Editor’s Note: Our 2018 Speaking of Women event included a moving survivor story delivered by Speaking of Women committee member Lori Bennett, a former Monroe resident who survived an abusive relationship while serving in the U.S. Air Force 30 years ago. Our Speaking of Women audience was so moved by Lori’s address we asked her permission to reprint it in this newsletter. We thank Lori (shown here on the left with our Speaking of Women keynote Tamron Hall) for allowing us to share her story here.
Thirty something years ago, I was a young woman serving on active duty in the United States Air Force. I met a man, also on active duty, and we started dating. To say that relationship was volatile would be a huge understatement. Yet a year and a half later we were married. I was young. I had all the answers. I thought it would get better, right? But things got progressively worse pretty quickly. He was abusive to me in every way; verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually. After 2 ½ years, I realized I was going to die in that relationship! In fact, I tried to beat him to the punch (no pun intended). Fortunately, I did not succeed at that, but it was a wake-up call. I knew I needed help.
Being in the Air Force, I thought, who better to go to for help than my commander. I went to see him and explained my situation, explaining that my husband was also active duty. I thought that fact might somehow carry some weight to get me help. He seemed rather unimpressed, telling me he wasn’t sure what I could do; maybe I should see one of the base psychiatrists.
So I made an appointment with one of the psychiatrists and told him my story. He said, “Well we don’t really talk about that kind of thing, and we don’t have the resources to help you. Maybe you can try the United Way.”’
This being the 1980’s, I got out my Yellow Pages and looked up my local United Way. They directed me to a battered women’s shelter (yes, that’s what they were called then!). I arrived at a nondescript house in a nondescript neighborhood where none of the neighbors would have had any idea what was really happening there. The stigma of the “battered woman” was very real. The shelter staff told me they could offer me counselling. And by counseling, it was group therapy, one day a week, with about a dozen other women with the same story. Very quickly, I learned a few things. One, I was broken and had a long way to go to be fixed. While the counseling was helpful, I knew I was going to have to do a lot of work myself. Listening to some of those stories I realized some of those women had made the same mistakes over and over. I did not want to make the same mistake again! I also realized just wanting your situation to be different doesn’t make it different. You have to do the work to fix whatever it was that got you there. And an added bonus, I learned to spot abusive, controlling people at one hundred paces.
So let’s fast forward to October, 2017. I attended a vigil on the Monroe Green hosted by The Center for Family Justice. I listened to several people speak and spoke with other survivors. When I learned of the resources provided by CFJ, I was blown away! Police, pro bono lawyers, family support, a safe house– the list goes on! I wondered if my path in life might have been different had I had access to those kinds of resources all those years ago. That was another lifetime ago. To be clear, I am exactly where I want and need to be in my life now! I am now married to my best friend, the kindest, most generous, and most amazing man I’ve ever known, Frank Bennett! And I turned to him that night, with tears in my eyes, and said, “I have to do something with this organization!”
I immediately reached out to (CFJ President/CEO) Debra Greenwood and her amazing team! After a tour of their incredible facility, I knew I had made the right decision and was completely committed to doing whatever I could!
And that brings us to today. The thought of speaking in front of a group is pretty terrifying for most, let alone a group this size. When we were discussing who would speak at this year’s Speaking of Women, I timidly offered. Then I put my fear aside and went all in because I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I cannot think of an organization more deserving of anyone’s time, energy or money! If I can put my fear aside to come speak to you, I can only hope you can be as generous and contribute to The Center for Family Justice!