Mission Statement and Objective
What is Your Voice, Inc. Peer Support Advocates empower women and children to live violence free lives. Our objective is reducing the risk of women or children repeating the cycle of violence or fleeing from violent homes becoming a statistic of poverty, homelessness, addiction or human trafficking. We provide a Holistic approach of healing through our intensive aftercare for the whole person Body, Soul, Spirit. While breaking the societal cycle of violence within Sussex County, Delaware.
Our Holistic Focus
The focus is a Holistic view of the initial needs of victims in full crisis providing PFA support in the journey through the courts or requiring our Holistic long-term care. Targeting stabilization in all forms, removal of isolation for community connection, empowerment, and economic self-sufficiency. Addressing financial lack, health needs, isolation, TRAUMA, PTSD, educational direction or employment, housing needs for temporary shelter costs and entrance into rental situations.
We are addressing homelessness, addictions, poverty and human trafficking impacting the survivors of violence within Sussex County. These factors drive women and children back to the abusers and the cycle continues, which effects the next generation and the Sussex County community societal stability and health.
What is Your Voice?
We are going to tell you through real stories of real women, families, and their journeys.
Here’s Two Of Our Most Recent Stories
Love Shouldn’t Hurt
I do not like telling someone else’s story but it is where mine began. I grew up in a household where perception was everything and from the outside, everything looked perfect. However, on the inside my father was very abusive to my mother. My father was an alcoholic and my mother always blamed herself for his abusive behavior. I remember one instance where my father tried to kill my mother with a baseball bat and another time when he severely beat my grandmother right in front of us.
Growing up in this environment my perception of how men were supposed to act and treat women became skewed. The abuse to me became normal and acceptable because even after my father left us, my mother remarried and my stepfather exhibited the same behaviors. Nevertheless, as I said her story is not mine to tell. At 18 years old, while I was in college, I met a man. I thought he would be my forever. At first, everything was great but things began to go downhill quickly after the lust began to wear off. Looking back now, I am able to see the red flags. From the very beginning, he began pushing my boundaries. I became alienated from my family and friends. He controlled who I could spend my time with and as our relationship continued; my privileges so to speak dwindled quickly. We dated through college and got married shortly after our graduation. That is when his true self came out. He started abusing drugs and alcohol and when he was drunk or high he became a person I did not know. When my husband would come home under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he would call me names, accused me of cheating, and would throw whatever was close to him at me. I slowly started to lose who I was as a person and would blame myself for his behavior and addictions. For years, this happened in cycles sometimes things were great and we got along so well but then out of nowhere things would go bad very fast.
After 4 years of being married and stripped of my self-worth, I became pregnant with my first daughter. I recall a specific instance when I was 8 months pregnant we were at my baby shower and he started drinking heavily. I remember being mad and going upstairs to bed. I woke up with him on top of me with his hands around my throat choking me. This was the first time I thought he was going to kill me. After my daughter was born, he made me quit working to stay home and take care of the baby. This gave him even more control and power over me. He would come home from work sometimes and force me to have sex with him. He told me since I was not working it was my job to fulfill his needs whenever he said so. I was not allowed to say no, even if I wanted to, because he was the one working and providing for the family. I continued to give into this because it was better than the alternative. This further stripped my self-worth away from me. The he started coming home drunk and I would have to slowly sneak my daughter and an overnight bag out to the car. To sneak out of the house and go to my mom’s. I did not know what he would do to us. However, my mom did not know about my husband’s addictions or the abuse. I would use the excuse that I was a new mother and needed her help with the baby. I then would just sneak back home with my daughter while he was at work. He never said anything about it. We ended up moving again and shortly after I became pregnant with my second daughter. After she was born, he started coming home later and later. He worked two jobs and would say that he was working late.
I knew the truth. I knew there was someone else. Sadly, I was relieved because it meant he spent very little time at home so it was just my girls and me most of the time. When he did come home he was usually wasted and sometimes in the back of a police car. He became known as the town drunk. One morning at 4 am the police brought him home completely wasted. I remember telling them I was afraid of him and begging them not to leave him there! The police officer had dealt with him many times and the officer just laughed at me. He looked at me and told me: my husband was just a silly little drunk everyone knew. I should just let him sleep it off and then he would be fine. The officer then suggested I take my 250LB husband down into the basement by myself at 4am. That I had two small children asleep upstairs and just leave him down there. I thought: even if I could get him down there, I could not lock the door. I could not keep him down there. The officers left. I told my drunken husband to stay downstairs. At this point I made him angry. He chased me up the stairs into our bedroom. I couldn’t keep him out. He was stronger than I was. Then he said the chilling words that finally made me realize it was time to get out. He said, “I will kill you and the kids tonight.” I believed him. What am I supposed to do? I had a newborn child and a toddler. I had no work experience to fall back on. I had no way to support myself and my girls financially. I was forced to wait three more years until my youngest daughter started school. I had saved enough money to gets us out. The hard part, nobody knew. Once again from the outside in our family was picture perfect. We went to church, always dressed nicely and appeared to be a very happy family. No one knew the horrors I faced behind the closed doors. Not my parents, not our friends, not even members of our church. When I finally decided to get a divorce, my mother told me I was being selfish. I was not thinking about my children. In her defense, she did not know the nightmare I was living. At this point I finally broke down and I told my mother, my pastor, and my pastors wife. It was the first time, in a long time, I felt just a little stronger. My pastor said, “If I ever called him, he would have four men at my front door, ready to show my husband Jesus, if he tried to hurt me or the kids ever again.” Even after we were divorced, he did not leave right away. Eventually I had to pay him off to leave. I did not want to be the one that left because I did not want my children’s’ whole world turned upside down. I wanted them to stay in their rooms, with their stuff, and at their school with their friends. He was barely home so when he left the girls did not notice. What was ironic, after the divorce, I was tracked down by a lawyer and told my abusive biological father had passed away. He left me money in his will. The irony in that was, I used the money from my abusive father to save me from my abusive husband! I knew it was God helping me. God and Jesus were the only things in my life that made me feel safe. They never changed and they never let me down. The hardest part of it all was, I did not trust my own instincts. I needed validation from those on the outside. Having my support system gave me the strength I needed, to finally break free of the chains he had placed on me.
I would like to give you a fairy tale ending. We all know real life is nothing like the movies or stories you hear growing up as a child. I was still broken, I was not ready, I was lonely. I started talking to a man that I had gone to high school with. The red flags started appearing on regular bases but because this had always been my normal, I ignored them. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I worked harder and did more, that he would be different. Shortly after we moved in together, I became pregnant with our son and we got married right away. This time I was a little smarter and I had the substantial assets in my name. I noticed the pattern starting again. I put my foot down and told him he needed to leave. Surprise! guess what? He would not leave and at this point I found out that he had accrued over $60,000 dollars of debt in my name. I needed to get out of debt and I needed to get him out of the house. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I put my house on the market. The home sold and I moved into my mom’s house. I tried to find a stable place for the children and I to live. It took a year to find a home for the children while digging myself out of the massive debt he placed on me. At this point my husband had his own place a few towns over. I started taking my son over to visit. I would stay. I was afraid of what my son would be exposed to I left him there alone with his father.
Each time I would pray for my husband. I did not want to go through another divorce. I did not want my very young son going through visitation alone with his father. With each visit, I witnessed my husband having a change of heart and saw real changes in him. In the finale hour at the 6-month point, which is when I could have filed for divorce, I decide not to go through with it. Instead I decided to give my husband another chance but on my terms. I allowed him to move back in with me. At this point, he quickly realized everything was in my name. He would be the one leaving with nothing, if he crossed the boundaries I set. I had my strength back. I was the one in control. I decided which behaviors I was willing to tolerate. Some behaviors are not necessarily dangerous; they are just hurtful and I chose to overlook them for my son’s sake. Just for now. For example, I have accepted for now, there will always be other women. I feel more empowered knowing, that I do not need him there. Instead I am choosing to allow him to be there. The biggest change I noticed in him. He is finally taking responsibility for his actions and my no, means no. He respects me now. I feel equal in our relationship and it is no longer one sided. I now run my own successful business. My husband not only supports me, he also lets me know how proud he is of me. I am no longer ashamed of where I have been, or what I have done. I am proud of where I am now. Each day little by little, I get a piece of myself back. I love the myself I am discovering and the me that I am becoming. For the first time, I don’t have to be anyone but myself, that is a beautiful thing.
One thought I would like to leave you with is this. I want women to know that even if they aren’t being hit, raped or bruised; what is happening to them emotionally is just as bad if not worse. Bruises heal, and the mental wounds leave scars. So trust your instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, chances are it’s not.
I was 6 months old when my whole world was turned upside down. My mother was involved in a tragic motor vehicle accident. This fatal accident not only took her life but also changed mine. My mother left behind my sister and I in the care of a monster, my father. My father was a very successful and self-made man. He was traveling for the most part of his career. The first 5 years after my mother died, my sister and I lived with our maternal grand-parents. I can honestly say; my mother’s parents were the only ones who truly ever gave me 100% of their love. They expected nothing in return. I was 5 years old when my father met a young woman. She wanted a make shift family. She not only wanted my father but his kids as well.
One day my sister and I woke up and found our bags packed at the door of my grandparents’ house. My father told us we were done living with our Nana. We would now be living with him and his new wife. The abuse started within days of
us moving in with my father and his wife. One thing to know about my father is at this point he had friends in high places and he hid behind his money and success. My father was verbally and physically abusive to my sister and I. Back then you could not just run to your school counselor and tell them you were being abused, instead you just dealt with it! Even in the presences of my dad’s friends, I had visible signs of the abuse. They knew what was going on, but they were ok with it, because of who he was. My dad’s wife was only 7-8 years older than my sister and they butted heads a lot. My sister then 15, had finally had enough of the abuse, she left me there when I was only 11 years old. She moved out and left me. I was alone with my father, his wife and their two children.
I felt I was the outcast of the family at this point. I would never be good enough for my father who treated the other two kids like gold. I was his only physical outlet when he had a bad day or when he didn’t have a bad day. He would beat me so bad and then he would laugh as I flinched when he raised his hand to me.
I know this sounds silly but I would do anything in the world to make my father happy or proud of me. My whole life I grew up thinking something was wrong with me and I was always in trouble and doing things wrong. During family dinners at our house I was forced to eat in my room, they would go on family outings and vacations, and I was always left behind.
At 16, I joined the volleyball team at my school. One night after my games, my father told me to sit in the front seat. I knew what this meant. It meant he was going to hit on me and pull my hair the whole way home. I saw it in his eyes. I was so scared and I refused to move up to the front seat. At this point, my father grabbed my hair, and as I pulled away, a huge chunk of my hair remained in my father’s hand. I knew I had to run! So I did and I never looked back. I just kept running.
I went to see my sister. She was living with my grandparents. My sister was dating a state police officer. Together they helped me press charges against my father. After pressing charges, I was allowed to live with my grandparents. My father washed his hands clean of me after the court case.
Living with my grandparents was my first taste of real freedom. I put them through complete hell because of it. When I turned 17, my grandparents had enough of what I was putting them through. They found me an apartment. I used this total freedom as a ticket to do what I wanted. I eventually stopped going to school and lucked into a great job. I began working with a hospital in my area.
After working there for about two years, I got pregnant with my son and my life began to spiral. The man who helped me conceive my son wanted nothing to do with me. I had chosen to put my son up for adoption. My sister was a huge influence on that decision.
Nine months passed and it was finally time to give birth to my baby boy. After he was born, a nurse came into the room and asked what I was going to name him?
I told her he was up for adoption. I did ask her if I could hold him before they took him. The second she placed my son in my arms, that was all she wrote, I was no longer able to give him up. At this point, my sister wrote me off. She threw a pair of sweatpants in my face and told me from this point forward I was on my own.
I had no place to go so my son and I ended up in shelters. I met my first husband in a shelter. He was truly a great man and he helped me get my life together. He was a great father to my son and I went on to have two more children with him. Then one night my husband and I went out to a bar. While we were there, my husband had gotten into an altercation with another man. The man punched my husband in the face. I was young and dumb and thought that was cool. He looked so powerful, so I left my husband and became the wife of the man that had punched him.
My second husband and I were verbally and physically abusive to each other. I went on to have a daughter with this man and we remained together for 13 years. Then one day my daughter came to me and told me my husband had been sexually abusing her and he was arrested and we left.
After my kids were grown and left the nest, I decided to try the online dating scene and I met a man who in my eyes was perfect. He had that bad boy image, the sexy rugged look all girls dream about. He said and did all the right things. He took me on amazing dates and treated me like a lady. I was so proud to call him my boyfriend. After two months of us dating, he was arrested and sent to jail. His first day in prison he called me and asked if I would stay by his side? He asked me to help get him through this and promised it would be worth it. I told him I would and while he was in prison, it seemed to bring us even closer together. We talked on the phone all the time and he would send me a letter almost every day. It appeared that we really got to know each other, or so I thought. After he was released from prison things were ok for a couple weeks.
Then at the 3-week mark, I received a hard reality check. This was the first time he put his hands on me. During my whole life, I had to defend myself. My first reaction was to hit him back. He had to go to the hospital and get stitches in his hand. When he returned home, he taught me another very important lesson. From the beating he gave me. I learned I would never raise my hand or defend myself against him ever again! After this, the beatings came daily. If he had a bad day or if his kids’ mothers would call and make him angry, I would shudder because, I know it would be taken out physically on me. I started drawing parallels in my mind and I felt like I was that 15-year-old girl all over again living with my father.
At this point, I would get injuries and I was not able to receive medical treatment for them. I knew they would make a report and he would kill me.
Due to my injuries, I became unreliable and unable to do my job, and I lost all my clients. I changed my profession and went into cooking in a kitchen. I knew I could hide my abuse and my bruises. Since I would not be directly dealing with many people.
This worked for a while but then one day my supervisor came to me and said “We needed to talk”. As he spoke, it took everything I had to hold it together. He said,
“Look I am sorry, but I know you’re getting beat, we all do.
It’s really effecting our business here. It’s effecting the other staff, so we are going to have to let you go. I hope you understand.”
On my way home, I was so afraid of what was going to happen when I told my abuser I lost my job. I realized I was more worried about my dog. My abuser would hurt her and use her to get me to do what he wanted. He knew how much I cared about my dog. I had to make a hard decision and chose to put my dog into foster care. I feared what he would do to my dog. I knew I had let her down and when I lost her, I truly became isolated.
My children had stopped talking to me at this point and it is not that they did not love me. They just wanted me to love myself enough to leave and they could not talk to me about it. Talking to me about my abuser was like talking to a brick wall. Things got worse when I lost my job and I was scared to even breathe living with him for fear of even breathing wrong. I walked on a tight rope of fear.
At this point, he started duct taping me in our small bathroom naked for days at a time. At times, I would get so desperate for a drink. I would break the duct tape on my mouth on the pipes on the bottom of the sink. Just to get the water to drip into my mouth. As I would, sit in there I would try my best to be quiet and behave so he would let me out even if it were only for a little while.
Then one day a neighbor had called the police for illegal activity going on in our home. The governor’s task force responded to the complaint and came knocking on our door. As soon as he realized it was the police at the door he came running into the bathroom, threw a pink robe around me, instructed me to go open the door, and told me I had better not say a word to them about anything going on in the house. He jumped in the shower and I answered the door in nothing but the pink robe he had given me to wear. When I opened the door, the officer said they were here to conduct a warranted search and seizure as they came flooding in with guns drawn. They removed him from the shower with force and began looking for drugs in the house. They did not find anything in the house.
The officer took me into a separate bedroom, away from it all, to speak with me. I will never forget what the officer said to me as I stood there in nothing but the pink robe, covering up hundreds of bruises and scars. He said “Excuse me miss but when was the last time you used?” Now, all that was going through my head was, I must cover for him, I must get him out of this, because if I did not he would kill me. However, the officer’s question broke through the screams in my own mind and I broke down. I looked at the officer as he asked me what the visible marks on me where from? All I could get out was “Sir he beats me, I don’t use but he beats me. I have a no contact order with him right now, but I was scared not to let him in sir, please he beats me.” I dropped my robe to expose the many bruises covering my body. The officer’s facial expression became softer as he spoke and he said, “This certainly isn’t what we came here for but we will be handling this right now!”
They immediately placed him in hand cuffs, put him in the back of a police car. This would be the last time I ever saw my abuser. The nightmare was not over yet.
I did not have a job anymore. He went to prison and with no income I lost the car. All I could do was sit there trapped. Not only in the house but in my own mind. A few days later, I was still lying in bed. I looked up at the ceiling and I began to talk to God. I told him, I knew I had to get out of there. I knew I had to leave. I did not know how much time I had until my abuser would return. I had to get it together.
I started calling everyone I could. I was looking for a helping hand. Trying to get together enough money to get a car to escape out of there. I hit many walls. I would tell them all that I was really going to leave him this time. I must get out this time before he kills me. No one would believe me because I had said those exact words so many times before.
Through my begging in desperation I got together $500. I bought a car that didn’t have a ceiling. It was my only way out, so I did not care. I packed that car full of everything I could fit. I had to leave so many things. Pictures of my children and items that reminded me of the life behind, I lost so much. As I began to pull away, I realized I could never go back. I headed to my son’s home. The next few months were hard. I was couch surfing at my sons. He was in a new relationship, and things were tense while I was there. My son wanted to help me out so much.
I knew I could not stay there long. I had to take it one day at a time. Sometimes I would think about going back home to my husband. Not because I wanted to be abused, because it was my familiar. All I had was my familiar. I didn’t have to think for myself or make decisions. I only had to exist. While at my son’s I got in touch with some of my girlfriends from high school. I decided it would be best for me to go stay with them.
The friend I ended up with lived right next to a church. The first day there, I attended church and they were holding a 120 days of prayer service. Every day for the next 120 days. I completely threw myself into the church so much that people would joke and call me a nun. I was also happy because I could get my dog out of her foster home. She was back with me where she belonged. Tragedy would strike a few months later. The people I was staying with had a larger dog. My little precious girl dog was viciously attacked in front of me. She lost her life due to the injuries she sustained. I left the house shortly after and was not able to return. Every time I walked into the house the brutal scene kept playing repeatedly in my head.
I started sleeping in my car in the church parking lot. It was the only place I felt safe. I knew something had to change so I left. I ended up back in the town I called home. Things started falling into place when a man I used to do home care for contacted me. He needed home care and at first, I felt as though I did not have anything left to give. I had lost so much of myself over the last few years. I decided to take the job. Slowly I got back into the swing of things.
I built a small client base. After a few months, I was able to find a home of my own. I noticed each day that I started to live my life for myself. Each day I would do more of the things I wanted to do. Simply because I felt I gave myself permission and I could. As I cared for my clients, I began to look back and reflect on the past. I realized the only person you can truly count on is yourself.
February the following year, one of my clients passed away and it sent me into a downward spiral with my PTSD. I sunk in despair, as I saw all the loss in my life. My past finally caught up with me. I had lost my home at this point and I was back to square one. Living in my car and surfing peoples’ couches. I felt so defeated.
It was so hard to find anyone willing to help a single woman without young children, in crisis.
Finally, I reached out to the What is Your Voice Agency when I stumbled across their Facebook page. I know it was a long shot for me. When a response to my cry for help came quickly, I was flooded with emotion. Finally, someone cared enough to hear My Voice, finally someone was listening, and for the first time in a long time, I felt noticed. I felt like a real person who actually mattered. With-in a few months with their assistance, I could drag myself off the couch. I turned my self-pity back into strength and courage. No one was going to take “My Voice” from me again, and now I will scream it from the rooftops! I realized my worth and instead of surviving every day, I’m truly living, even though, I am still living my life one day at a time. I am doing it my way and only must answer to myself. I can look back into my past now and admit, I was in-fact in many domestic violence situations. It started all the way back into my childhood.
One thing I would like to say to whomever is reading this. “If at any point while you were reading this, you began to get a bad feeling and started to question your own life, or current relationship run! Get out as fast as you can! If something does not feel right, it probably is not.
You do not have to stay in it. There is help out there. You just have to look for it”. I can truly promise it will get better once you get out, it will get easier once you’re out. You can finally begin to truly live your life. I hope you heard that you can actually live your life, instead of just surviving it”. Now I am signing off and heading to McDonald’s for a burger, simply because I can. Maybe I will see you there some time? 🙂
We are honored to share with you a glimpse of a family who went from victim to victory. This women and her family have been through some terrible circumstances and they took a stand. They have gone through our official program model, and found their voices.They recently graduated into living an independent and healthy lifestyle.This is truly what our organization is about, and when we ask for donations this is why. You may see that our long term goal is to build a complex. We have many of these success stories, and we will share them along the way. We can and will continue telling these success stories with your support. Donate Now! We will change the outcome of women and children’s lives together.
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Jacqueline Sterbach, CEO of What is Your Voice, Inc. is honored to be quoted twice within an article written about Protective Orders in the Delaware News Journal and the implications for women and children who flee from their abusers.
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