Eighteen years ago on this day, the course of my life was changed forever. My mom, sister, and I fled our home looking for a brighter future. The three of us received a police escort through the caring doors of Human Options. It's unfortunate that this organization has to exist, and continues to exist today. However, I am eternally grateful for the resources they provide, the services they offer, and the caring hearts behind every person they employ.
Human Options is the haven that rescued us.
For years I shied away from telling this story, but I was doing a disservice to myself and others. Over the last three years, I have truly embraced what my family experienced and turned our trauma into a personal mission.
For the past 20 years, I've called sunny Orange County, CA, home. Upon the first impression, you might imagine a life that resembles something like The OC, Laguna Beach: The Real OC, or The Real Housewives of OC. That could not be further from the truth. My childhood days were not spent catching waves and throwing hang-tens to friends. I grew up in a low-income city, without a car, and a mom who worked her butt off to provide for her family of four.
I was nearly 12-year-old when my mom had my little sister. Shortly after my sister was born, there was a shift in the household. Her father, Jeff* only wanted me around when it was convenient to take care of her so he could leave to get high. If my services weren't needed, I was constantly getting kicked out of the house, and the majority of my 8th-grade year I was living out of boxes because I never knew when I'd have to pack up and go.
My mom was typically at work and not privy to what was going on at home. Plus, she was busy taking care of a toddler. I was a pre-teen and self-sufficient. Many of my evenings were spent studying at friends houses. I didn't want to be home without my mom there. I was always getting involved in all kinds of extra-curricular activities, so I could use it as an excuse not to be home.
The aggression and outbursts from Jeff became more frequent. I noticed a change in behavior, and I knew something was different. He was constantly breaking things. The verbal and emotional abuse was taking its toll on everyone. My assumption was he was doing more hard-core drugs, but that quickly got dismissed. However, my instincts were correct.
Things escalated quickly; he soon began threatening everyone around him. He was admitted to the hospital for a previous incident and began threatening to jam the IV pole into the nurses head. He violently ripped his IV out from his arm, screaming threats to the remainder of the hospital staff as he left the building.
I could see the fear in my mom's eyes as she grabbed my sister and me. She called a friend and took us to her house to keep us safe. Then she said she was going back to get him the help he needed. When she walked out the door, I was convinced that would be the last time I ever saw my mom alive.
Hours later, when she walked back through the door, I was in disbelief and elated she came back. But she had been through the wringer. Jeff took her for a not-so-fun-joyride, crashed her car, and screamed terrorist threats to make her scared for her life. He was a loose cannon, who also had a gun. The outcome could have been bleak.
She was able to escape, taking the gun with her, and we left to stay with a family member for a few days to get off the grid. The adults began looking for an emergency shelter that could take a family of three.
Serendipity struck when we were placed at Human Options.
Due to the violent threats and severity of Jeff's psychotic state, we received a police escort to Human Options. Once we were inside the emergency shelter, I think that's the first time my mom was able to exhale significant relief. We finally knew we were safe!
Without organizations like Human Options, there is an excellent possibility I would be repeating the cycle. Unfortunately, the instance with Jeff was not our first encounter with domestic violence. Up until that point, I had witnessed DV the majority of my life, which is why I am an advocate for issues surrounding domestic and relationship violence.
In 2016, I made the conscious decision to reconnect with Human Options. It was right before their annual Serious Fun Gala; they asked if my mom and I would like to share our story for the Rebuild-A-Life video. Every year they film a graduate of the program who is willing to share their story. We graciously accepted the invitation. It wasn't easy after so many years to revisit those dark memories, but we knew the importance of our story.
(L-R: Janyne Wiley (mom), Gloria Allred, Amber Tran, Anthony Tran)
It saddens me to know that relationship violence is still very prevalent in our community. Last year Human Options provided service to over 23,000 people in Orange County, which included emergency shelter to 460 women and children.
By the time you have read this post, more than 25 women will have been assaulted or beaten; it happens every 9 seconds in the USA alone. If you or anyone you know is in an abusive relationship, please get the help you deserve. There are resources in your community to help you! These organizations have seen every circumstance you can imagine, and they have helped thousands of women rebuild their lives and teach them how to live fear-free.
A life lived in fear, is not living.
I am so proud to say that we have finally broken the cycle of domestic violence, and I will continue to fight the good fight for those who are currently enduring dark times. You are not alone!
Human Options also has many volunteer opportunities. I am a part of their Sisterhood, which is a group of women who come together quarterly to provide essential items for the women and children entering the shelter. After sharing our story for the Serious Fun Gala, I joined the planning committee and have enjoyed being a part of the group for the past two years. Please reach out if you are interested in getting involved with an exceptional organization.
Facts on domestic violence
Teen dating facts
*Jeff is an alias