Back in 1987, when Necol Millsip was a 16-year-old student at Edward W. Bok Technical High School, she had a violent argument with a boyfriend.
To call it terrifying would be an understatement: He pushed her out of a third-story window and held her by her ankles as she dangled. When he finally pulled her back in, he said it had all been because "you don't listen."
I wish I could tell you that she dumped him after that. In a pattern that's sadly common among domestic-abuse survivors, she stayed with her abuser, hoping that things would get better. She stayed even after he pointed a gun at her head during a game of Russian roulette. She stayed despite his incessant demands for sex. When she finally got out of the relationship, she found herself in similar situations with other men.
"The cycle of domestic violence just kept on following me," Millsip told me this week. "I kept questioning myself: 'Is it something that I'm doing wrong?' "
Her situation isn't unusual. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
It's a problem that doesn't get much attention. Which is ironic, given all the talk about sexual harassment in the #MeToo Movement, which spread a year ago after widespread sex-abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
About 20 people every minute are physically abused by a partner. In August, a well-known and well-liked City Hall staffer, Linda Rios-Neuby, was fatally shot in a murder-suicide by her husband, from whom she recently had separated.
But unlike #MeToo, no stampede of well-heeled celebrities is coming forward and admitting to having been victimized.
Partly it's because so much shame still surrounds domestic violence. I once had a reporter buddy whose boyfriend beat her with a leather belt. When she called me all upset about it, I offered to photograph her injuries and to notify the police. But to my astonishment, she refused. That was the beginning of the end of our friendship. I didn't understand her refusal to stand up for herself.
In hindsight, I understand that the reason she was loath to leave her attacker was that she had a new baby with him and was desperate to make the relationship work. He eventually left her.
Other abused women fear retaliation, or else they hang in there for economic reasons. Many who stay just hope against hope that the attacks will stop.
In Millsip's case, she didn't change until she was in her mid-30s and hiding out in a North Carolina domestic-abuse shelter. Listening to other victims tell their stories, she noticed the women trying to justify their batterers' behavior and realized that she was doing the same thing. It was what Oprah Winfrey would call an "Aha!" moment.
"They were saying that 'He didn't hit me that hard,' 'He didn't put too many bruises on me.' They were trying to justify and find reasons to go back," Millsip recalled. "They wanted to make it work."
Now 46, she's finally in a good place in her life. Her six children, ages 17 to 25, are thriving and she works as a youth advocate for the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network. Millsip also founded a nonprofit called the Soldier of Love Foundation.
From 6 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 26, she'll host her Fourth Annual Domestic Violence Empowerment Event at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. A jazz reception will be followed by a presentation that will include domestic-abuse survivors sharing their stories. One year, State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Phila.) shared her own story of abuse.
"It provides a safe space for people to speak to their own suffering," said Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn, an event sponsor.
If the #MeToo Movement has taught us anything, it's that there's power in survivors telling their stories.