Being famous and financially secure doesn’t protect one from abuse and it doesn’t make it easier to leave an abusive relationship, actress Meredith Baxter recently told a crowd of nearly 500 people gathered to support the Domestic Violence Crisis Center at its 10th annual Voices of Courage fund-raiser.
“I will tell you that being a well-known person and seemingly independent and successful in my chosen field was no defense against treatment at home and it couldn’t touch the shameful feelings that engulfed everything,” she said. “I was trying to not know what I knew. I couldn’t acknowledge that I was in an abusive marriage because that would have required action, and I was too afraid.”
In her keynote speech, Ms. Baxter described how she had grown up in an atmosphere devoid of love and nurturing support and how that pattern had continued into her adult relationships. No one, not even her fellow cast members in the long-running TV series Family Ties, knew of the abuse she and her children endured during her 15-year marriage to David Birney.
“I was a secret keeper. I was warned that what went on in our house stayed in our house, and I never told anyone. I was too ashamed,” she said.
Ms. Baxter revealed that the threat of physical abuse was always present, even though it didn’t actually happen that often. But the verbal and emotional abuse rarely abated.
“It was the constant stream of insults and name-calling and vilification that left the deepest scars,” she told the audience. “The effect of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse must not be minimized. I remember reading that even women of strong fiber and with a great sense of self-worth can be ground to dust by the corrosive effect of constant vitriolic, demeaning, belittling attacks. For me, the words cut far deeper than the slaps.”
Acknowledging that leaving an abusive relationship can be very difficult for many reasons, Ms. Baxter urged ongoing support for those who assist victims of domestic violence.
“Not everybody can get out of damaging relationships easily, and circumstances differ for all of us,” she said. “That’s why it’s imperative that we support places like the DVCC. In difficult economic times, domestic violence crisis needs become even greater. With almost 4,000 people being served by the DVCC every year, you can see that the need for your support is more urgent than ever.”
Ms. Baxter’s talk followed 15 current and former clients of the DVCC who lent their voices and words to an audio presentation on the power of using one’s voice to speak up against abuse and on how the DVCC helped them to do so.
The Voices of Courage spring luncheon raised more than $150,000 for the DVCC.
The DVCC offers confidential services at no charge, including court and legal services, group and individual counseling, temporary shelter, housing services, children’s services, medical advocacy, multilingual services, the PeaceWorks prevention education project, community education, a 24-hour hotline (888-774-2900) and EsperanzaCT, a Spanish language website and 24-hour service line.