These women survived domestic violence. Now they're taking a stand to help others

The brave women in this article are from Louisiana, USA. All of them endured years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Several survived being shot. And they didn’t always get the help they needed from the system.

Amnesty International's new report, Fragmented and Unequal, shows how the justice system in Louisiana is failing survivors of domestic violence. From failing to take violence seriously, to arresting survivors who call for help, the response from the authorities is frequently inadequate and discriminatory. 

By telling their stories, these survivors are letting others know that it's possible to overcome both the trauma of domestic violence and the injustice of the system. They are using their experiences to help others, and showing that there is a way out.

These stories are powerful, heartbreaking and inspiring.

They also include graphic descriptions of violence and sexual assault.

Angela's story

Angela, a survivor of gun and domestic violence, and her two sons in Baton Rouge Angela, a survivor of gun and domestic violence, and her two sons in Baton Rouge
Angela, a survivor of gun and domestic violence, and her two sons

In my case, it started as verbal abuse. I’d known my partner for 20 years and he was a good person. He started changing in 2015. After his mum died, he bought several guns including a machete and a shotgun.

He became more combative, not only with me but with others and through his social media. I couldn’t do anything right.

One evening in early November it turned physical. We were having a conversation and at some point it escalated and I asked him to leave. I walked over to the door, opened it and said we could have the conversation another day. He grabbed me by the hood of my sweatshirt, threw me out my door and got on top of me and started choking me. I managed to yell for our oldest son and he got off of me and left.

He shot me and said 'look what you made me do'

We’d broken up, but we were starting to work things out again, when one morning we had a disagreement. I was in the bathtub, when he came in and shot me. I can only remember the last two gunshots. I look up at him and he says “‘Look what you made me do Angie”, ‘You made me shoot you.’

He returned with my cell phone and I told him to dial 911. I felt as though I was dying. My legs felt prickly. I didn’t realize he’d shot me in the back and I was already paralyzed.

I can remember being loaded into the paramedics truck and saying to the female paramedic, “please don’t let me die, I have four children to raise." I spent 3 weeks in hospital. During that time around 400 people came to visit me. That’s when I realized I had a message I wanted to share.

Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking – not just about gun violence and domestic violence, but about gun control and mental health. If people are willing to listen, I want to talk about the things that matter.

Let’s not just point people in the right direction, let’s walk with them

I survived nine gunshots, but I’ve never cried about being paralyzed. I still have pity parties, but it’s because I have to rely on others, when all I want is to be a mother again. This year, I will be partnering with the IRIS domestic violence centre, where I will be talking to people about what to do if you’re experiencing an abusive relationship.

Let’s not just point people in the right direction, let’s walk with them.

Elizabeth’s story

Portrait of Elizabeth, gun and domestic violence survivor. Her daughter in the poster next to her died after being shot to death by Elizabeth's partner. Portrait of Elizabeth, gun and domestic violence survivor. Her daughter in the poster next to her died after being shot to death by Elizabeth's partner.
Elizabeth, gun and domestic violence survivor. Her daughter, in the poster behind her, was killed by Elizabeth's ex-partner

His behaviour changed rapidly. I know I should have recognized it, but when you’re inside a situation it’s hard to get perspective.

One day my daughter called me crying saying my ex had threatened to hit her in the head with a hammer. I called the police and they removed him from the house and I got a restraining order the next day.

After a month, I went to the judge and asked him to rescind the order because I couldn’t imagine this man hurting us. Then on January 13, my whole life changed.

I heard a policeman say, “Oh this is just a domestic violence case", five feet from where my child lay dead

When my ex entered the house, my daughter was awake. I heard an argument. I came into the living area to try and calm her down. Her eyes were wide with fear - she could see him approaching with a gun. When I turned around shots rang. I managed to dial 911. I couldn’t talk because [my face] was shot up, but they traced the call home. The police came, then the medical team.

I heard a policeman say, “Oh this is just a domestic violence case.” He was just five feet from where I was fighting for my life and where my child lay dead. There was nothing “just” about it.

My entire face was reconstructed because the bullets tore it apart. I was in a coma for almost a month. When I woke up, I was hit with the reality of the situation. My brother and sister refused to bury my daughter without me. I had to go to therapy to learn to use my muscles, but a lot of it they couldn’t fix. I can’t blow my nose. My lips are still numb and when I’m eating and drinking I don’t know if something is too hot until I get a blister. It’s been a struggle.

We must get people to understand that they’re not in it by themselves

I’ve talked to women who dated my ex and they’ve mentioned he was violent with them. Had I known he’d been abusive with other women, I wouldn’t have made him a part of my life.

The first time somebody asked me to talk about what happened, it was hard. It’s hard every time. But if it changes one life, it matters to me. Domestic violence is such a personal issue and it’s a secret. We must get people to understand that they’re not in it by themselves.

I’ve met young women and men who’ve heard my story and said it changed them. It gives them the courage to reach out and ask for help.

Twahna’s story

Twahna, founder of the Butterfly Society, a grassroots organisation raising awareness of domestic violence in Baton Rouge, LA. Twahna, founder of the Butterfly Society, a grassroots organisation raising awareness of domestic violence in Baton Rouge, LA.
Twahna, founder of the Butterfly Society, a grassroots organisation raising awareness of domestic violence

I was a sophomore in college. I fell in love with a wonder guy, my prince charming. It was the perfect relationship - until one day I felt his hand on my face. He said, “Bitch if you had kept mouth closed, it wouldn’t have happened.”

I fell in love with a wonder guy, my prince charming

From that moment, my life was turned upside down. I was mentally, emotionally and sexually abused. He degraded me, he talked about me being overweight, and he stripped me of all of my power. I began to question my self-worth, self-confidence, and my true purpose in life. I thought of committing suicide many times. It was a way out for me.

I told no one in the beginning. I was too embarrassed and ashamed to share what I was going through - my family and friends adored him. He isolated me from my support system, those who loved and cared for me dearly. Lines of communication with family and friends were limited. He monitored my every move.

Eventually I built up enough courage and strengthen to tell a relative.  She said, “I believe you. You deserve better. What can I do to help?"

I left him and went to live with her for a while, but my abuser convinced me to return to him. He swore that he would seek counselling, an anger management program, but he never did. He said all the right things to get me back in his possession. I believed him with all of my heart. I gave in to another chance. 

Change never came. One day he put his hands around my neck and began strangling me. It was like he was possessed. He said to me, “I will kill you if you every leave again”. I saw myself dying at his hands.

I woke up and a voice said me, “today’s the day you leave”.

I went to bed that night and prayed. I heard this soft spoken voice in my ear and I knew it was voice of God. The next morning, I woke up and the voice said to me, “today’s the day you leave”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told him I was leaving for work and gave him a kiss goodbye. I hid behind a building across from our apartment building and when I saw him get into his car I returned to the apartment to gather my things. I never went back!!

It was the  scariest time of my life. Starting over without him was very challenging, but I pressed forward determined to live again. I got busy volunteering at a local shelter and speaking out against domestic violence in some uncomfortable spaces. 

I began dating again, and decided to return to university. I had the opportunity to share my story with a gathering of young women an event remembering those who had lost their lives due to domestic violence. That night my story impacted several of the women and I realized my story could inspire me.

One person can’t do this alone. It takes many hands and many voices

The Butterfly Society came to be through my personal journey. We’re a grassroots organization - boots on the ground, meeting people where they are. We go to barbershops, neighbourhood schools, and churches. We aim to educate, empower and engage the community.

There’s still so much work to be done and it’s up to us as a team to make an impact. One person can’t do this alone. It takes many hands and many voices to do this work.

#useyourvoice

Kirby’s story

Portrait of Kirby, a survivor of domestic violence and activist in Louisiana. Portrait of Kirby, a survivor of domestic violence and activist in Louisiana.
Kirby, a survivor of domestic violence and activist

I met someone in high school and we started dating. I fell pregnant 3 months before graduating and moved in with him. The first time he put his hands on me was while I was pregnant. I wanted my daughter to have a father so I stayed with him.

The violence progressed. It was sexual, physical and emotional abuse. No one knew what went on behind closed doors. He treated me like I was his property.

I got my first restraining order after he showed up at my apartment, threw me around, choked me. I got another one four years later, but I ended up dropping it because I didn’t have anyone to represent me and I was afraid of his threats.

The police treated me like a delusional, hysterical, uncooperative person

In June 2017 I woke up to him sexually assaulting me in my bed. I stood up for myself and told him that what he was doing was rape. He told me he would show me what it was really like to be raped. He threw me onto the bed, I swung at him and bit him hard. He got back on top of me and started strangling me. My daughter came and yelled at him to stop.

I was able to call the police. They treated me like a delusional, hysterical, uncooperative person because I didn’t want to repeat what I had already said four times in front of different men. The police report says I refused to write a statement, but I was never asked to do so. They told me I needed to decide if I wanted to press charges of breaking and entering or if I wanted them to call whoever does rape kits.

One police officer talked to my daughter, then told me my husband he was being arrested for domestic abuse and battery by strangulation based on her statement. They told me: “Just sign the paper Ma’am, I’m done handling you with kid gloves.”

I met with my counsellor and next thing, I have Child Protective Services called on me for allowing my children to see spousal abuse. I was instructed to get a Protective Order for me and the kids. At the hearing, he was granted supervised visitation and required to take 26 weeks of family violence intervention classes. He was arrested four times while he was taking the classes, but he still got his certificate.

I am determined to fight him every step of the way

After that he decided to file for sole custody of the kids. The closer it gets to trial, the more I fear that he will kill me and my kids and flee to another country. He used to have an AK 47 and a Glock, always loaded. I don’t know if he surrendered his guns. He’s probably just hiding them in his garage. Yet I am determined to fight him every step of the way.

I co-founded VOICES of Acadiana, an organization which advocates for victims of domestic violence.

When these women stood up and clapped for me it felt like my chains were broken

A women’s abuse group was started at the Bayou church – and that’s where I broke my silence for the first time. Now I am a trained facilitator. I spoke in front of a group of 150 women and shared my story of domestic abuse. It was an incredible feeling when these women stood up and clapped for me – it made me feel as though my chains were broken.

Tiffany’s story

Tiffany, activist and survivor of domestic violence Tiffany, activist and survivor of domestic violence
Tiffany, domestic violence survivor and activist

I met my abuser when I was 14. At first there wasn’t physical abuse, it was emotional. He would embarrass me or make feel inferior in front of other people. It went from verbal to physical real fast. When I was seven months pregnant, he beat me until I was on the floor, curled in a ball.

While I was in the hospital having my child, he cashed my mom’s cheque and bought drugs to sell. We were behind on rent, and the landlord took everything I owned out of the home and put it on the curb.

He made me believe he was the only person who would ever love me

Finally, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going back. He managed to track me down. He showed up at my doorway, and just like that, it was on again. Mentally I was broken. He made me believe he was the only person who would ever love me.

When I was seven months pregnant with my sixth child, he pulled a gun on me. I saw a big flash of light and my jaw swayed. I saw my shirt. It was red. The doctors told me that the only reason that the shot didn’t kill me was because he had the wrong calibre bullet in the gun.

The police threatened to lock me up if I did not tell them who shot me

While I was sat on my doorstep, bleeding from a bullet hole in my jaw, the police came and threatened to lock me up if I did not tell them who shot me. I gave the name of my abuser, but later recanted my statement because I was scared and told the prosecutor that I shot myself. They dropped all the charges against him, but he ended up going to jail for three years because of a probation violation from a previous offense.

I’ve had six surgeries, and I am still living with the physical effects of the shooting as well as the trauma. I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I shake in crowds, I’m always looking for an exit. I can’t read a book anymore because I can’t retain information, my mind is constantly scrambling. My kids suffer.

It’s important for women in that situation to hear from someone who understands

Despite everything that’s happened I am determined to raise awareness about domestic violence. I posted a video on Facebook - I was crying but I wanted to tell people what I’d been through. I didn’t realize how many people had watched it, but doors started opening. I do a lot of public speaking and have even been asked to work on a play about my story.

It’s important for women in that situation to hear from someone who understands. A lot of people might say, “You’re so stupid, you should have stayed gone.” They don’t understand the hold an abuser has on his victim.

 Brandie’s story

Brandie, a domestic violence survivor and activist for VOICES of Acadiana, a network of survivors raising awareness of the issue in Lafayette, Louisiana. Brandie, a domestic violence survivor and activist for VOICES of Acadiana, a network of survivors raising awareness of the issue in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Brandie, a domestic violence survivor and activist for VOICES of Acadiana, a network of survivors raising awareness

We were married at 18, had three children and stayed together for nearly 15 years. I didn’t realize what I was in an abusive marriage.

After we divorced, he always knew where I was. Once my co-worker texted me and said, ‘He is down the street just sitting in his company vehicle’. The police escorted me back to my office.

I took out a protective order against my ex. A couple of weeks later, he left the severed leg of a pig in our boys’ diaper bag with a note saying that the boys wanted it as a souvenir. He had gone hunting and cut off the leg. There was blood all over it.

I didn’t realize I was in an abusive marriage

Even with the protective order in place, he stalked and harassed me. I was still too scared to call the police. He barged into my house and threatened to kill himself, to kill other people. I had entered a new relationship and that made things 10 times worse. Those few years after leaving were hell. I was unaware that I could renew my protective order, so it expired.

After getting remarried and divorced twice, my ex got engaged again. His new fiancé filed for a protective order because he was abusing her and she was scared for her life. She asked me if I would go to the hearing to testify about past abuse.

Using my voice to break the silence against domestic violence was difficult but getting my life back has been worth it!

She had approached his second and third wives as well, so we came together to take a united stand. When he heard we were all there along with two other witnesses, he dropped the petition he had filed for a reciprocal protective order.

My ex had been acting aggressively towards my kids for years, and judging from the escalating violence with other women, I knew that my children needed protection. I met with the staff attorney at Faith House and we filed for sole custody. It was traumatic going through it all again, but the judge ruled in my favor and now I have sole custody of my kids, and a permanent protective order for us all.

Since then, I co-founded VOICES of Acadiana. Our mission is to advocate for victims of domestic violence by actively working towards systems change, educating and raising awareness around domestic violence and survivor outreach to break the generational cycle of abuse.

Using my voice to break the silence against domestic violence was difficult but getting my life back has been worth it!