Sexual Assault can happen to any of us. The statistics are shocking one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Wow one in five women look around at your group of friends that is alarming! Over 50% of women raped reported that the assault happened by an intimate partner. Jessica Yaffa knows oh too well what the cost and impact is. During a recent interview with Jessica I uncovered the traumatizing effects that domestic violence caused and how she made her escape in the end finally sentencing her abusive husband to 29 years in prison.
Me: Jessica, take me back to what life was like growing up in your household.
Jessica: I grew up in a pretty normal home. Mom was a social worker and Dad worked in government and as a teacher before going back to law school, I was 5 creative, sassy and inquisitive.
I was well accepted in my household but when my Dad went back to law school the dynamics in the household shifted. He became more rigid and academically focused, I started to acknowledge that he was frustrated by me when I wasn’t interested in life the way he was so I morphed into what I needed to be to feel accepted by his love and gain his attention. Then my brother came along, highly intelligent, and this captivated my Dad’s attention and that of course took a toll on me. I wasn’t feeling loved or equal. I became focused on being the little girl my Dad thought I should be and I resented my brother for the extra love he received from my Dad.
Me: So do you feel that the disconnect with your Dad carried over into your dating world?
Jessica: Yes, this left me starving for a deep intimate connection with boys and I was entering into relationships from a place of lack and low self-esteem. So I again morphed into the way boys wanted me to be. I connected with a football stud and when he declared he loved me I bought in. But it came with a price he was very possessive of me and controlled the way I dressed and how I spent my time and whom with. The fact he desired me made me feel a sense of belonging but it wasn’t healthy I later learned. I felt that if I could just be the way he wanted me to be then we wouldn’t have tension in the relationship; it fit in with my old story of growing up with my Dad.
Me: Did you continue to date him after high school?
Jessica: Yes, I went to college and we fought constantly, I continued to try and be perfect for him until I learned in one of my classes about domestic violence. I know we fought a lot but because he hadn’t put his hands on me I didn’t put myself in the category of domestic violence. Fast forward a year so now we were 2 ½ years into our relationship and my Dad had been diagnosed with melanoma and I convinced my parents to let me move back and go to college in San Diego. They of course did and they paid a lot of money for me to live on campus.
Me: When did you first finally place yourself in the domestic violence category?
Jessica: One night, my roommates on campus asked me to hang out with them and since I had lost all of my other friends in high school and I was desperate for connection with other women, due to my boy friend’s control, I decided to take a chance and go for it. I called my boyfriend and I let him know I had a headache and I was going to be staying in for the night and I would be over in the morning and he said, “To hell you are you have 20 minutes to get you’re ass over here or you are going to be in trouble!” I said, “You are being crazy, I’m going to stay in, I’m not going anywhere.” Then I hung up the phone and it was the first time I felt empowered.
1-½ hours later there was a knock on the dorm room door where I was with 2 of my friends and their 2 guy friends, my boyfriend had found me. He said, “Which one of you is screwing my girlfriend?” Things of course escalated and I was embarrassed and desperate to get him out of the dorm. As I did, he grabbed me by the throat and was dragging me down the hall into his car where he had my face pressed up against the passenger side window. He said, “You are going to pay for this and you aren’t going to sleep tonight until you confess to me which of those 2 guys you were screwing!” I was begging, pleading, “I didn’t have anything to do with those guys, I wouldn’t betray your trust,” I responded. He now back at the apartment was grilling me, I could feel his spit on my face as he said, “Things are only going to get worst for you!” It was now 3:00am and he was pulling me by the hair until I would confess. Of course there was nothing to confess, I knew I now fell under the category of domestic violence and I needed to find a way out. We doze off at 6am and woke up at 9am when I was prepared to say, “I’m leaving.” But he got the first words in and tears started to stream down his face as he said, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe what I did last night, you deserve better than this. I’ve been drinking a lot with the football team, my Dad is an alcoholic I heard these issues run in the family it must be the alcohol. I’m going to stop drinking and go to AA and if ever this happens again I’m going to open the door and insist you leave because I love you too much to see this happen to you again.” I of course bought in and we never before had a physical incident so I said, “This is your final shot.” He didn’t drink for months he was great, left me notes, supportive of me hanging out with friends and family and left roses on my car so I assumed it was the alcohol causing our problems. Four months into this I found out I was pregnant, I was 20 years old and attending a Catholic University. My Dad just died and my Mom was a mess taking care of my brother. She was scared for the baby and me but said, “You can’t come back home. If you choose to move forward with everything you are on your own.” I left telling myself it will be fine and we will figure things out and we’ll get jobs and married. I continued to learn more in college about domestic violence.
Me: So what made you decide to stay?
Jessica: The story I told myself. He was now disgusted with my stretch marks, out with other women, saying I can’t cook a good meal and overall I’m just not good enough! I am in my story of, damn it Jessica if you could just figure out how to do this well then we would be ok! I embodied all of the negative words he spoke over my life and tried harder to be better. There was no physical abuse so I stayed.
Things escalated though. My son was born, he’s biracial and when he was 4 months old my boyfriend and I got married and the physical abuse appeared again and for the next 1-½ years my husband physically and sexually abused me every day! I remember getting to the point that I wished it would happen earlier in the day so we could just get it over with and I didn’t have to wonder and walk on egg shells waiting for when the assault was going to happen. I was very clear by this point of what I was in but I couldn’t see my way out. At this point we had cameras in our small apartment so he could stalk my every move. I would try to find out how to stop it all, if he was angry because I took too long at the grocery store I would run to the store, if I spent a penny over the next time I would take my calculator, etc. Our relationship was like the movie Sleeping With The Enemy. I had no friends and no place to go with my child. Until the day my son was 2 and my husband came after me with a closed fist, hitting my son in the face and he started to bleed, I knew then it was time to find a way out! The next day I picked up the laundry basket, walked out the door of our apartment, dropped it in the corridor and ran as fast as I could to the manager’s apartment. Frantically banging on the door, I went into the apartment, called the police and they escorted me to my apartment to get my son and 1 outfit for each of us. I went back two other times, once because I couldn’t afford to keep diapers on my son’s bottom or shoes on his feet and I figured I would manage well enough to keep him away from the abuse and still provide. Another time was because my husband claimed he had a mental health diagnosis and that he would be better because he was starting medication but all of that lasted 2 weeks before things started exploding again. The third time I left for good and we had to exchange our son and of course my husband would emotionally and physically assault me. That caused us to have to exchange our son at the police station until one day he followed me, drove in front of me and came at me head on. He got out of the car banging fiercely on my window trying to pound it out to get me out of the car. Our son was in the back seat screaming at the top of his lungs with fear and I drove back to the police station with my husband on the hood of my car while calling 911 on my cell phone. The police picked him up and he served 8 months in jail at which point he called me collect and said, “I want to be a better father for our son than what my Dad was for me.” So when he got out of jail the court paid for 6 months of supervised visits and we would enter in separate doors at a center and my son was 3 ½ years old at the time. Since visitation went well the courts wouldn’t pay for visitations any more. So we exchanged at his family’s house since there were always people there. This went well for several months. About 6 months into this new plan he said on the phone, “I have been working under the table, I know you don’t get child support and you’ve been working hard to meet our son’s needs why don’t you meet me at my parents house?” It’s now February 2001, and we had been divorced for 2 ½ years, he answered the door and I could smell alcohol on his breath. My internal alarm went off as he started to grill me and ask if my new boyfriend felt as good as he did. He grabbed me into a bear hug and I couldn’t get out. Fear set in as he said, “Don’t make me hurt you!” He threw me on the floor and there was a condom on the table next to me and I knew what he had planned. He had one hand around my neck and used the other hand to maneuver my pants off as well as his. He continued to rape me and sodomize me, threatening me to stay quiet so I lay there and when he was done I spent 30 minutes negotiating my way out of the house. I drove my way to the police station; they drove to his family’s house, found all of the evidence and him. The next month was spent on trial and at the end he was convicted of 14 counts including rape, sodomy, assault, holding a victim hostage and terrorist threats as well as some other counts. He was sentenced to 29 years of which he will serve about 80%. So he’s been incarcerated as of 2/21/2001, my son just turned 22 and this has been a really long journey for both of us. I thought now that he was locked up I would be ok and I performed my way into that thinking when inside I wasn’t ok.
Me: What scarring effects did that leave moving forward with relationships?
Jessica: I became sexually promiscuous and was in and out of relationships. I got fired from a job for dating my boss. I was making good money and bought a condo for my son and me. I thought I was OK without therapy since it was too traumatic to relive the past until I was forced to take a hard look at myself and that’s when the healing journey began. I was 31 and today I’m 43. As I started to do the work I realized it was more about my value and belief system far before the relationship started. I had to go internal and recreate the story of what I felt little Jessica deserved so I could become enough just in whom I was. I lived in such shame and judgment!
Me: During your healing journey, which began at 31, what exact steps did you take to heal?
Jessica: There were a few; somatic experience therapy, talk therapy, I explored a spiritual connection, reconciled the love for my Dad and worked through forgiveness. I am married now and worked through being vulnerable. I learned that I AM ENOUGH!
Me: Are you fearful for when your ex is released and what are you doing today to positively transform the world so they too can thrive?
Jessica: I choose not to live in fear! I began to share and realized that I brought healing to others I carried forward to publicly speaking about my story. People told me that I supplied healing for them to come into their own story. I now share with anybody and everybody, wherever I can. I started a non-profit, No Silence, No Violence, that supports survivors for domestic violence and sexual assault and we service over 14,000 people since its inception, it is run all by volunteers. Part of what we do is about prevention and education to stop the cycle before it begins and we talk with our little ones before they step into relationships and their opportunity to create a sense of worthiness so they don’t try to find it from someone else. We also talk about healthy relationships and mutual respect and unconditional regard. We teach HR departments, military bases, private practices, colleges, and health care systems to name a few how to access well for and respond to issues surrounding domestic violence and create policies so employees feel safe coming forward in the work place. We wrap them in a cocoon of resources so they aren’t just left flailing about. Then we provide direct support for survivors from diapering babies to paying for childcare and camp. This helps to build the kids up and give them a sense of worth. We pay for gas cards so Moms can get to job interviews, laptops so they can apply for jobs, and much more. We don’t take any government money we have positioned ourselves to say yes instead of having restrictions dictating how we can assist. We work tirelessly to find small foundation grants or individuals and organizations that feel a real passion for the cause. We have positioned ourselves to be the gap filler when certain organizations have to turn someone away we are there to help. I also have a private practice where I help women work through toxic relationship patterns. I am committed to supplying hope to the world.
As you can see from all of the SHERO stories it takes courage to heal, one that is a journey of no certain timeline but involves first forgiveness for self. If you are reading this and are feeling trapped due to domestic violence seek help immediately. No matter what the case may be in your household, abuse of any kind, verbal, sexual or physical is never OK. There are lots of support groups out there, get plugged in and know that you are enough and you have been designed for greatness!
The #SHEROproject will include stories of SHEROS from around the world throughout the next 11 months. In an effort to support our SHEROS that are thriving there is a panel that will be selecting the most inspirational story for the 2019 SHERO of the year award, which will be announced on 12/1/2019. To connect with the SHERO project visit us on Facebook where all stories are featured. The SHERO of the year award winner will receive a 4-day/3-night retreat at 1440 Multiversity. An opportunity to explore their potential in an environment like no other; get away for rejuvenating downtime and immersion learning on their state-of-the-art campus in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, CA and experience the perfect blend of learning, vacation, and space for reflection.
1440 Multiversity is a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters, while surrounding yourself with fresh air, delicious food, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others. SHERO, during your stay, you can look forward to daily 1440 specialty classes such as yoga, meditation, qi gong and Pilates. Or enjoy hiking in the 75 acres of redwood forest surrounding the campus and finish off your day with a soak in their signature infinity tub.
The creation of 1440 Multiversity stemmed from a desire to establish a beautiful and nurturing physical location where people of all walks of life could come together in community—to explore, learn, reflect, connect, and reenergize. (www.1440.org)