Branding Evil and Rebranding Domestic Violence

From Victim to Victor: Finding Hope and Happiness After Domestic ViolenceThe man who tried to kill me called the other day.

At least I think it was him. It was his name on the caller ID, and the voice sounded vaguely familiar.

But the sing-song, taunting timbre (think Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” from The Shining) was absent.

The mocking voice that tormented my waking hours while I lived with him?…That made me hyperventilate at the sound of a ringing telephone during the years when he stalked me? …That invaded my dreams long after my daughters and I went into hiding to escape from a reputed hit man?

That’s not the voice I heard when I listened to a message left on KOTAW’s answering machine at 6:20 a.m. September 28th. It was Kelsey’s birthday and the day before the 15th (or so) airing of the Lifetime movie Run For Your Life, based on my memoir, Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From The Husband Who Stalked Her.

The man on the phone was nervous, his words halting and the tone effeminate. He was clearly reading from a script, and I think he was terrified someone would pick up the phone.

With good reason.

From Victim to Victor

If any member of my KOTAW Girl Gang had answered the call from the man I presume to be my former abusive husband, he likely would have done the same thing he did when he was served divorce papers at his place of work two decades ago: peed his pants. And, by the time he finished listening to what any of us had to say to him, I’d bet my next book royalty check that he’d have made an even smellier mess in his boxer shorts.

While his voice has weakened, ours have grown strong beyond measure. Our words would deafen him, not because of their volume but because of their intent. And any conversation would be brief. Our message is succinct: We are done with you.

Fit for Twitter

Beyond that, we really have little to say. Only two of us listened to the voice mail, and each of us remembered different parts. We didn’t bother to listen to it again before hitting the delete button. We wondered idly why he’d finally chosen to make direct contact himself rather than assign the task (as he had before) to his second wife. The conversation consumed all of two minutes and contained fewer than 140 characters.

My daughter asked me afterwards:

“Are you OK?”

“Yes. You?” I asked.


We haven’t discussed the phone call or the caller since.

Preserving Memories and Saving Lives

I’m writing about it now, during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, for three reasons:

  1. To let women know that there is hope beyond the terror-filled lives they suffer when they’re partnered with abusive men.
  2. To brand domestic violence as an everyday issue that everyone must help end. Because when a person is physically abused, raped or stalked by a domestic partner every 24 minutes, someone you know needs help.
  3. To give the caller a public message since I didn’t have a chance to say anything to him privately on the phone.

The first two reasons are the most important — they’re why I wrote Quicksand and why I agreed to let Lifetime produce the PG-version of my story last year. And, although I had no idea the movie would be repeated so frequently, I am gratified that each airing sparks a new conversation about domestic violence. I am honored and humbled that so many women (and a few men) have shared their stories with me.

I pray for the day when stories about domestic violence are rare, when millions of women don’t watch and, (in large numbers) re-watch Run For Your Life, a day when troubled relationships end in shattered hearts and regret, not broken bones and body bags.

Repeating Myself

Until then, I’ll keep writing and talking about men who control women with fists, weapons, emotional blackmail, mind games, sleep deprivation, isolation, financial ruin and myriad other tactics because they’d rather be feared than loved.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, despite its important message and laudable intentions, can inadvertently make abused women feel weak or ashamed if they don’t walk out the door in October when their TV screens and social media feeds are filled with empowering PSA messages and a chorus of “why don’t they just leave?” comments.

No one who survives domestic violence is weak. It takes incredible strength to withstand the emotional and physical onslaughts of an abusive partner. Staying is hard and leaving is harder. There’s no good time – or good way – to leave. But there’s also no reason to stay.

No reason. Whatever you’ve been told – or whatever you tell yourself – about why it’s better to stay, it’s a lie. I don’t judge any woman who stays. But know this: hope and happiness wait for you on the other side of the door.

And the moment you cross the threshold, you will discover reservoirs of strength you didn’t know existed. And they will grow deeper with each step you take. This message – this truth – is worth repeating any day or month of the year.

Leave when you can. Until then, stay safe. And talk to someone you trust, someone with no ties to your abuser. If you’d like that person to be me, send me a private message on Facebook or Twitter. I won’t reveal your identity to anyone and won’t give you any advice unless you request it.

Branding Evil

I do, however, have some unsolicited advice for the man who called the other day, the man I refer to as Evil. Don’t ever invade my turf – by any means or through anyone — again.

If you do, I’ll teach you about the power of personal branding.


  1. Good for you…whew…it scared me at first…..he better stay away from trying anything……I hope you were able to see where he was calling from and that it is not a cell phone….those keep their numbers intact no matter how the people move about. Stay safe – ALWAYS. Thanks for sharing. He better know that we know.

  2. Adrienne says:

    You had me in tears Katherine.

    I’ve had one friend in my life who was abused. She would call me every time she needed someone. I was her savior for years but it took its tole on me. My parents were always so worried that I would be the person at the end of that baseball bat because I always stood up to him. I even hit him over the head with a lamp one day when he tried to get in my house to get her. I’ve blocked him in so the police could arrest him so I was his least favorite person and he was a very scary man. she refused to leave him though. I finally had to cut ties with her and she eventually did leave him and moved on with her life. To watch someone beat down like that and still go back is the most heart wrenching thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. Your post brought back all those memories.

    You are a very brave lady and I appreciate you sharing this with us. You know I’ll be sure to pass this one around too because people need to hear your message. Those who haven’t left need to and I hope that they’ll get some inspiration from this.

    I’m glad your story was made into a movie and I’m going to be sure to watch it next month when it airs again. I’m just glad you are no longer in that situation thank goodness.

    I have some words for abusers but I promised myself I wouldn’t be vulgar online. So you can only imagine what I’m thinking. ;-)


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Thank you for standing up for your friend. I know how hard it must have been and why you eventually had to cut ties. It is, indeed, heartbreaking to put yourself in danger for someone who is not yet ready to protect herself. Still, you did a courageous thing; you helped her stay alive long enough to gather the courage to leave.

      It’s why I keep telling my story. I want women to know that there is an alternative — that the joy that lies outside of an abusive relationship is worth the risk of standing up to an abusive partner.

      My abuser has tempted me to be very vulgar online (I deleted a few expletives from my first draft) so, yes, I know what you’re thinking. I hope to always resist the temptation because I want my message to stay positive. Curses don’t end domestic violence. I hope my words encourage women to build safe, happy lives for themselves and their children.

  3. DAH-LING!!!

    I LOVE YOU SO FRIKKING MUCH! :P (I am shunning elegance for honest-to-goodness LOVE and support and HUGSS!)

    LOL – that man dare not even BREATHE the same air you do. You are not alone anymore, sweetie. You have your girls, your pets, your Pit, your friends, your fans, your followers, your ADMIRERS, YOUR KIT! #HUGSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSs


    PS: I apologize for ‘capping’ a lot of words ;)

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      NEVER apologize to me, Kit (unless you DARE tell me you’ve given up on writing).

      Love is not always elegant but, from you, I know it is always honest.

      So the CAPS stay!

      Thank you for always making me feel cherished, supported — and safe.

      Now….don’t you have some writing to do??



  4. Rachel says:

    Hey Katherine,

    Powerful post. I admire your strength going through your life threatening ordeal and how you have come out of it. An experience like this will certainly will empower others to leave.

    We need constant reminders that there is no tolerance for this sort of weak behaviour. Like you state, those who, ‘control women with fists, weapons, emotional blackmail, mind games, sleep deprivation, isolation, financial ruin and myriad other tactics’ really are weak and need help. And we know this because they hide their behaviour from other people.

    Thank you for sharing your story – it touched my heart.


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hi, Rachel,

      Thank you so much for stopping by here — and for sharing my story on Twitter. Yes, we need ongoing reminders that abuse is not acceptable. What I hope to also convey is that, though much misery lies behind the closed doors of an abusive relationship, happiness awaits outside it.

      Thank you also for pointing out that abusive behavior is born of weakness. No man confident of his own self worth feels a need to deprive a woman of hers.

      Hope to get to know you better on social media now that we’re connected.

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