By Mylika Scatliffe, Special to the AFRO
The holiday season is a feel-good time of year. We think of the holidays, and we think of traditions like tinsel, lights, family gatherings, parties, decorations and greeting cards. However, for some families, the traditions also include domestic violence. Increased financial and family pressures, alcohol consumption, and other factors make existing domestic abuse situations more complex and fraught with danger.
It should be clearly stated that these factors don’t create domestic violence; for those living with it, abuse can occur on any of the 365 days of the year. As a domestic abuse survivor, Monique Plair knows this all too well. She can tell you about the pain and fear that comes with witnessing abuse and living with an abuser. She can tell you about the tension of walking on eggshells wondering what will set him off next, but what she really wants is for women like her to be celebrated. “We celebrate sobriety milestones, finishing chemotherapy and surviving cancer, but there is no celebration for those who have survived domestic abuse or the lives of those who have gained their wings early,” said Plair.
Plair’s story begins when she was a young girl and lived next door to her aunt. As early as fourth grade, Plair witnessed her aunt being beaten by her husband and dragged up and down the stairs by her hair. What she didn’t witness was her mother, or any of her other aunts intervening or in any way coming to her aunt’s defense.
Plair grew up surrounded mostly by women, and tumultuous at best and toxic at worst examples of relationships between men and women. Her parents divorced when she was about 8 years old, so she grew up with her mother, grandmother, sister (and brother) and aunts. When she started dating her sister’s best friend’s brother in her late teens, the relationship progressed quickly. By the time she was 19, she’d been with him one year and they had a newborn. By the time her oldest son was 4 months old she was married. A couple months after getting married she packed her baby up and moved to Louisiana to live with her now ex-husband who was in the army. A month after that, he came home, angry about something that happened during the workday, grabbed Plair by the neck, and held her in the air until she was about to pass out and finally dropped her.
“I was in such shock, I didn’t know what to do or say; I couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” Plair lamented. “He’d never laid a hand on me before and my first thought was what can I do to make this not happen again!” Thus, began years of terror. Her second baby was born 15 months after the first, and as a young military wife, she moved from base to base for seven years. There were repeated incidents of abuse and Plair didn’t really know anyone and didn’t feel there was anyone she could trust. She was alone with her husband on a military base in another state, and ashamed to tell her family back home what was happening. During a visit home at Christmastime when she was 9 months pregnant with her youngest son, her husband grabbed her by the neck while they were window shopping. He was ready to go, and she and their 15-month-old weren’t moving fast enough for him, so he attacked her. A bus driver had to get off his bus and pull him off her, but she didn’t mention it to anyone in her family.
There were calls to the military police on the various army bases, but in those days, they did little or nothing to protect civilian wives of soldiers. At most, her husband was made to stay in the barracks for a week and ordered to get marriage counseling. Plair recalled, “He beat me the day we graduated the marriage counseling class.”
When he beat her three months into being stationed in Italy, Plair decided enough was enough. She’d made a promise to herself and her grandmother that if he so much as laid a hand on her while they were in Italy, she was leaving and coming home. Her great fear by then was if her husband were to severely injure or even kill her, no one would know! So she made an exit plan. One day when her husband got on the train to go to work, and with the help of a compassionate neighbor, she was able to escape with her babies and return home to her father in Baltimore.
Today, 28 years later, Plair wants abuse victims to know there is a world of opportunity once they make the decision to leave an abuser. “I don’t want to be in the position of telling a woman to leave her abuser. I had so many people tell me, once they found out about my situation, what they would have done and how I should have left; but I know a woman has to leave when she is tired and can’t take any more. The decision can’t be made for her, no matter how frustrated everyone is on her behalf.”
After leaving her now ex-husband, Plair experienced homelessness and other challenges but she eventually overcame those difficulties and joined the Navy. Remembering the people who helped her, she was inspired to find a way to help other women suffering from domestic violence. She founded Our Safe House, an organization dedicated to supporting domestic abuse survivors and equipping them with resources such as enrichment programs, mental health counseling, emergency housing, business attire and more.
Plair has also launched a new line of fragrances –BU –Beautiful Unapologetically—to honor the strength and perseverance of women who have survived domestic abuse. “BU’s ultimate goals are to celebrate domestic abuse survivors by providing employment to them and helping them start a new chapter in their lives. We celebrate their stories, as well as honor those who have gained their wings and are forever silenced.”
Domestic violence survivors are involved in every step of the planning and formulation of the BU—Beautiful Unapologetically scents. The products are designed to inspire women and liberate them from the fear and suffering from domestic abuse, and to help them start new chapters of their lives. The fragrance will be sold exclusively online and a donation of 10% of all the proceeds from each purchase goes to Our Safe House. “There’s a mission behind the scent. When a woman looks and feels beautiful, she deserves a scent equally as beautiful,” said Plair.
The BU—Beautiful Unapologetically line has three scents: BU Lite is an airy daytime boost to get through a busy day and launches Spring 2022. BU Freely is a full bouquet of delicate citrus and herbal notes for the late afternoon and will be available Summer 2022. BU Nite is a long-lasting bold, sophisticated, and elegant perfume for formal affairs and late nights and will be available Fall 2022.
Plair’s hope and desire is to spread awareness of domestic violence and to remind women who are being abused that they are not alone. “We are a community of survivors, and none of us have to suffer in silence,” said Plair. She wants women to know there is a whole world of opportunity once they decide to leave an abuser. Not only has Plair founded Our Safe House, LLC as well as the fragrance line, but she is retired from the Navy with an aviation and aerodynamics degree, a certified Event Planner, a licensed insurance adjuster, and runs an online travel agency called My Pampered Travelers. She also wrote an adult fiction book called Where I Wanna Be, which is available on Amazon.com.
While Plair knows it is ultimately up to a woman to decide when she is tired of abuse and ready to leave a relationship, her advice once that decision is made is to plan an exit strategy as safely as possible and get out! Tell somebody you trust and get help through local safe house organizations. Most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you it’s hopeless and that you don’t have options.
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