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Sexual abuse and human trafficking were my lemons. Becoming an advocate, speaker and voice for other victims while instituting changes in legislation is my lemonade.
At eighteen-years-old, an evil sociopath in Miami Beach kept me chained up to a column in his house for a year where he and his friends raped, beat and tortured me. People wonder how this could happen to a smart girl like me. Well, I didn’t have a support system and, on some deep level, I believed this was what I deserved.
What made this horror so unique was that I wasn’t locked away in my abuser’s home all the time. I was so completely under his control that a few times a week, he would take me out into society and parade me around as his “girlfriend.” He would publicly shame and humiliate me to exert his control over me and to completely break me down. For example, he would take me to business lunches and when I would order a glass of water and a salad, he would tell the waitress not to bring me anything to eat or drink because I was too fat. The psychological warfare he used against me continued to degrade my sense of self until I became his puppet. Everyday this monster tormented me by telling me that he was going to kill me and throw my remains in the Everglades. He said that no one would miss me when I was gone. He also threatened to kill my Nema and Tata (that is what I called my grandparents). Nema and Tata were the most important people in my life and I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt them. When your abuser always makes good on his promises you don’t want to call his bluff.
This monster also exploited me for his financial gain and to further assert his power over me for his sick pleasure. On multiple occasions, he held a knife to my throat and threatened to kill me, and my Nema and Tata, if I didn’t dance at strip club to earn him some money. After he drove me to a seedy strip club in the middle of South Miami and I did as he demanded, he then slammed my head into the steering wheel of his Corvette and brutally raped me. On another occasion, he forced me into a dangerous group situation of prostitution with two men at a dilapidated motel. But by the grace of the universe, I was able to escape and claim I had sex with the men to satisfy his sadistic whim, even though the escort took pity on me and let me go, while she stayed to take care of her customers. A few times, this sociopath would starve me for days and then force me to work 15-20 hour days on odd jobs he would secure for me. Then he would take all of the money and beat me for good measure.
This monster would rape, beat and torture me all the while telling me how disgusting, worthless and unlovable I was. But the most twisted part was, as I lay battered and crying, he would stroke my face and tell me that even though I was “totally useless” and “a whore”, that with enough work, he could mold me into someone that he could love. He said I was a “diamond in the rough.”
Although my case may seem extreme, it serves as a compelling illustration of the power of the human spirit. Even though I have endured so many tragedies, I never gave up on the dream of a better life. But, that didn’t keep me from experiencing countless horrors as a young woman.
In a weird way, I became desensitized to the violence and built up an extremely high tolerance level for abuse. When I was in my 20’s, a trusted friend and colleague raped me as I was sleeping while we were on a business trip together. I completely trusted this person and he violated me physically and emotionally and it was devastating to me. I resigned myself to believe that maybe this is what the rest of my life would be like. I internalized the pain of that horrifying incident for eleven years until recently.
And when I was 29 years old, a guy threw me up against the wall in his closet and started choking me, and it seemed like nothing compared to what I had already survived. All of my romantic relationships from age eighteen until I met my husband when I was thirty years old, were abusive. The extremely violent sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured as someone’s prisoner when I was eighteen years old made all of my other abusers pale in comparison. I rationalized that these other abusers weren’t as bad as the monster in Miami Beach and I was completely trapped as a perpetual victim.
But, what does it say about our culture that I am not alone? Not even close. The abuse I survived may seem extreme, but I am just another statistic of staggering proportions. Many millions of other women know my story all too well in their own lives. And the only difference may be that they cannot get out, like I did. Sadly, many of them never get out. And the cycle of violence is perpetuated from one generation to the next. It is right in front of us, but somehow hidden away in the darkness, behind closed doors. We have to bring it out into the open and shine some light on it to create a new culture of awareness.
In my opinion, domestic violence is the worst plague on humanity and the root cause of so many of our other massive social problems. Everyone knows someone who is a survivor of domestic violence; you just might not know it yet. Because of the shame and blame culture of our society, most survivors of abuse are too ashamed and afraid to speak up, report the abuse and get the help that they need. It takes most survivors many years before they are even able to process the atrocities that they survived and even longer before they are in a safe space physically and emotionally to discuss it with someone else. I know this all too well from my own experience.
I have suffered from PTSD, nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, severe headaches and depression and I’m still healing on a daily basis. The bruises have faded and the broken bones have healed, but the emotional scars will be with me forever. What the monster in Miami Beach and all of my other abusers did to me is burned on my psyche. I cannot forget it and I will never forgive them. And I’m dedicated to turning my pain into a powerful way to help other survivors and with the goal of saving lives.
I have made a conscious shift in my life to dedicate my time, talent, energy and voice to become an advocate for women and children suffering in silence at the hands of violence.
In July, I co-hosted a salon to eradicate domestic violence and human trafficking with the special advisor to the United Nations where we both shared our stories of survival. I’m working on a lobby day in D.C. this Spring to testify in front of Congress on behalf of survivors. I’m also partnering with the world-renowned classical piano ensemble The 5 Browns (the sisters were all sexually abused by their father who is now in jail) to produce a powerful and moving concert at The Kennedy Center dedicated to our shared passion of fighting for the archaic and ridiculous statute of limitations laws related to cases of domestic violence and sexual assault to be abolished. We look forward to the day when the system actually protects the survivors and will punish abusers and rapists and ensure they will be off the streets and unable to become repeat offenders.
I have partnered with a fellow survivor friend of mine and we are going to embark on a tour of colleges in the U.S. and Canada at the beginning of 2015 where we will share our stories as cautionary tales and also offer tips to help keep young men and women safe and from becoming victims of violence. We will show them how to spot the warning signs and red flags of an abusive relationship and how to get help if they are already in one. We will let them know what resources are available to them on their journey of healing. The college rape epidemic is so pervasive and these young people are so susceptible and vulnerable to becoming victims of violence that we feel compelled to do everything we can to educate and inform them so they don’t become another statistic.
I’m also working on my book entitled “Trueheart: A Love Manifesto From An Unbreakable Spirit” which is part memoir and part self-help/inspirational. I hope to connect with other survivors by sharing my truth and offer them hope and inspiration for a better life. My number one priority is my beautiful family. I’m happily married to a kind and wonderful man and we have a beautiful son. My number two priority is to be a voice for the millions of men, women and children suffering in silence. I know one of the greatest purposes in my life is to help affect change and make this world a safer and more loving place by sharing my truth and helping to prevent others from suffering the way I have.
To learn more about Amy’s journey and advocacy, please visit: www.amymalin.com