[Description: A middle aged caucasian Deaf woman is wearing a black shirt with decorative studs along the collar. She has grey hair and is wearing glasses. The video setting is a home environment.]
Hi my name is Rhonda and this is my first time sharing my story. Please bear with me I have a piece of paper on the table and I typed all my experiences on my paper. I cannot remember them all by memory. The paper will help me remember as I tell my story, ok? I want to share my experience with different kinds of abuse. When I see other people experience abuse and share it, it touches my heart. I felt afraid to share because I was scared of gossip and my reputation and I am a very private person. I stayed silent and wouldn’t share my story for many years. I experience different abuse and now there is a suitcase full of experiences of abuse I have carried with me for many years. It gets heavier and heavier and now I can’t carry it anymore. That’s when I decided to go to counseling to get help to get through my experiences with abuse. When I met with the counselors, I opened my suitcase and shared little by little. With each experience I shared, the counselor helped me understand it wasn’t my fault. After that, I went my to my suitcase and shared more and more. After I was done, I felt so much better and it helped me a lot. Wow. That’s why I want to share this with you. I will share a little bit of what’s in my suitcase. When I was 8 or 9 years old I was in school and they did not allow sign language because it was an oral school. Sometimes I don’t sign but use gestures like waving and the teacher saw that and told me to come to the front. I walked to the front and laid my hands out palms upward. With a ruler, the teacher hit my hands hard. 10 times each hand. If I flinched and took my hand away more hits would be added. After that I was ordered back to my desk and to sit on both of my hands for the next 30 minutes. My hands were numb. That was the first time I experienced physical abuse from a teacher. When I was 13 years old, what I experienced was the worst! For example, when you trust someone with authority. Home is safe and you trust it. I did not feel safe in that home. It was my father and he molested me. That made me feel worse. I told my mom that my father was touching me. My mom told and confronted my father. He told my mom that he must have been dreaming and thought that I was my mom. My mom told me she believed him. I was shocked, disgusted and said no. I told her that while he was touching me, he said to me “don’t you love dad?” [4:56]
[5:05] Mother did not believe me. That’s why I thought it was my fault and I kept it to myself. I felt like I lead him on but did I? I put this memory in my suitcase. Now, I am determined that I will not allow myself to be alone with a man. I have to protect myself from any men or boys. I won’t be alone, I must always have someone with me. I still do to this day. But I do not like looking at my father’s eyes because I can see he is scanning my body and it bothers me a lot. It makes me sick. My friend saw that and asked me “your dad looks at your body like that? His daugher!” I told her, “yeah, I know.”
[Rhonda’s face expression shows her looking uncomfortable.]
Another incident happened when I was 13, 14, or 15 I can’t remember. My father asked me a question “what if a man had an erect penis and came toward you?” I replied “well, I would kick him in the balls” My father went in a rage and grabbed me by the wrist and took me to the bedroom and put me on the bed. My father got on top of me and sat on me and put my hands above my head bonded together. My father put his hand under my dress touching my underwear and said “can you kick my balls now?” making a mockery out of it. I shook my head no in fear and signed “No, I can’t.” My father said “quit being a smart mouth.” I told him “okay”. Today when I see men or boys mention “smart mouth…” I can’t….that is a triggering moment, I am scarred by what my father said and it terrifies me. My mother abused me too. She would slap me, pull my hair, or hit with me a brush. I suffered. I felt it was my fault because I didn’t listen and I never hit my mom. Never. Growing up, my mom always favored boys over the girls. She always favored my brother and if he got into trouble she would go easy on him. When the girls got into trouble they got punishments. Favoritism. Another memory in my suitcase. I hate when people are favoring certain groups of people. That is traumatizing to me. Favoritism is put away in my suitcase. I still don’t feel safe at home. One time, my brother and my father got into a bad physical fight. I saw it all and it frightened me and I didn’t feel safe at home. When I met my husband who was then my boyfriend, I had strong feelings for him and wanted to get married right away so we could move away and leave behind my abusive family. Today, I get triggered by men or boys that display their anger. I feel scared. When I married my husband, I set ground rules and the first one was “no abuse allowed in this home.” My husband didn’t understand so I explained my experiences of abuse in my childhood home and that I didn’t want to bring it to my home. I want to feel safe. Second, DO NOT TOUCH CHILDREN. My husband felt disgusted and signed “that’s sick. Father to daughter molesting is SICK.” I told my husband “my father did that to me. I don’t want my children to go through what I went through. I want them to be able to feel safe in their own home.” My husband fully understood and respected my feelings. I made an effort to teach my two daughters about different forms of abuse. I told my daughters that any abuse you encounter you must tell me so I can help you and protect you. As the children got older, I went to work at a restaurant and I was the only Deaf person employed there. One day I was in the restroom in a stall and all of the sudden someone was banging on my stall door. I yelled “Wait a minute I’m in the bathroom.” Once I finished going to the bathroom and opened the door, my co-worker asked me “are you Deaf?” I was puzzled and replied with “yes, I am Deaf and you know that. The co-worker said “the boy over there doesn’t believe that you are Deaf.” I interrupted and signed “yes.” The co-worker said “He thinks you are ignoring him because he’s Black, he was calling out and that I ignored him.” I signed “I’m Deaf”. The boy did not believe me so what more could I do? Fine, I’ll leave it alone. I kept on working as a bus girl where I pushed the cart and collected dirty dishes and loaded them in the cart and hauled it to the kitchen. As I pushed the cart to the kitchen then came back the boy saw me and got my attention because the soda machine was out of ice and he needed ice for his drink. I went to the kitchen, loaded two buckets of ice and carried it out to the soda machine. The guy who didn’t believe I was Deaf came up and knocked the two buckets of ice out of my hands. I yelled, “Stop!” I thought, why didn’t I drop the buckets and slap him instead of freezing and just yelling stop. The head server heard the commotion and asked what’s wrong? I said that I refused to go back into the kitchen. She asked, “Why, what’s wrong?” I told her he touched me and she asked where? I explained that he knocked the buckets out of my hand. She made a shocked face and walked over to scold him. I knew I can’t go into the kitchen anymore alone. Anytime I need to go into the kitchen I had to ask co-workers to go in with me. I had to do that to be safe. Later after things had died down, I was working in the kitchen, putting knives into the rack when all of a sudden all the other workers rushed outside together. I didn’t know what was going on, figured something happened and went back to doing my work. That same guy saw that no one was around and took advantage of the situation to come up behind me and rub himself on me. He rubbed his private parts against my butt. I grabbed two knives, pointed them at him and yelled, “Stop it!” I went home and told my husband what happened. Later, the next day, I told my boss what happened, that he touched me. The boss said they would talk to the guy but nothing ever happened. I felt maybe the boss didn’t believe me. I put this secret of sexual harassment at work in my suitcase and carried it with me.
[Rhonda looks at her notes.]
I experienced verbal abuse from my two children. They grew into teens. and my one daughter kept running away. We would search for her, find her and bring her home, then do it again the next time she ran away. One time she ran away for a week. I worried and worried about her. When we finally found her, my daughter said, “Mom, I don’t want you to be my mother anymore. I want this other woman to be my mom. Can you sign this paperwork to release me from you so she can be my guardian?” I felt so hurt. I didn’t say anything but inside I felt hurt. I told her no, and this other woman said, “Why not?” I said no! I won’t give up my blood. I was hurt. Then the police came and told my daughter she must stay home with her mom. They said if she didn’t then I could press charges against the other woman for holding my daughter at her house for a whole week. My daughter came home but inside I wondered if I had been wrong, if I had caused her to hate me or something. I put my hurt feelings inside my suitcase. I didn’t share with my husband or anyone else what my daughter had told me. It was a secret I put in my suitcase and carried with me.
[Rhonda looks at her notes.]
I felt that I couldn’t trust her because she lied, she stole things, she ran away many times. Until she turned 18 and left our home, she was free to go. Now my daughter has experienced domestic violence and other forms of abuse from boys, boyfriends, different people abused her. Now she is married, has children and she understands what it is to be a mom, she sees me differently, and understands that I did nothing wrong. We have been ok ever since. One day I asked my daughter if she remembered the time she told me she didn’t want me to be her mom, that she wanted another woman to be her mom. I asked her why she did that. She said she didn’t remember. She said she doesn’t know why she said that because she doesn’t remember. It still bothers me. I wonder did I do something wrong with her? Can I fix it? But it was nothing I did wrong. My other daughter rebelled against me and my husband with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend was no good, he used drugs. We tried to talk to her about it, but she refused to listen. We didn’t know what to do and it was hard. Finally they broke up. Later she married another man, now she has children. Later as I thought about it, I couldn’t understand why my children couldn’t tell me about the abuse they experienced, why my daughter couldn’t share that she was abused by her husband and that she suffered in silence for years. They couldn’t express it. I thought and thought, I couldn’t understand why when I had taught my children that if anyone abused them to let me know and I would protect them. That’s what I wanted. But they didn’t. I put that into my suitcase too. I had to face my ex son-in-law, that was terrible. I saw him abuse her, I fought and fought hard to protect my children, my daughter and grandchildren from him. I felt powerless, seeing what my grandchildren were going through, I was no match. I felt abused in another way as well. Child Protective Services did nothing to help them. I thought I could depend on the legal system to protect the children. Now i have a hard time trusting the legal system. I put that in my suitcase and carried it with me. I feel unattractive, I wondered why I don’t feel beautiful. But I went for counseling and I started to talk about the abuse with my father and mother, how they didn’t believe me, how my boss didn’t believe me and did nothing to stop my co-worker. How the legal system failed me. I understand now that trauma and abuse hurt my self esteem. I started to realize that the suitcase was very heavy because of all these experiences. That is why I carried a lot of secrets in my suitcase with all the problems I faced for 48 years. Now i am not keeping secrets, not keeping the suitcase with me any more. I am not going to keep silent or keep shame or guilt. They can’t control me, or tell me to keep secrets. I have nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for. I did not do anything. It is not my fault! Now I am free, I have nothing to hide. Now I realize keeping all the secrets inside and hiding for so long hurt my health. It is not good for me to hold onto and hide these secrets. Now I have health problems popping up. Don’t hold and hide things, it will affect your health. Get some help, go to counseling, find someone to help. Thank you for you watching.