Shirley Jones

Shirley A. Jones

My mother was murdered when I was three years old.

No, that’s not the first line of a book I’m reading. That’s a fact. The fact is my life was touched by domestic violence at a very young age when a man my mom was once involved with waited until my dad went to work and came to our family home and killed her.

After he banged and kicked on the door and demanded to be let in, she thought she could reason with him and opened it.  She told my oldest sister Ann, who was then about 18, to take the little ones into a bedroom and lock the door. My older brother Norris, then around 14, remained in the room with her.

But, after he saw my mom argue with the man, he went into our parent’s bedroom and came back with my dad’s gun. The man took it from him. That’s when my mom ran out of the house to the porch of a neighbor and banged on the door for help.  Before help could arrive, he shot and killed her right there on the porch.

I don’t remember any of this directly.  I just remember what I was told since it was never any secret how my mom died. Even at a young age, other children would ask me if I hated the neighbor for not opening the door. But, I never did. I always thought she was just too afraid.

What happened to the man? He was released from prison when I was in the 11th grade and I remember being asked how I felt about that. I didn’t know how to feel. My mom, who I never got to know, was dead at his hands and he was now free. How would you feel?

I remember in my senior year in high school he was killed by his girlfriend.  Again, I remember being asked how I felt. And, I remember thinking it was ironic that he would die at the hands of a girlfriend. Undoubtedly he threatened her or did something to scare her and she decided she wasn’t going to die like my mom.

I share my mom’s story here, which is a large part of my own story, because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I do so because, unlike breast cancer awareness, very few people are willing to be the face of domestic violence. When we hear the stories of women who have survived breast cancer and the stories of those who champion breast cancer awareness, research and funding after losing someone to it, we rightfully think of them as brave.

But, just as often, when some hear stories of domestic violence, they wonder what the victim could have done differently. We don’t always treat those survivors as brave . So, it should be no surprise that battered women and battered men aren’t jumping up to share painful stories at the risk of being belittled if you’re a man or asked why you didn’t leave sooner if you are a woman.

Well, today, I lend my voice to Domestic Violence Awareness month because I am indeed a survivor since thankfully we weren’t all killed that night. My sister Ann somehow believes that if she had stayed in the room she could have saved our mom. But, I think it’s more likely that our mom saved us by sending us in the other room. And, my brother who did witness it all and who had the gun taken from him has been a wreck all of his life.  But, ultimately, we were all survivors, all impacted heavily, and all left with scars albeit not physical.

As for me, I have no shame and no regret in sharing my mother’s story.  And, I am indeed willing to be the face of domestic violence with no judgment for those who aren’t.

Shirley A. Jones is the assistant general counsel at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.