It was in the early 1950s in a quaint seaside town in Bermuda, a beautiful young couple, newly eloped was starting a life together. The idyllic setting, pink sandy beaches, glorious sunsets that stretched from each corner of the island and bathed the rocky cliffs in deep amber and purple lights promised a lifetime of bliss.  He was tall, handsome with piercing brown eyes.  He promised to love and protect her, to cherish her.  She made his life complete.

The first time it happened, he said it was all her fault. He accused her of seeking the attentions of other men, and said he loved her too much to tolerate that. To make his point, he slapped her to the ground with an open palm. Sorrow and apologies followed hand in hand with endearments and promises… The next time he hit her, it was with a closed fist, and then the next, and the next, and the next…

One clear night in the soft moonlight, the beautiful couple stood tangled in a wild embrace, his hands around her neck, knife to her throat, toes grazing the edge of a cliff. Seething with anger, his words dripping with malice “Say you’re sorry or I’ll kill you…” But sorry for what…she had no idea and she was sure she would probably die that night.

But she didn’t die, a half choked apology, tears streaming from her eyes, she was allowed to live and to suffer three more years of isolation and abuse at the hands of her so-called love.  But she was one of the lucky ones, she found her way out, she made it back home and not in a box as has been the fate of so many others.  Years went by; she married again and raised a son and two daughters with a heightened awareness of the hidden demons that can sometimes lie within. More than half a century later, she now rests in peace. She was my mother, and she was a domestic violence survivor.

This morning, I attended the Men of Courage Breakfast hosted by Harbor House of Central Florida.  This event engages executive men in the greater Orlando area in the fight against domestic violence.    Harbor House provides safe shelter, a 24-hour crisis hotline, counseling, emotional support, and legal advocacy for thousands of domestic violence survivors and their children each year.

We heard a powerful presentation from Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist and Vice President of EAP+Work/Life Services. His focus was the impact of domestic violence in the workplace, noting that often an abuser will take advantage of the fact that every day between specific hours, the victim will be in a known and sometimes confined location. A workplace parking lot is often the site for deadly attacks.  Despite this fact, less than 30% of organizations have a domestic violence policy or plan of action.

Every 15 seconds, a woman is battered. Every day 3 women die because of domestic abuse. That’s more deaths than breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and lung cancer combined.

Generally one of three things will happen in a domestic violence scenario.

  1. The batterer stops abusing the victim (rarely happens)
  2. The victim successfully escapes (on average victims try to leave 7 times before successfully escaping)
  3. Someone dies. (Most often the victim)

Some people say, (or at least think) “why not just leave…” But, for many of these women, my mom included, leaving was next to impossible. With limited resources, many times isolated from family and friends, and lowered self-esteem from continual verbal abuse, these women are effectively prisoners in their own homes. Did you know that it becomes up to 20 times more dangerous after the person leaves?  In most domestic homicides the victim has already terminated the relationship.

After breakfast Dr. Lapchick, his wife Ann Pasnak, and I signed the purple door and placed dollar bills with the words strength, freedom and resilience into the purple purse to symbolize our ongoing commitment to take a stand against domestic violence.

The ISSJ is a strong and proud advocate for the prevention of violence against women.  The Huddle Up To End Gender Violence program has conducted over 2,000 (13,000 hours) workshops and trainings in the past 21 years; raising awareness about the underlying issues of all forms of men’s violence against women.  Huddle Up inspires others to be proactive leaders around these issues by challenging them to develop concrete options for intervention in potentially dangerous situations involving peers.  Learn more about Huddle Up at


Through my mother’s experience I have been personally impacted by the horror of domestic violence. October is national domestic violence awareness month. Together, let’s raise the noise level and find a way to stop this terrible cycle.

Delise O'Meally (FB), @domeally (Twitter)

ISSJ, Executive Director

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