Music from O’Ryan Barron played from the main dining room of the Braemar Country Club as folks gathered for Unsilenced Voices fundraising dinner on July 23, 2022. Unsilenced Voices started by Michelle Jewsbury is based on her personal journey dealing with domestic violence and how she turned her own lemons into lemonade and now works to help others see the light, escape and make their own lives.
Guests gathered for a delicious meal and networking included Collin Plume and his wife Sharon of Noble Gold Investments, who funded much of the dinner, and Leigh Steinberg, a super sports agent who is often dubbed “the real Jerry Maguire.”
When things are good, they are very, very good. But when they become bad, they are ugly and often fatal.
Having seen the Tina Turner documentary of her survival after domestic violence, Collin realized that he needed to help and joined Michelle on the board of Unsilenced Voices.
Leigh Steinberg said, “Domestic violence is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. How would you feel if your mother, sister, daughter, or girlfriend experienced this?” It was this thought that encouraged Leigh and his daughter Katie Steinberg to organize a luncheon for men.
Famous for his Super Bowl parties, Mr. Steinberg, who believes in this cause, helped Michelle raise her first 100,000. Several NFL players – Jackson Crisp and Morlon Greenwood – attended the event, as well. Leigh realized that athletes are role models and looked at as celebrities by many – especially the men who follow them. Using them to dramatize the issue, he had Lennox Lewis, a heavy-weight boxer, who posed for the poster – Real Men Don’t Hit Women. “We are here in the hopes we can slow and eventually stop domestic violence. Adolescents have to be educated that real men don’t hurt women. We tend to wait for “they” to solve the problem. It’s time to realize that we are the “they.” We must make the changes. My father taught me that they is us.”
He wants to make a meaningful statement and help relieve some of the pain. Domestic violence is a universal problem that spans all cultures, religions, and incomes. Reports of domestic violence – this includes dating violence as well as same-sex partners or anyone in a committed relationship – have skyrocketed. Now, especially since the start of the pandemic, the syndrome has been exacerbated by economic stress, isolation, and grief. In addition, the exorbitant cost of living and housing in many cities now has made it more difficult for those trying to leave a violent partner. Those who do not leave, however, are often at risk of being murdered.
Michelle’s story was typical of many victims – confident, pretty, and career-minded – she was broken down by her experience but managed to make a comeback so that she could help others.
Attractive and talented, Michelle came to Los Angeles from a small town in Idaho determined to be an actress. For a while, she succeeded. Then she met her boyfriend, an entrepreneur. He courted her romantically and won her heart, so she moved in with him…and then the abuse started. He made her give up her dreams and she agreed because she thought she loved him. That was 2012.
Slowly at first – like the lobster in water not realizing it was getting hotter and hotter. First, there was criticism about her looks, her work, her family, and her friends. No one was good enough. He isolated her. Then it was wanting to know where she was at every moment and becoming insanely jealous where he had no reason to be. Control of her became his mantra.
Friends and family told her to leave, but she kept telling them that he loved her, and it was all right. He would change. But he didn’t. She kept on saying to herself that she loved him but she didn’t know where the man she fell in love with had gone?
The water heated up but Michelle, as with most victims, told herself that it was her fault, that she loved him and made excuses for him being under stress. Even after he called her whore, cunt, slut, slept with others, and got angry when she even spoke to another man, she excused him. These abusers are obsessively jealous and often for no reason.
One night he slammed her head into the wall. She saw the damage done and even after he tried to strangle her, she tried to excuse him. When his fingers choked her, she wondered what she had done to make him so mad. After each event, he would profusely apologize and promise her nothing like that would ever happen again. He adored her. He never wanted to hurt her again. He became Dr. Jekyll – sweet, understanding, supportive, romantic, and loving. But then soon he’d snap again and become Hyde. He didn’t even have to drink to do this. She had to walk on eggshells.
Friends warned, “He will hurt you again and again and next time it will be worse.” Actually, women who have been strangled have a 1:2 chance of being murdered by their abuser, and the strangling often causes internal health problems that are not discovered until much later.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone. Despite what some people think, domestic violence happens through all cultures, all religions, and all levels of income from affluent to minimum wage workers, from presidents, to doctors, judges, and professors, to day laborers, and even to the unemployed or retired. And despite what some believe, while the abuser might get drunk or high on drugs and use it as an excuse, they can abuse just as easily when sober.
These last few years during the pandemic when we were isolated and forced to stay in our homes – when many lost their jobs and their income was cut, the violence among couples – both married, living together, and same-sex relationships – increased tenfold. Even dating couples suffered. No group is immune. Some religions even laud the battering of their wives for “disobedience.”
Remember, if he seems too romantic and too good to be true, then it is probably too good. My ex started telling me that he loved me after two weeks. Oh, how I wanted to believe that, and I did…until he moved in and the abuse started. Even then I made excuses for him. After all, he was under stress, wasn’t he?
Each time the abuse happens, the victim is made to feel that she (or he because men are abused, too) did something wrong. They are put down both not only physically but emotionally, too, and made to feel that they are worthless and can do nothing. They become afraid to leave and even when they do leave, the abuser will beg her to come back, and many times, wanting to believe that everything will be “normal” again, that their fairy tale life will return, she does. Most victims leave and return several times before they manage to make the final departure …or are murdered.
Abuse does not have to be physical. Emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical injury. Children and animals in the relationship often suffer, as well. (Just witnessing it will damage the children.)
Many victims are afraid to leave – they have been broken down so much and since the abuser controls the money, they have very little funds to escape with. Whatever skills they might have had to earn a living are often rusty or they doubt their own abilities to survive. They become convinced that no one else will want them or they think they have to stay for the children (who are often abused, too, and even just seeing their mother hurt abuses them. So the victim stays.
After a while, their friends no longer want to hear the victim’s sad stories because they believe she will never listen to their advice and never leave. Most people who have never experienced this type of abuse have no idea how hard it is for the victim to admit that this man that they thought they loved is capable of doing this to them and how hard it is to admit they have made a mistake by being with him. Most victims leave at least seven times before they are able to cut ties but those that stay do so because subconsciously, they believe – it’s been hammered into them – that they do not deserve better or that they cannot exist without this abusive partner. While women are the majority of the victims, men, too, can suffer from the violence – especially the emotional berating, isolation, and financial control.
The abusers use isolation, torture, and violence to control their victims. They make sure that there is no money for the victims to use and the victim has to account for every penny spent.
She was injured but instead of ruining her life, once she had taken a breath and realized what really happened, Michelle fought back so that others would not suffer as she had.
Nevertheless, it took four brutal years, in 2015, before Michelle reached the boiling point and could come to terms with what was really happening in her life. After finding that her boyfriend cheated with other women when she came back from a mission trip to Kenya, she knew that she had to leave.
Typical of these abusers, he blamed her for his actions. Still, it was hard for her because, despite the physical and emotional trauma, she believed she still loved him.
In my own case, it wasn’t the beatings and name-calling that caused me to leave but the fact that my ex tried to kill my cat. I knew I had to stand up for my pets even if I couldn’t stand up for myself. And many women ignore their own injuries but leave because she sees what the abuse is doing to their children.
Once out of the relationship. Michelle wrote a one-woman play about her experiences and a book, But I Love Him, which she published through Amazon. Then by happenstance, she met a Ghanese doctor who told her about the suffering of the women in his country and Michelle knew that the Lord had spoken to her. She had a mission in life.
Flying to the African nation, in 2016 she began meeting with the women in Ghana and letting them know that it was not alright for the men to beat them, not alright for the men to control them. She did wonders there and then expanded her work to Sierra Leone.
Michelle officially started her group in 2017 and while she is concentrating on domestic violence, she hopes to expand to the sister problems – human trafficking and sexual abuse. She is now expanding her work to the United States starting in Los Angeles but with plans to go to Tampa and other places.
While she does not have any shelters in place, she does help victims with case management and acquire food, clothes, and the ability to learn skills, as well as assist with their escape (thou the cost of housing and moving are expensive in such cities as Los Angeles and that hampers movement.) Those who make their plans to leave, however, are in the most dangerous time because the abusers will think “If I can’t have you, then no one can.” Their life is often more endangered at this time.
The event at the Braemar raised over $65.000 and more is still coming in. The silent auction included several Kolbe Bryan collectibles, tickets to Super Bowl parties, trips to Italy, cocktail parties, Braemar gift certificates, and a handmade Madam Alexander doll.
Unsilenced Voices hopes within the next year to open their first American shelter where victims can be safe.
In her book, Michelle has listed domestic violence groups and shelters in various cities around the country. Because of the anger of the abusers at losing their victims, secrecy must be kept as to the location of the shelters.
Public relations for the group was done by Rayco Media. Other sponsors for the night included JetSet Token, who minted NFTs for the auction of artwork for abuse survivors in Sierra Leone, cryptoIRA exchange with My Digital Money, Uncle Nearest –premiere whiskey, and Scars of Survivors Magazine, as well as Upstate Coin and Gold.
Please consider checking out the website, attending some of Michelle’s events, and donating to the Unsilenced Voices.