Dear Janay: A Letter of Compassion and Understanding

by GaBrilla Ballard

I used to be one of the many who called women "stupid" for staying with
men who hit them. Wondered and shook my head, rolled my eyes and
looked down on women who would let a man "put his hands on them.” I
used to stand with a sense of entitled judgment, until a man I loved hit me.

Once was while I was pregnant with my son. He tried to slap me in the face and missed my head. I luckily escaped his grip and ran into the bathroom. I was unsuccessful in trying to press my pregnant body against the door to keep him out.

Another incident was after our son was born, a bouncy toy barely missing my head and hitting me in my back instead. 

There were other incidents as well. The last and final time was after my family and I had returned to live in my mother’s home. My mother, being the supportive and loving woman that she is allowed us to live with her to help us get on our feet. I hoped that by stabilizing my family and myself that maybe he and I could turn a page. That didn’t happen. Instead, things seem to escalate into the hit that was the last one I would tolerate. 

I don’t remember exactly what it was besides him bringing in a stick and hitting me with it or if it was the look in my young son’s eyes witnessing my terror or if I sensed things were getting worse. I'm not sure, but I knew I was tired and that it was over. I would not allow him to ever put his hands on me again. I have since learned that I am one of the lucky ones who got away. Many women don’t. Liberation does not sit well with people who think you belong to them and at times death can be the consequence for sought after freedom. 

Janay, I know that you are not a stupid woman. It was triggering, terrifying and devastating to witness a man you love knock you out then drag you as if you meant nothing to him. Much of the world has taken your story and vilified you. I won’t. I also know that you may not want to be used as a poster child for the Domestic Violence Movement, nor to be considered a survivor. I didn’t.

One day, during that time, I went to a library and picked up a book about Domestic Abuse. I reluctantly read through its pages and saw myself throughout them, but I thought I was different. I thought I had it under control and you probably believe the same thing. That was until those cameras came and exposed the very thing you probably wanted to contain. The thing that caused a world to shame you, invalidate your love, vilify your man, blame you and flipped your world upside down. But guess what Janay? It wasn’t your fault.

Trust me, I get it. I know how it feels to see love in the eyes of your man and truly believe in his goodness, then the shock of witnessing those same eyes disappear in front of you in a fit of rage. The man you love morphing into a monster you thought you could keep at bay with your love. I've been there and I know that leaving or choosing to stay in an abusive relationship is a game of chess, chance and big risks.

I’m sure you've probably gone to sleep many nights hoping he would change. Hoping that the tears he's cried, the apologies, all the tokens of his remorse and promises to change, that even he believes are real would stick. I know that your story and journey did not begin in that elevator and that your story is far more complicated that most of us want to sit with--especially those of us who’ve worn or are still wearing your shoes.

For years and even now from time to time, when I’m revisited by those memories, the “inner shamer” in me goes on repeat, “Why did you stay? You didn’t see your mama live that way? What the hell was wrong with you? It was your fault!!!” I have to take deep breaths and continue to practice self-forgiveness for staying in a situation that was unsafe for my child and me. I have worked to heal, grow and understand that I did the very best I could under the circumstances and I know that as hard as it is for most people to believe, you are doing the same.

I know that many of the people who are calling you stupid are survivors themselves and your suffering could be a reminder of the untouched pain they carry or it is simply too hard to feel the pain of watching another woman suffer at the hands of a man and it's easier for them to put their stuff on you rather than say, "That’s messed up and it hurts to see her go through that."

As a black woman, mother and yes, a survivor, I am all too aware that we live in a world struggling to recognize and uphold the value of women, especially black woman. I could go on and intellectualize and deconstruct patriarchy with the best of them. But the truth is, even as all of these systems weigh heavily on top of you, what is real in this moment and what I see when I look at you is myself; is a woman trying to hold it together while having probably one of the hardest moments of your life constantly on replay for the world to see and use against you.

It has not been easy writing this, for I fear the same ridicule, shaming and judgment that you are facing. I also know that I may be projecting and making a lot of assumptions about who you are. However it is, Janay, Dear sister, please know that I’ve been in your shoes and I’m sending you prayers of love and strength! May you find whatever it is you need to truly be free.

GaBrilla Ballard is a Writer, Singer/Songwriter and Mother. She writes at

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