ADVOCATING AN END TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Stephanie Bio PicFormer Collin College student Stephanie Henry didn’t start out intending to write a 300-page book advocating an end to domestic violence. But that’s exactly what she did.

Following a rough childhood that resulted in cycles of addiction and abusive relationships, Henry learned to read at age 22. It wasn’t more than three years later she identified writing as both a passion and a source of healing in her life.

A Source of Healing

What began as a diary during Henry’s stay at a drug and alcohol treatment facility seemed to naturally translate into part of her daily routine.

“My original goal was to consolidate my story so that it would make sense to me,” Henry said. “I thought that if I sat down and actually wrote it on paper, I would understand why my life went the way it did. Then I could change it.”

Writing in vignettes, or short stories, Henry experienced the events of her life from a new perspective. As a result of the ease vignette writing gave her about such a large project, she now recommends this type of project management to any writer struggling to move forward with their piece.

“Small, manageable sections are much less overwhelming than looking at the project as a whole,” Henry said. “Every time I would finish a vignette, it was good. I was like, ‘No wonder I acted like that. No wonder I made that decision.’”

Dr. Linda Qualia, associate dean of counseling and career services at Collin College, said living within the context of an abusive relationship is complicated and complex. The victim cannot always see a way out.

“Abuse affects multiple components in a person’s life,” Qualia said. “There are first and foremost safety concerns. Additionally, abuse recipients carry financial, emotional, physical and psychological concerns. Sometimes the greatest risk in leaving is that the abuser may escalate violent behavior. Collin County and Collin College’s counseling services have many resources to assist in navigating the process safely and providing support.”

Persistent Passion for Advocacy

journal

A victim of domestic violence, Henry is not alone. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.

Grateful writing aided in her own healing, Henry soon realized steps toward ending situations like the domestic abuse she’d experienced since the age of five would not be made through remaining silent. She decided the book would be her tool – her means for bringing a very serious and personal issue out of the dark.

Armed with clear direction, Henry said the path to her book release Sept. 28 was still anything but easy.

Discouraged by a number of obstacles along the way, Henry notes one Collin College course to which she credits the completion of her book.

“I had an English professor that introduced me to a book called ‘The Artist Way,’” Henry said. “The book spurred discussion about creativity that served as great encouragement to me.”

The Rocky Road to Publishing

Once her book was completed, Henry began to learn about the world of publishing.

“When I first went to Random House in New York and talked to them about my manuscript, I realized I couldn’t publish through them if I wanted to retain the rights to my story. It’s too personal, and I didn’t want to just sell it,” Henry explained.

As she later learned, there are two other types of publishing— independent and self.

“With independent publishing, you can still get rejected,” Henry said. “So after a lot of research, my best friend Pam found Greeleaf Book Group in Austin. They accepted my manuscript, and we started the editing process.”

While Henry says she never imagined the amount of work it would take to write and edit a book, the process eventually came full circle and her book, titled “If I Could Only Sleep,” hit the market just in time for October –Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Identifying and Speaking Up Against Abuse

kid and adultAs a survivor herself, Henry encourages victims to seek immediate help through local resources like Hope’s Door and Genesis Women’s Shelter.

“My biggest thing is don’t be quiet,” Henry said. “Find who is safe to speak with.”

Like many advocates against domestic violence, Henry believes people who suspect abuse should never stand back. Simply reaching out and letting a possible victim know they have an ally may help.  She also encourages individuals to know and look for the signs.

Federal agencies note that domestic violence follows a three-stage pattern:

  • Build-up of tension (criticism, yelling, swearing, using angry gestures, coercion or threats)
  • Physical or sexual attacks or threats of attack or punishment. The perpetrator’s rage becomes out of control.
  • Seduction: The perpetrator apologizes, blames the behavior on something else like being drunk, promises to change or gives gifts. This reinforces the victim’s hope for a healthy, loving relationship and allows the cycle to be repeated.

If this type of pattern is evident in a relationship, the environment is no longer safe.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Services gives the following recommendations for helping or confronting a possible abuse victim:

  • Start by expressing concern. Approach the friend, relative or co-worker in a compassionate, understanding and non-blaming way. Remind them they are not alone.
  • Acknowledge that it is scary and difficult to talk about, but they don’t deserve to be threatened, hit or beaten. Communicate that it is not their fault.
  • Connect them to resources, such as a list of domestic violence indicators. Share resources, including social services, emergency shelter, counseling services and legal advice.
  • Support them as a friend, and be a good listener.
  • Respect their choices.
  • Plan safe strategies for leaving an abusive relationship. Never encourage someone to follow a plan they believe will put them at further risk.

Whether one is in a current abusive relationship or recovering from one, Henry emphasizes the healing power of counseling.

“Seeing the right counselor or psychologist can catapult you into a whole new dimension because it cracks open part of your brain,” Henry said. “I had a counselor through Collin College who was very instrumental in my healing.”

Doing work both locally and overseas, Henry’s passion for change has also inspired the development of her own foundation, Activism for Empowerment of Women and Children.

“I just want to join forces with other people who care about this,” Henry said. “I want to eradicate abuse in every way, shape and form.”

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