Survivor Leader Spotlight: Kristin Mathis

This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re spotlighting some of our incredible Survivor Leaders, former clients of Sanctuary who go through a 12-week training and certification course to prepare them to make system-wide change through advocacy, training, program development, and working directly with other survivors. 

Breaking Stereotypes

I know I’m not what most people have in mind when they think “domestic violence survivor.” As a white, well-educated, professional woman working in the fields of non-profit administration and education, I fit the stereotype of the person helping the DV survivor, not the person receiving services. But there’s so many things wrong with that picture.

After years of counseling and advocacy work with Sanctuary for Families, I now know in my bones that DV affects women across ALL races, ethnicities, and economic brackets. But before I began my journey with SFF, I carried a lot of shame about my abuse.

I used to have a narrative that went something like this:

“Surely as a smart, ‘together’ woman, I should have been able to prevent the emotional and physical abuse from happening to me? And as a white middle-class woman, what do I have to complain about anyway? There are many others less fortunate than me who deserve help more than I do.”

In short, I felt guilty for “permitting” the abuse to happen in the first place, and then guilty for “using up” services that could have gone to others.

When I expressed these guilty reservations I had about being a client to my first counselor at Sanctuary for Families, she said something that cut through my own limiting beliefs. She said: “Kristin, we are an organization that helps keep people who are experiencing intimate partner violence safe. Do you feel unsafe in your home?” The answer was unequivocally yes. “Well, then,” she said, “We are here to serve you.”

Later that month the same counselor helped me and my son go into shelter, and eventually find the apartment where we still live.

A year later I became a Survivor Leader with Sanctuary, giving the keynote speech at the Zero Tolerance fundraiser in 2017. Since then I’ve done all sorts of advocacy work—ranging from parole officer trainings to lobbying in Albany to teaching dating safety to high school students. Every time I get up to speak, I think I can see the flicker of confusion in the audience’s eyes: “What is this middle-class white lady doing here?”

But rather than falling back into my old self-doubts, I now lean into using my appearance and experience as powerful tools to de-stigmatize gender violence. It’s like I’m saying,

“Here I am! I am living proof that DV can happen anywhere, to anyone. And also living proof that even those of us who have relative privilege in our culture need help escaping the many interwoven systems of oppression that keep victims of intimate partner violence trapped.”

What I want people experiencing DV to know is that there are SO MANY other people out there going through what you’re going through—black and white and Asian and Latinx, rich and middle-class and poor, straight and queer, professional and working class, old and young. Every time one of us shares our story, we make it easier for other people to escape and thrive. Because together—in all our diversity and complexity—we are tearing down stereotypes and misconceptions, and making each other stronger.

Kristin at Sanctuary’s 2017 Zero Tolerance Benefit

Join Kristin in standing with survivors of gender violence. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with thousands of families escaping abuse.

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