When I was a child, I found a Playboy magazine under the bed of a family friend. In it was an article about why women like to be raped. I remember this as I tell my story of abuse, at the hands of Eric Schneiderman, the former attorney general of New York. In the middle of the night, he would wake me up and say, in a demonic voice, "You bad, bad girl, daddy's gonna rape you."
I wasn't prepared for my path to intersect with an abuser. I wasn't prepared for the grooming, gaslighting and manipulation. Recently, I have been grateful to Evan Rachel Wood and FKA twigs for sharing their stories of intimate partner violence, sometimes abbreviated as IPV. We were at different life stages when we were abused. We are separated by generations, united by trauma. By coming forward, we continue to shift the perception of what a victim looks like. Even fierce women get abused. The cycle of violence that permeates every aspect of our lives is an existential and, in many cases, mortal threat to our shared humanity. Through it, we become conditioned to accept violence. Stigma comes from secrecy.
I believe that we are on the cusp of the next wave of #MeToo — one that exposes intimate violence in committed relationships. My situation wasn't like that of the women who encountered perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein in the workplace. I entered into my relationship willingly. I even felt sorry for Eric, for the pressures put on him and the expectations that came along with his power.
Unlike some of the abusers unmasked by the Me Too movement, Eric was a serial monogamist. He didn't need to abuse dozens or hundreds of women to satisfy his hunger for power. He didn't need a different woman to abuse every day. He had me for almost a year.
As a child, I had witnessed domestic violence in my home: my father beating my mother. I had never thought I would become a victim. A friend said my abuse shocked him, because he thought of me as intelligent and independent and as an advocate for women's rights and safety. But when I met Eric, I was secure with regard to my work and my friendships, but I was weakened with regard to romance. I was recovering from a series of health issues (multiple miscarriages and cancer) and then divorce. I was ripe for the breaking. It was the perfect storm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "About 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact." Furthermore, about 11 million women and 5 million men who reported experiencing such violence first did so before the age of 18.
Eric would often say, "Assume nothing." He would also say, "Trust no one." In my relationship with Eric, I went through the classic stages that structure intimate partner violence, stages that many victims go through: entrapment, isolation, control, demeaning and abuse. My story is a testament to what survivors of intimate partner violence experience and how long it can take to recognize and name the abuse.
"Don't be afraid. Don't be ashamed," I told myself every day in the months before my story became public. I had decided to come forward after I had realized I was part of a pattern. It wasn't just my story; other women shared it. And I had to tell it to help prevent still others from having it become their story, too.
In speaking out, I was determined to present my own behavior, as humiliating as the details were. I was making myself vulnerable in a way I didn't want to. It would have been far easier to move on and do nothing; I would much rather have gone on with my life and not gotten caught up in the mess of coming forward. But if ever there was a moment to come forward, I saw, this was the time, against the backdrop of Me Too and Time's Up.
Although I had no children, I worried about the impact that coming forward would have on my extended family and on my career and reputation. Once I put my story out there, I wouldn't be able to take it back, and I couldn't anticipate how my life would change. I kept reminding myself that my friends and my work were solid and would still be there for me. A few people might drift away, and that would be OK.
In fact, a handful of my friends told me not to do anything, but they were outnumbered by those who told me that I knew what I had to do. When the history of Me Too would be written, I wouldn't be able to live with having been too scared to protect other women. The news cycle would pass, and then no one would care anymore. In a few years, no one might remember Eric's name.
After my story became public, I heard from reporter friends that powerful, supposedly feminist women were attempting to discredit me.
Shortly before the New Yorker story came out, I spoke with a friend who talked about how Eric was doing important work as attorney general. She wondered aloud whether this was the right time to "expose" him. But I knew for sure that it was.
Still, after my story became public, I heard from reporter friends that powerful, supposedly feminist women were attempting to discredit me. Although I was disturbed, I wasn't surprised. Their power was intertwined with Eric's; he was their conduit to power. But The New Yorker had taken great care in investigating the story; there were even more women with similar stories who were too scared to have their experiences included.
Coming forward about intimate partner violence is scary because there are typically only two witnesses, the abuser and the victim. It's "he said, she said." But in my case, multiple victims were interviewed independently of one another with eerily similar stories. Clarity emerged.
I believe that most people want justice, safety and bodily autonomy — all of which include an end to intimate violence. But some hold on to the status quo. As I read article after article about intimate partner violence for my book, it became clear that we need a civil war — between feminists and patriarchs. Those on the side of the feminists are not only women, and those on the side of the patriarchs are not only men. This war will lead to one of two possible outcomes: a world that is less safe for women or a world that is safer for women, especially women of color. I am fighting for the latter.
I wish I didn't have memories of being a victim myself. No one wants such memories. But I feel that somehow the universe intended for me to encounter Eric Schneiderman and, eventually, end a cycle with his intimate partners that had been going on for a long time.
In "When Women Were Birds," Terry Tempest Williams cited the poet Muriel Rukeyser:
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.
Let's split the world open together.
Editor's note: When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Eric Schneiderman referred NBC News to his previous statement: "I accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them. After spending time in a rehab facility, I am committed to a lifelong path of recovery and making amends to those I have harmed. I apologize for any and all pain that I have caused, and I apologize to the people of the State of New York for disappointing them after they put their trust in me."
If you or someone you know is facing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) for help, or go to www.thehotline.org for more. Individual states often have their domestic violence hotlines as well.