In front of a crowd of 600 people, Abigail Scharf ’21 stood up and gave a speech at the Knock Out Abuse Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 7. Scharf spoke about how domestic violence influenced her childhood and what can be done to combat domestic abuse. Since 1993, the annual event’s proceeds support counseling opportunities, legal assistance, job training programs, and housing so that survivors have the resources necessary to actualize a new beginning, according to knockoutabuse.org.
When she was younger, Scharf feared her father and did not feel safe being in close physical proximity with him, despite her mother’s attempts to shield her from her father’s violent tendencies and offenses.
“I thought this was normal. I thought it was natural to tiptoe around your father, always scared that something would trigger him, and he would detonate. I thought it was normal to deal with a bomb. My mom stayed with him for me. ‘If you leave, I will make Abigail’s life a living hell,’ he said, until my mother saw that I was scared of him too,” said Scharf in her speech.
When Scharf was eight, she and her mother and younger sister were able to escape to an environment with safer conditions. According to Scharf, she learned that using the power of storytelling to reconcile with the shame of being related to her father, knowing what he did, and the fear of becoming like him allowed her to grow into her identity as an empowered survivor.
“I decided who I was going to be, and then I came to this conclusion: [My father] was the opposite of everything I stood for. The antithesis of me. He taught me a lot– he taught me who not to be. He does not have any power over me anymore,” said Scharf in her speech.
Although she had never voiced her memories of her childhood violence in front of a large audience before the Gala, according to Scharf, she was not nervous because she saw this opportunity as a duty rather than a burden.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Scharf explained how educating others about healthy relationships can help the general public identify how the symptoms of toxic relationships manifest in modern culture.
Scharf said, “[Preventative measures start] with the little things and also with individual attitudes of how to deal with behavior that [can start] as early as middle school. One thing that I always say is [the] whole idea of Beauty and the Beast that we were taught as children: the idea that she can fix him. You can’t fix somebody that doesn’t want to be fixed. I feel like that’s where so many people get it wrong.”
Flavia Vidal, Head of the Brace Center of Gender Studies, believes that although the Andover community works to make the school a nurturing space, it is important that people are aware that domestic violence is a reality for some students. This awareness encourages the development of empathy and a deeper, and more personal understanding of peers, according to Vidal.
Vidal said, “It’s important for people to know life is much more complicated than whatever happens at [Andover]. For some … members of the community, we don’t know necessarily …. what might be going on at home, so that awareness in and of itself is profoundly important.”
Angie Collado ’21, a Mentors in Violence Prevention alumna, agrees with Scharf that sharing personal anecdotes about domestic violence raises societal awareness. According to Collado, it makes the data in general statistics and news reports becomes more tangible.
“Sometimes people need to put faces to names, because when it’s just hypotheticals, or just plastered all over the news, people think that it’s almost fictional or that it could never happen to them. But when they see someone sharing their personal story of what they went through, it humanizes what is going on. It shows that it’s actually happening, that it’s happening to people we know, and to people that we might not have ever expected,” said Collado.
Scharf recognizes that giving a voice to her experiences during the Gala allowed her to connect with other survivors and understand that domestic violence is a universal struggle.
“I went into my little world while I was giving [my presentation]. I just got really immersed in what I was saying and just living in the moment, but I think after was the most humbling part of the event. There were a lot of survivors in the audience, and a lot of people came up to me and showed me scars of where they had gotten stabbed or beaten. Somebody approached me, showed me their scars, and said: ‘I left because of my daughter, and I hope she grows up to be like you,’” said Scharf.