Finding a ‘SafeJourney’
By Katy Zillmer
Monique Broderson, a domestic violence survivor, volunteers as an advocate to help other victims
The words, “this is where the healing begins” couldn’t have aired on the radio of Monique Broderson’s car at a more perfect time.
She was driving overnight to her brother’s house in North Carolina after leaving her boyfriend who verbally and emotionally abused her for three years.
“I didn’t have a plan at all, just a sense of ‘I’m no longer here,’” Broderson said.
She told her story to members of North Hennepin Business Women at their meeting in Robbinsdale Nov. 14.
Broderson is a volunteer advocate with SafeJourney, which helps victims of domestic violence through safety planning and support groups. The organization is based at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and also operates at Maple Grove Hospital and five off-site clinics.
Suzy Whelan, the SafeJourney advisor, joined Broderson to talk about the organization’s efforts at the meeting.
She said Broderson demonstrates what it means to be a survivor and using her experience for the purpose of developing awareness about domestic violence.
“One out of four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime,” Whelan said.
And, the years of emotional and verbal abuse Broderson endured is a form of domestic violence. At the time, however, she had no idea that was the case, Broderson said.
She met her former boyfriend in 2007 and moved away from her family and friends to live with him.
They fell in love, developed a blog together about their common interests and even worked at the same company.
But their relationship slowly started to change. Broderson said he started to isolate her first from male friends, then all her friends and even her family.
He controlled her phone, email access and where she went when she left the house.
Soon she couldn’t even do that, other than to work, under his control, Broderson said.
He threw away most of her belongings and clothing – then bought her larger items to hide her figure.
On top of that, Broderson described, he would scream at her and accuse her of cheating.
She couldn’t listen to music or watch television shows other than those he approved of.
“My confidence and self-worth was rarely a sparkle, if anything, left,” Broderson said.
Her family knew what was happening to a degree, but didn’t know what to do to help, she said.
They offered to buy a plane ticket to visit for her birthday or the holidays, but she had to decline because she wasn’t allowed to travel alone.
The abuse escalated to the level where Broderson said she started to adopt her former boyfriend’s paranoia and even think she was crazy.
There were times they would be driving together and she attempted to jump out of the car to escape, Broderson said. Her former boyfriend would speed up or drive through a stop sign to prevent her from getting out of the car. She hoped someone at work would notice his abuse but he was too controlling, even in that environment, Broderson said.
But one week in August 2010, Broderson knew she had to try to leave. Somehow the television was tuned into an episode of “Dateline,” about a victim of domestic violence.
The only difference, Broderson said, was she was alive and the victim was not.
That same week the refrigerator in their apartment broke. Broderson was forced by her former boyfriend to stay in the bathroom with the water running so she would not be seen or heard by the repairman. Still after than he yelled at her, made threats, and for the first time shoved her.
Then one day she was at home and hadn’t heard from her former boyfriend. She checked her phone and even went to the library to access her email because she was blocked from using their home computer, Broderson said.
Leaving the house on her own was against the rules, but Broderson had to do it. She was able to send a text message to a friend and contact her brother, who said she should make the overnight drive to his house – immediately.
She packed what she could in garbage bags and drove away.
Soon her former boyfriend knew she had left and cancelled her cell phone so she couldn’t call anyone. But Broderson made it to a gas station to get some money from an ATM and used the phone there to call her family with the news she was on the way.
It was after leaving the gas station that Broderson turned on the radio, something she rarely had been able to do for three years, and heard the words “this is where the healing begins.”
“I ended up at my brother’s door and within 24 hours my mind started to settle. I knew it was him and I wasn’t really crazy,” she said.
SafeJourney’s volunteer advocates and small group of paid staff, including Whelan, are there to help people like Broderson have a safe way to leave an abusive relationship.
“The vast majority of victims do leave that abusive relationship,” Whelan said. “When women do leave, it is when they’re in danger of being killed,” she added.
Staff members at North Memorial Medical Center are trained to screen every patient admitted to the hospital to determine if they have suffered from physical, verbal or emotional abuse.
A volunteer advocate, like Broderson, visits victims who are treated in the emergency room and are victims of abuse.
She volunteers on call to make those visits, or responds to phone calls to SafeJourney’s 24-hour advocacy line.
SafeJourney has resources to help victims develop a safety plan.
“They can learn to rebuild their life, and dreams,” Whelan said.
The first year SafeJourney opened at North Memorial Medical Center, in 1994, the advocates and staff helped 51 victims of domestic violence.
Last year, they helped 1,293, Whelan said.
A majority of victims are female, but they have helped men and people of all ages. “It’s a free and confidential service anyone can access,” Whelan said.
There are 128 volunteer advocates with SafeJourney who help victims and also lead several support groups in the metro area.
The organization is supported by funds from its annual banquet, on Thursday, Nov. 29, as well as donations.
Since leaving her abusive relationship, Broderson has restored her old friendships and made new friends.
“I am not the person I was before it, but I can say I am glad I went through it,” Broderson said. “I have a desire in my own heart to help others.”
Info: 763-581-3940 (SafeJourney 24-hour advocacy line); 763-581-3942 (Safe Journey Support Group registration. The group meets from 6:30-8:30 p.m. every Tuesday at North Memorial Medical Center, 3300 Oakdale Ave. N. in Robbinsdale.)
If you go:
What: 2012 Celebration of Courage
When: Thursday, Nov. 29, 5:30 p.m. silent auction, 7:30 p.m. dinner
Where: Hyatt Regency Nicollet Grand Ballroom, 1300 Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis.
Cost: $95 per person
Register by Nov. 23 at email@example.com or 763-520-2639.