Nonprofit No Silence, No Violence Fights Domestic Abuse
Jessica Yaffa Speaks Out To Help Others
Written by Dave Franco
Her nonprofit is called, No Silence, No Violence, because when it comes to domestic violence—a topic many would like to keep quiet—make no mistake, she’s talking. If you look at all that she’s accomplished, it is easy to see why Jessica Yaffa might be considered a threat to some dark forces. The ministry she leads has helped nearly 6,000 victims of domestic violence and spawned six ministries in three states. She has been invited to speak out against domestic violence at universities around the country including Harvard, MIT, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, San Diego State University and Arizona State University, and her current schedule includes more.
But if that doesn’t prove that she’s a lightning rod—someone whose work an enemy would like to thwart –perhaps a quick look at her last week alone will make the point. She has been battling sickness, threats, a broken down car, and was five inches from being hit on the freeway by a rogue tire that crashed through her windshield landing on the seat next to her.
With the release of her book, Mine Until: My Journey Into and Out of the Arms of an Abuser, things are about to get more intense for Yaffa who not long ago, was kept in slave-like conditions at the hands of her ex-husband. She’s gone from being in a near hopeless situation to being the hope for thousands of girls and women.
Armed with a list of questions, Risen sat with Yaffa who was most willing to share her story.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: I think the first thing that strikes somebody about you is how much of a victim you appear not to be. How does a person as poised and as strong as you find yourself as a man’s punching bag for 10 years?
Jessica Yaffa: It goes to the fact that it has nothing to do with what a person looks like, how educated a person is, their family background, how wealthy, how successful, or what religion they are. It affects no one particular demographic. It touches us all and doesn’t care who you are. It comes down to this: anybody who walks into a relationship subconsciously questioning their worth and looking for another person to complete them, and feel their value is attached to what they are able to do for another person in order to feel good, can be vulnerable to abuse. It’s really anybody who fits that profile, and unfortunately, millions do.
Risen Magazine: What made you vulnerable to abuse?
Jessica Yaffa: I was a teenage girl who felt unattractive and like I didn’t belong anywhere—home, school, it didn’t matter. I didn’t do well in school and I didn’t play sports or do any extracurricular activities. I watched my friends be pursued by boys while I was not. I was made fun of for being a Jew. I desperately wanted my dad to tell me that everything I was, was good enough for him and that he loved me for me. But that just wasn’t in his repertoire—especially after my brother was born. Between my dad’s pursuit of a law career and fawning over my brother—who was everything I wasn’t—there was little left for me. Early on, it became my life’s goal to win back my dad. It was my one all-consuming desire to extract from him some inkling of what I thought I needed to hear to be whole. But it never came. That’s why as soon as somebody came into my life and told me how wonderful and beautiful I was, there was no turning back from that. I had to have it.
Risen Magazine: Was your abuser abusive right away?
Jessica Yaffa: No, he was wonderful right away. He told me how much he needed me and how much he loved me and how I was a higher caliber of woman than he ever dreamed of. Then things start happening that were subtle enough to where I couldn’t see them but the truth was, he was building walls around me that would soon start to close in. He would say he was so “afraid” that I was going to leave him and find someone better and that he “cared” about what I was wearing and was “scared” when I was talking to other young men at my locker after class, and he would have outbursts about it. Then he got very “concerned” about who I was hanging out with because they were bad influences. Suddenly, he began to “allow” me to go places—then “disallow.” And all of those things, no matter how strangling they are, can leave an injured soul like mine feeling pretty good and pretty special. And while my heart was busy soaking it all up, my compliance was feeding all the worst parts of him. We were absolutely flammable. By the way, it’s a good rule of thumb for parents. If your daughter is in an all-consuming relationship that seems marked by the fact that she can hardly do anything other than to be with him, it is a red flag.
If your daughter is in an all-consuming relationship that seems marked by the fact that she can hardly do anything other than to be with him, it is a red flag.
Risen Magazine: Considering there are so many dads out there who either don’t make the wisest of decisions or are pulled in a million directions because of business and what have you, there must be a sea of girls left very vulnerable.
Jessica Yaffa: Boys and girls, but yes, there is a lot of pain. One in three women will experience emotional abuse, and one in four will experience physical abuse at some point in their lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, there will be a lot of girls who will fill the ache in their heart with things that are ultimately positive, like theater, sports, dance, or faith. The point is, every girl with an injured soul will react in some way. And some will look for their worth in drugs or alcohol, and others with a boy who can finally make them feel like they are worth something—a boy who is just as injured as she is. And that’s when things get scary.
Risen Magazine: So what is going on inside the mind of the abuser? Who are they?
Jessica Yaffa: Well if you’re asking what kind of person does this, it is really anybody—from those who abuse drugs and alcohol to upstanding members of society to the pastors of respected churches. It’s really a matter of a person feeling powerless and out of control, and that feeling is almost always a result of trauma in their own lives. They either experienced abuse, or they witnessed a parent being abused, or they spun out because they were abandoned by their dad, or, there are mental health problems. And certainly, substance abuse tends to aggravate the situation. But what you can bank on is that the abusers are really acting on an extreme insecurity that has been brought about by another event, and usually it is abuse of some sort.
Risen Magazine: In your own life, how bad did the abuse get?
Jessica Yaffa: I don’t know that it gets much worse. My ex-husband attempted to control every aspect of my life. From following me to and from school, to not letting me answer the door, to him coming home from work to hit star 69 [on the telephone] to see who I had been talking to, to clocking my miles to and from everywhere I went, to walking me down to the mail box, to timing my minutes in the laundry room; it was crazy. Then he put up cameras in the house so he could review my every move after he’d been gone for the day. And there were the beatings and rape. It went from hitting and sexually abusing me over things that he felt angered by, to hitting and sexually abusing me as a means of managing me and keeping me in line, and further cementing his total control. All of his anger and insecurity was funneled into violence toward me. I couldn’t please him. I couldn’t stay out of his way. I had to just take it. Then you turn inward as a means of trying to stay sane. And in that dark, small place in the confines of your mind, where you are fighting for your life, you actually start to believe you are worthless. It’s even worse than physical death. It’s a spiritual death. I was right there for a time. Thank God there was still a glimmer of hope that allowed me to believe I would make it out alive.
Risen Magazine: Can you talk about the tactic of isolating the victim, and tell me why it seems to be the road all abusers force on their victims?
Jessica Yaffa: By isolating you from everyone in your life, he is cutting you off from anyone who can question what is happening. Your friends and family will question the bruises and the cuts and the tears. But they will also question the things you say, the self-blame that just maybe, all of this is really your own fault. They will start to say, “Of course this is not your fault, are you crazy?” Then they will try to insert ideas of how and why you should escape. The abuser simply can’t have that. The other thing that happens is that the abuser will normally become the victim’s sole provider of every need. So if she needs money, she gets it from him. If she needs someone to talk to, she talks to him. She will have no other physical support from anybody and when she starts to think about leaving, she realizes she has no other options. He has become her entire life.
Risen Magazine: So I guess this answers the question that keeps going through my mind: Why don’t these girls just leave? I can see now, they have nowhere to go.
Jessica Yaffa: That’s right. Not only that, if they decide to venture out into the world and make it on their own, often times they have a child or two to worry about, and they aren’t always prepared to offer an employer much in the way of skills. They think, “How will I feed my kids?” To make matters worse, they know they will be hunted down by their abusers where they can expect the worst to happen. This is where people will think, “Just run to a friend or your mother!” Well, it’s not so easy. These women know what kind of violence and craziness these men are capable of and they would rather do anything than to bring that kind of danger into the lives of someone they love. You also have to keep in mind that many of these girls are estranged from their friends and family because most of them, at some point, have said, “We are going to have to cut you off because we can’t watch you go through this anymore.” So there are hard feelings. It’s really quite a chasm that can develop because a lot of these girls have been warned in the past by their friends and family and have defiantly told them that they were wrong; that everything was going okay. They would figure it out on their own, and didn’t need anybody telling them what to do. So they are not always eager to run back to these people and eat crow. She knows she will hear, “I told you so.” To run back is to run right into shame. There are all sorts of things that play into this. I know it seems like such an easy remedy in the face of danger. Just run! Nope. It’s extremely complicated.
Risen Magazine: Of course, most victims dream of being out from under the thumb of their abuser, but even the ones that do escape, life isn’t always better for them right away, or is it?
Jessica Yaffa: Leaving may be a necessary step, but no, it is not always better right away. If there was a hole in their heart when they got into the relationship, it’s a crater when they leave. What drives them into these relationships is still there when they get out—but here’s the kicker; it’s usually worse. So many girls believe they don’t have a lot of value or worth which is how, and why they enter the relationship in the first place. But when they live with an abuser for months, and many times, years and decades, he has no doubt told her that she is worthless, ugly, talentless, dumb, too fat, too skinny, that everything that has gone wrong with the relationship is her fault, until her soul feels like it has been nailed to the floor and run over by a truck. Her existence with her abuser has worked to deepen every insecurity that she has ever had. If she walks, she walks away with nothing. Now try to start a life in that frame of mind.
Risen Magazine: So what happens to those who find themselves in these situations?
Jessica Yaffa: Well, all kinds of things happen, but one of the most common is for them to become extremely promiscuous, which is what happened to me. I was out there trying to kill this ache in my heart and I thought sex was the key. I was trying to climb out of my pain and really I was making it worse. It was really amazing. There I was, a girl trying to win my dad back and kill the ache of not feeling like I had his love, and then ten years later, after I got out of my relationship, I went right back to trying to kill the ache again. So what you have is an expectation that now that you’ve left your abuser, you are somehow supposed to feel like you’re free. Then you look around and you’re lower; more trapped than you’ve ever been.
Risen Magazine: It was during this time that the Gospel spoke to you?
Jessica Yaffa: Yes.
Risen Magazine: What appealed to you about it?
Jessica Yaffa: There were three things. First, that God was a Father, which I was desperate for. The second was that I was loved unconditionally, which meant that not only was it impossible for me to do something so wrong that He would love me less, but I couldn’t do anything so right that He would love me any more. The great thing about that is that me, just being me, was good enough for Him. Prior to that, the idea of just simply being never even crossed my mind. I was always trying to win someone over, or impress, or please. And thirdly, God was always with me. He is responsible for keeping me alive. And if He kept me alive, especially when I could have been killed a thousand times over, then He must have had a purpose.
But what you can bank on is that the abusers are really acting on an extreme insecurity that has been brought about by another event, and usually it is abuse of some sort.
Risen Magazine: And there was a purpose.
Jessica Yaffa: Oh yes. I received it at the craziest moment, in the craziest way. And I didn’t even want it. It was actually a voice I heard that I have no answer for except to say that it was God. As soon as I heard it, my life turned upside down.
Risen Magazine: You ultimately started a domestic violence ministry, but before then, you tried to find one to join. What did you find when you called churches to find these ministries?
Jessica Yaffa: Some would say, “That doesn’t happen in our church.” Others would say that it was a liability to the church to be dispensing any kind of help to women in need. And others would say that they didn’t want one [a ministry] because it would sort have destroyed the joy of the church. One pastor actually said, “In our community, we are a place of hope and light. If we start having ministries like that, then it will cause division in the pews, where husbands and wives will fracture, and people will look at husbands with suspicion. We can’t have that here.”
Risen Magazine: So would it be fair to say that there are a lot of people who would rather you just kept quiet?
Jessica Yaffa: I’d have to say so. I’ve become outspoken, and that tends to get a lot of people hot under the collar that aren’t ready to address this epidemic. There are pastors who wish I didn’t shine such a strong light on the topic, and husbands who would like me to stay quiet in order to maintain the control over their households. My ex-husband would beat me for what he termed “talking back” and the fact that I wouldn’t stop pleading my case. I drove my dad crazy because I was never satisfied with his answers—I had to know why he said what he said. So I guess I’ve had history of people wishing I could keep quiet. If there is something on my mind, I share it. And after what happened to me, and what I’ve seen others go through, something is definitely on my mind. Besides, God has given me a calling. This is His ministry. I have to speak up.
Risen Magazine: So when you got the ministry up and running, what was the initial response?
Jessica Yaffa: On the ministry’s first night, we were hoping for at least ten people. After my volunteer and I set out the chairs and got done praying, we opened our eyes and a lady walked through the door. Sixty-seven more followed in the next few minutes. I knew we were on to something. We’ve had nearly 6,000 women come through the ministry since then, and they’ve come from all over the world.
Risen Magazine: So how is the church at large doing in counseling those who have experienced domestic violence?
Jessica Yaffa: We have women who come to us from all over the world who have been in these abusive relationships and went to their church seeking counsel and were told to go home and submit to their husbands—that if there’s a problem in the marriage it is because she was not being obedient. Or, God does not permit divorce in these situations and therefore it is her responsibility to go home and figure it out and pray for her husband. Or, they will tell them to go home and submit and stop questioning what he does, because if they do, it will aggravate him—which is to say to the women, it’s really their fault.
Risen Magazine: Do you always recommend that wives leave their husbands?
Jessica Yaffa: Absolutely not. It really comes down to safety. Our focus is that each woman and her kids are safe. Our goal is to ultimately promote loving marriages. We want them to be together. Abusive husbands have got to want it enough to change. And change is hard.
Risen Magazine: So what would you say is the main function of the ministry?
Jessica Yaffa: The main thing is to give women a place to look into each other’s eyes and know that they aren’t crazy or alone. And they love the fact that nobody judges them, wants anything from them, or asks them why they just don’t leave their husbands. The lack of that question is their sisterhood.
Risen Magazine: You wrote a book on your life that seems to make no attempt to be #1 among Christian women book clubs. It’s very tough and raw. Why did you take this tact?
Jessica Yaffa: Yes, I know. My book (Mine Until) will not be #1 with the Christian ladies, nor will it be carried by Christian bookstores, even at my own church. And my guess is that if Christians do pass it around from friend to friend, they will do it in secret. So many people, including my co-author, tried to get me to merely glance off the brutality and just focus on the nice, shiny light of how I became a Christian—but I simply could not do that. First of all, I wanted the freedom to stand smack dab in the middle of my truth. Something happened to me and I didn’t want to edit it out just because it was unpleasant, just so it would please others, no matter how false. Second, as the Gospel was starting to work on my heart, the struggle, the inner dialogue was, “Can God really love me after where I’ve been? Aren’t I too dirty? I mean, look at all I’ve done!” I had to show in my book that even though I had lived in the dumpster of existence, I was still reachable—that God could love me enough to reach down through all the muck and mire to find even me, and pull me out, stains, odor and all. Ladies who are living lives similar to what I lived, have to know that they aren’t too dirty for God. Thirdly, I am trying to reach women who would never be caught dead reading a book that was, “Christian,” in the way they think of Christian books. If this book was ever branded as “Christian,” it could be the death nail for it. Fourth, I had to show that I knew their lives. If I were to try to sell them on the fact that I know what they are going through, yet I presented my life a little cleaned up, they would smell me out. I would have no credibility with them. Lastly, I believe the brilliance of redemption is made even more brilliant when contrasted with the darkness. As the song goes, the shadow proves the sunshine. In order to read about my salvation and learn about the lives of the abused, you are going to have to get your feet wet, so to speak. There is a price. Thank God, Jesus was willing to pay it.
Risen Magazine: But the book isn’t entirely that way, is it?
Jessica Yaffa: No, it’s ultimately very glorious. In that way, it’s very Christian. Just don’t tell anybody that.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Fall 2014
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