Stormie’s transformation from victim to advocate
“That’s how I think about domestic violence. It’s like being in the middle of the swimming pool with no life preserver and I can’t swim. I’m just bobbing up and down in the water, trying to keep my head up.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, CA in the 1970s, Stormie was intimately familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence. In her home, Stormie witnessed intergenerational abuse between her grandparents and her parents. Despite these shared experiences, Stormie’s grandmother enforced a culture of silence around abuse to the extent that when Stormie was sexually assaulted by a family member in her mid-20s, a deeply ingrained sense of fear and shame kept her silent.
In 2002, at age 30, Stormie met the man who would soon become her abuser. Still dealing with the trauma of her assault, Stormie eagerly accepted his promises of love and care; he was her “knight in shining armor.” In retrospect, however, red flags were beginning to appear. On their wedding day he kicked her wedding dress across the floor in anger. Six months into their marriage, her new husband lost his job and the abuse escalated.
“I was so conditioned to think, ‘People get mad; people get upset. Maybe I said something. Maybe I just need to sit down and be quiet.'”
For nearly 10 years, Stormie experienced horrific violence at the hands of her husband and his brother, who lived with them. She fled several times, taking buses across the country to Jacksonville, Boston, and Las Vegas, but each time her husband was able to find her and force her return by making serious threats to her children, family and life.
“I said to my family, ‘He’s going to kill me.’ I already knew. I knew I had to put together some type of escape plan.”
In 2013 Stormie and her girls successfully escaped to Boston, her second attempt to build a new life in the city far away from her abuser. They arrived sick and scared. With nowhere to go, they went straight to Boston University Medical Center to find help. Once there, Stormie was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a direct result of the stress from years of abuse. Because they were not Massachusetts residents, however, Stormie was unable to receive treatment. Desperate for a place to stay, at least temporarily, Stormie secured a spot in a shelter in New York City and the family boarded a bus for the final time.
For two years, Stormie and her girls move from shelter to shelter. Finally free, Stormie’s health improved as she healed from her years of trauma.
In 2015, Stormie was referred to Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program (EEP), through the transitional shelter she had been staying in before moving to permanent housing. Through EEP, Stormie developed the professional skills to build a new life for her and her girls.
“You meet some amazing people at Sanctuary. Unselfish people. Genuinely kind people. And there is no way that I would not give my all to give back because [Sanctuary] has given so much to me.”
Seeing her energy and ability to motivate other EEP participants, Sanctuary staff referred Stormie to Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Institute. Over the course of the survivor leadership training, Stormie learned how to use her experience to educate those around her. Advocacy and education became a cathartic experience that enabled Stormie to thrive both at Sanctuary and in her community.
“[I want my girls] to be able to grab life by the horns and realize they can be anything they want to be, no matter who raises them or where they come from, because they deserve it.”
Since graduating from Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Program, Stormie has obtained her college degree and founded her own organization, Relocation Underground Program (RUN), a grassroots effort that has helped nearly 100 women to escape their abusers. Stormie’s focus remains on her girls. Her hope is that they learn from her experience and build healthy relationships as they grow and thrive. The girls are receiving counseling from Sanctuary so they can safely process their early childhood trauma and Stormie enjoys bringing them to events like the Women’s Marches, March for Our Lives, and March for Black Women so they can feel empowered and see what it means to speak out.
“Every day, I grow as a person. And that’s what’s important. I want my story to help somebody.”
Stormie is an active Survivor Leader with Sanctuary and has used her fantastic public speaking skills to do interviews with press, deliver speeches, and advocate in Albany, NY for greater protections for other victims of gender violence.