Two different women, two different states, two different tales, but the same two words: domestic violence.
As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, these women — one from Rhode Island, one from Connecticut — want to share their stories in hopes of helping others and to shine a light on an epidemic that affects people in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Amy Falcone of Pawcatuck and Donna Wayles of Hope Valley have never met, but they have much in common. They are mothers, they’re both deeply spiritual, and they are both survivors of domestic abuse.
In the United States each year, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence, according to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In Connecticut, a third of all criminal court cases involve family violence. In Rhode Island, 29.9% of women and 19.3% of men have experienced intimate partner physical violence, coalition statistics say.
The coalition defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, economic, and emotional/psychological abuse.”
“The frequency and severity of domestic violence varies dramatically,” the coalition states on its website. “Domestic violence creates a violent and hostile environment that can have devastating effects on children, both physical and emotional.”
‘How did you ever survive?’
“It’s been quite the journey,” said Falcone, a hair stylist at Hair Unique in Mystic. “It’s not easy telling your life story, but I want to help people ... to let them know there’s hope on the other side.”
Falcone said her book, “Navigating a Fractured Life of Fear,” is “a story about my life and all the trials and tribulations that I’ve lived through.”
“This is a story of love, fear, tragedy, knowledge, acceptance, sorrow, redemption and of something larger than oneself,” she writes in the first chapter, “The Beliefs.” “It is not a story of religion. It is a personal recollection of my real-life events, transcending from years of abuse, violation, crime and other offenses within a family unit.”
Falcone grew up with an abusive, controlling stepfather. Her father died when she was just a baby and her mom remarried, falling victim “to the false promises of love and security” offered by a man who, in reality, was a dangerous, violent psychopath.
Little Amy stood by and watched as her mom passively accepted what she thought was her fate.
It wasn’t until she left home and observed how other families functioned that Amy began to realize just how “horrific” her experiences had been.
“People would ask me, ‘How did you ever survive?’” Falcone recounted. “That’s when I began thinking that I should tell my story.”
Falcone said she began keeping notes of her experiences — her teenage pregnancy, her first marriage, the birth of her daughter, Ceaira, her constant “looking for love in all the wrong places,” her relationships, her new marriage, her move to Connecticut, the birth of her son and the subsequent death of her daughter.
By the time she connected with writer Michele Accardi Shriver, the mother of a friend, she had “years and years of notes.”
Shriver and Falcone worked together to create and publish “Navigating a Fractured Life of Fear.”
Peppered with inspirational quotes — from the Bible to Mark Twain to Aristotle — the book is dedicated to Falcone’s mom, Grace, “whose life struggles were the catalyst and motivation to write my life story,” and her daughter, Ceaira, her “angel from on high,” who “is and always will be the center of my universe.”
Falcone’s daughter, the late Ceaira Panter, was a Stonington High School graduate who died in 2011.
“I’ve been getting some good reviews on Amazon,” Falcone said, pointing to a number of online comments posted near the book.
“This [tells] the struggles and severe hardships of a young woman who through it all survived,” writes one fan. “Her faith in God is amazing. Her compassion and love is so inspiring. But most of all HOPE shines through. This book is so well-written that you simply cannot put it down. Amy Lynn is one amazing woman.”
“My goal is to help other people who have struggles in life ... people who have been through a lot,” said Falcone, “people who have lived with fear, doubt, anxiety and abuse.”
“I want them to know there is hope on the other side,” she added.
A journey through abuse
Wayles’ book, “I’ll Pray for You: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Escape from Domestic Violence,” set to be released this week, is also a story of violence, escape and redemption.
“The story is my journey through years of abuse by my Christian husband,” she said, “and my escape ... and finding that God gives happier-ever-afters.”
Wayles said throughout the years of violence and abuse, she held on to a certain strong belief: “God doesn’t want his children to be hurt,” she said.
“It took me a long time to get here,” she said, “but there is hope. God gave me hope.”
“Going through domestic violence is horrific,” she said. “I spent a lot of time soul-searching but I now know I can live in peace.”
Wayles, a technology education teacher at Hugh B. Bain Middle School in Cranston, now lives happily with her daughter and second husband in Hope Valley. But it took some extraordinary hardships to find her way to happiness.
Wayles grew up in a happy family in upstate New York and was raised with traditional Christian values, she said. After college, she had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii on a mission trip where she was offered a teaching position and decided to stay.
“I was delighted to make enough money to stay in Hawaii and work and lie on the beach,” she said.
It was at a church picnic she met her now ex-husband, a Florida native who was in the Navy and stationed in Hawaii. It wasn’t too long after that she began to notice problems — like her husband’s anger and controlling behaviors.
“My first red flag came one day after I met an old friend from college for lunch,” Wayles recalled. “I could not understand why he was so angry.”
When their daughter was born, the problems escalated.
Friends began to notice changes in Wayles’ behavior. She was different when her husband was away at sea, they told her.
Little by little, Wayles said, she began to realize she was in an abusive marriage. In her book, she tells the story of her harrowing journey of violence and escape, her joy in finding her current husband and her ultimate move to Rhode Island.
When she was a student at URI’s Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, Wayles was encouraged to tell her story by her professor. Once her story was written, she connected with Kharis Publishing, a Christian publishing company that helps “publish the word that God has given you.”
“I was very impressed with their Christian values,” said Wayles, noting that the company donates a portion of its profits to literacy efforts for orphans in Ghana and Nigeria.
Wayles will host a drop-in book signing Friday from 7-9 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus hall, 70 Pettaconsett Ave., Cranston. Copies of her book will be for sale then and at other booksellers.
On Nov. 9, Wayles will join her URI professor, Renee Hobbs, for a webinar called “Breaking Domestic Violence Stereotypes.” More information is available at authordwayles.org.
Falcone’s book is available on Amazon.
On its website, the domestic violence coalition notes: “If you are being abused by your partner, know there is nothing you have done or are doing to cause the abuse. It is solely the choice of the abuser to abuse. It may seem impossible to escape your abuser, change your circumstances, or find the help you need, but it is possible. However, you know your abuser best, so think carefully through your situation and circumstances and do what is the best for you.”
For anonymous, confidential help 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.