“It can happen to anyone.” -Marlene Harris
Over 10 million adults experience domestic violence each year in the United States (Source). In 1999, Marlene Harris was one of those people. Today, Marlene considers herself a survivor and a thriver, but her journey to that point has been long.
Marlene recently sat down with Goodwin University and shared her story of survival because she wants to reach as many people as possible about the destructive effects of domestic violence. “I buried my head in the sand for a long time. I wasn’t confident because I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear my story. Now I’m on the opposite end of that. I want to be a part of educating people. Anyone who wants to hear my story can hear it because it’s important,” Harris says.
In 1999, Harris gathered her three children and left the home she shared with her abuser. She found a payphone and called the Domestic Violence Hotline at Interval House, one of Connecticut’s 18 different domestic violence agencies. Interval House helped Marlene and her children get to a safe house, where they stayed for six weeks before moving into supportive and transitional housing. Like many victims, Marlene wasn’t aware of the many ways domestic violence shows up in a partnership. “Many victims out there don’t understand that they are in an abusive situation. One day I woke up and realized how isolated I was. There are so many layers to abuse. At the time, I didn’t know the details about abuse,” says Harris.
Domestic violence is a growing epidemic. Between 2016 and 2018, the rates of domestic violence increased by 42% in the United States (Source). Harris shares her story to educate people on the many layers of domestic violence because not all incidents involve physical violence. “My abuser only put his hands on me one time, but the emotional, financial, and sexual abuse that I experienced was a lot more traumatic,” Harris said.
Marlene wanted to return to school to earn her degree during her relationship. She tried to take classes, but her abuser would leave her young children home alone while she was at school. “He knew I would quit school because of the children. The abuse impacted my not being able to go back to school.”
Earning her Degree
Since leaving that night in 1999, Harris has earned her associate degree and bachelor’s degree at Goodwin University while also working for the University during several important years of Goodwin’s growth from the Data Institute to what we know as Goodwin today. Having come through to the other side of the abuse, Marlene now works as a victim advocate at Interval House.
Marlene first learned about Goodwin University from her daughter, who had previously completed a summer program at Data Institute and was attending Goodwin College at the time. Marlene applied for a receptionist role in the Admissions department and began working at Goodwin shortly after leaving her abusive partner. “I had not long gotten out of my marriage. I was not in a very good place, but I needed to work.”
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, victims of domestic violence lose many days of paid work each year. “The effects of the abuse showed up on the job. I had a lot of time off work. I told a few people about my experience, but not the people I should have.” Despite not sharing her personal experiences with her supervisors and the leadership at Goodwin, Marlene found the environment at Goodwin supportive, giving her the space she needed to begin healing. Marlene advanced in her career, first to administrative assistant and eventually to senior administrative assistant to the Nursing Department at Goodwin. “Goodwin is so inclusive and nurturing for students and employees. Because of the resources they provided for people, being at Goodwin made me want to do better for myself. The people at Goodwin encouraged me from day one to the very end.”
While working at Goodwin, Marlene earned her associate degree and finished her bachelor’s degree. “As I got more and more comfortable and confident, I decided to go back to school. The culture and the environment were very nurturing, and the professors were really helpful. I didn’t have much confidence in myself then, and I got the support that I needed.”
Marlene associates her success at Goodwin with the professors for helping her rebuild her confidence in herself and her capabilities. “When I doubted myself, I could always count on my professors to encourage me. They talked me out of giving up so many times.”
Marlene chose a Human Services degree. As her knowledge and skillsets grew, she decided to make a career shift. Harris left her position at Goodwin University to work full-time for Interval House as a family violence victim advocate within the judicial system at the Hartford Superior Court, helping victims through the judicial process. “I left Goodwin to work at Interval House because I wanted to do the work — trauma-informed work.” When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Harris worked part-time from home while homeschooling her 7-year-old twin granddaughters, who she has adopted.
Unfortunately, the impact of domestic violence can cross generations and has consequences that last a lifetime (Source). Harris’s son was just nine years old when she left her abuser. “He had his dad on a pedestal until we left, and then he understood what was really happening,” says Marlene. Her son is struggling with addiction as a result of the devastating effects of the abuse he witnessed as a child. Harris, now sixty, is reparenting her son’s twin daughters.
Harris recently returned to Interval House, as a hotline victim advocate, answering the same phone line she first called in 1999 several nights a week. “You never know who is going to be on the other line of that phone.” Harris shares what happened to her because domestic violence crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. “There is no age limit. Anyone can be experiencing abuse, from faculty to students or employees. You’d be surprised by the number of people I’ve sat across from who was a victim. You never know who you can reach.”
Harris’s journey of healing isn’t over. But as a survivor and an advocate, she understands everything that goes into a career in human services. “I’ve learned over the years to pace myself. Self-care is so important.” Going to church, reading, and exercising has been critical to her healing and continued self-care.
“It’s about educating people and empowering people. I’m not out here to tell people to leave, but by telling my story, I hope I can help people recognize abuse within themselves or their situation.”
“I consider myself a thriver. I’m an alumni and a thriver. Onward and upward.”
-Marlene Harris, BS Human Services 2014
Each day, domestic violence hotlines receive more than 19,000 calls. A bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Goodwin University can give you the skills and experience you need to become an advocate helping families experiencing domestic violence.
If you are in crisis, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-779-SAFE (7233) or visit www.thehotline.org.