a phone. She went to a Seven-11 where the cashier saw her plight and activated one for free. That cashier ascended the stage.
She described trying to find a place to spend the night. She went to a hotel where the night desk clerk found her a room. He also went up and stood behind Sarah.
As Sarah continued her story, each person who helped her in her journey to safety and health stood up behind her. They included: the managers of Becky's House who helped her get into the home for battered women; her case manager, who encouraged her; her group counselor, who helped her heal; the resident specialist, who helped her sleep at night; the doctor, who helped her with prescriptions; legal aid, for assistance in paperwork; the police for continued protection and her closest friends, who always stood by her.
By the time she was finished speaking, there were more than 20 people behind Sarah. She said it was because of all of them that she finally has a new life.
April 12, 2012
When "Sarah" met "Jack," she said he presented himself as a giving and caring person. He was kind to people and wonderful with animals. He told Sarah he just wanted to help her be the best possible person she could be. As a working professional, he said he saw a lot of of potential in her and wanted to help her be a better person.
“I thought he was caring and protective and wanting the best for me. That wasn’t the case,” she said.
Before long, he isolated her from family and friends because of their “bad influence” and slowly started to abuse her. He hit her. He told her she would be nothing without him. But she stayed because she loved him and wanted his love in return. Besides, the abuse wasn’t constant; it came in cycles. He would lovingly shower her with gifts and flowers in a honeymoon phase. But it would soon be interrupted because something would always set him off.
It was when she was held captive and abused by him for three days that she knew she had to escape from the relationship permanently. She threw some belongings into two shoulder bags and went to the YWCA for shelter.
Today Sarah is an independent and successful woman. She, along with actress Ashley Judd, will speak at the YWCA’s 14th Annual “In the Company of Women” luncheon on Monday. This fundraiser benefits three social programs that the Y sponsors: Becky’s House for battered women; Passages, for homeless single women; and Cortez Hill Family Center for homeless families.
Heather Finlay is the YWCA’s CEO. She invited Judd to speak because she succeeded in life even though she had an unsettled childhood and was later a victim of violence. Judd enjoyed going to the Y with her grandmother when she was a child in Kentucky, Finlay said.
Judd "never really felt like she belonged, Finlay said, moved around between her dad, her mom and her grandparents, never really felt like she had a place, never really felt wanted, was alone a lot. So our clients who are homeless can relate to that feeling. I wanted everybody to see what you can accomplish, even though you start with that kind of childhood.”
Finlay said that some of the YWCA’s clients often don’t even know their own likes and dislikes because they’ve been too concerned with pleasing their abuser. So, in addition to food, clothing and shelter and legal aid, these women also get counseling and training.
“I wish I could show you how wonderful it is for me to see when women understand their self worth. When they understand what they can go out and accomplish. It’s getting people to understand that dream of theirs so they can make it happen. There’s nothing better in life than seeing that,” she said.
Their children are also shown with a new way of life.
“Kids understand they don’t have to follow the path that’s been presented to them, that there are lots of other opportunities for them and that they can go to college and they can do things that they’ve dreamed of,” she said.
Sarah said she was scared and worried when she arrived at the Y.
She said they protected her when her defenses were down because of the abuse, provided shelter, and helped her get back on her feet by helping her find a job. She said the counseling enlightened her and gave her back her smile.
“I owe my life to the YWCA of San Diego County. I don’t know where I would be without them,” she said.