Category Archives: Domestic Violence

Yards After Contact

Guest Post By Brittany GardenerBrittany Gardener

The Unconquered Scholars Program at Florida State University has been a tremendous blessing in my life. I’ve been around since the program’s inception five years ago, and I’ve witnessed the program’s tremendous growth and impact it has had on its students and the community. To use a football metaphor, every individual must maximize his or her “yards after contact.”

Life has its struggles and hurts, but I’ve learned along the way that even in the pain of life, there are yards to be gained. Our interpretations of events and our responses to them become the ideas that define us.

As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that we all face unique challenges and hardships. We are all on our own in this world, but the thing that most connects us is our stories and experiences. We can all admit that you don’t begin to come into the full knowledge of what you’re made of until you’ve had some encounters that leave you with no other choice but to be strong.

Each one of us can look at ourselves as players on the football field of life. Yards after contact are the yards a player gains after the player is initially hit. When I think of a running back, I think of the focus he must possess in order to gain yards after being hit by defensive players. I think of his relentless drive in spite of all the hits he takes. The running back is always running with aim; he is running to secure a first down that will ultimately lead him and his team to scoring a touchdown. Gaining that first down may seem like an insignificant accomplishment, but it is a small victory that contributes toward the ultimate goal of winning the game.

The ball is our purpose. The ball is our future. The ball is what Unconquered Scholars have held onto for so long. Some of my program peers were in foster care, others were wards of the state, or homeless. As for myself, I was in relative care. In the program, there are plenty of situations in which defeat was calling – challenges that were trying to snatch the ball out of our hands. Each Unconquered student has played the role of a running back. We’ve taken some hard hits; we’ve even had to stiff-arm some pretty scary situations. If we had stopped running, then we would have lost possession. We had to run with stamina and power because our future depended on it.

When I reflect on my own story, I think of my initial hit when my mother passed away unexpectedly, so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I was just a freshman in high school. I had to be my own parent and take care of myself in all respects. One day when I was at school, I intentionally avoided my peers so that they wouldn’t see me crying. I felt myself breaking down inside. I raised my hand so that I could be excused. I felt alone; I felt as if no one understood the pain I was dealing with. I started to cry uncontrollably – the kind of tears that only come from the worst pain deep within. But in that very moment, I heard in my spirit a voice reassuring me that in a little while, things would get better.

Then I realized, life is about the small victories, that is, the yards you gain when you are experiencing adversity. I, for one, am so glad that I kept running. I’m so glad I had the courage to stiff-arm my hardships and to see beyond the obstacles. Through my mother’s death, I learned the importance of perseverance and what “yards after contact” really means. I advanced the ball because, unbeknownst to me, the opportunity to attend Florida State University would be only a few yards down the field. These extraordinary students shared in this video where they started on the field and where they are now because of Unconquered and the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (C.A.R.E.).

VIDEO: The Truly Unconquered –  From Homeless Youth to College Graduate

Thank goodness all the other students in the program also advanced the ball so that Unconquered could open up a wide hole for us to run through. A hole was made by this program that allowed us to gain those tough yards. We kept on running with our future in mind and our purpose in our hands. Unconquered has been an invaluable support system for each of us. Without such a resource, our lives would in all likelihood have taken a drastically and tragically, different turn. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Unconquered Scholars Program, the C.A.R.E. Program, and our beloved Florida State.

I realized three years ago that attending college was going to be one of the most significant life transitions I would ever undergo. I knew the weight I would have to bear as a first-generation college student and as a student who had been in relative care. I did not know how I was going to pay for college, let alone what to expect once I arrived. Today, I look back at my initial hit. Today I look at where I started on the field. Today, I look at the yardage that has been gained by each and every student in this program. We’re not just running for ourselves; we are running for the future generation of students who will come after us.

In our lives, there were plenty of situations in which DEFEAT was once calling, CHALLENEGES that were trying to impede our date with destiny. But it took only ONE opportunity, ONE door opening, ONE yard- the Unconquered Scholars Program – to demonstrate what is possible when students are handed the right tools to go into battle against what seem like insurmountable circumstances.

In Unconquered, there are students who have not only dreamed, but have fought the good fight as well. Students who have had to ride through dark clouds, at times, unable to see the road ahead. I am talking about students who have managed to gain yards after contact in spite of life’s constant blows. I hope you can see and feel just how much strength, determination, capability, and resilience abound in this program.

For more information on the Unconquered Scholars Program, visit or contact Lisa Jackson, Assistant Director of the Unconquered Scholars Program at FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement at or (850) 644-0120.

Brittany Gardener graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing and currently serves in DCF’s Office of Civil Rights.


Abused for almost a decade – finding the courage to leave

Guest post by DCF Child Protective Investigator Angela Brown and Child Protective Investigations Supervisor Julia Johnson in Suwannee County

domestic violenceA mother had been in a very violent relationship for nine years.  She had quit fighting back.  When her husband found out about the abuse report she filed against him, he told her he was going to kill her.

She told us she was scared and didn’t want DCF involved.  But we told her that as bad as the domestic violence is now, it will only get worse if she doesn’t get help. The abuse would continue to break down her self-esteem.  She needed to get help to protect herself and her children.

The woman’s mother is her support system and worked with us to encourage her and her children to stay at a domestic violence shelter until it was safe for her to return home. The woman was confused and really didn’t know how to go about saving herself.

A victim’s advocate at the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office help her fill out an injunction against her husband and stood by her side in court. We both gave the woman our phone numbers and encouraged her to call at any time if she needed help.

Now she no longer has to worry about what will happen when her husband comes home from work.  Her stomach was no longer in knots.  She was living again, for the first time in a long time.  She said she had seen the change in her children – they are calmer, happier, laughing more, not as angry and not fighting with each other as much.

The changes in her life are obvious.  Her appearance is different – she has confidence, is happy, smiles, talks and laughs.  She is working to get her GED … and she has expressed interest in someday becoming a Child Protective Investigator.

When teen dating turns violent

Guest post by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence in recognition of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

That super cool guy or girl asks your teen out. They’ve had a huge crush on them for months and are head over heels in “love.” But be sure to keep communication open with your teen so you can help make sure they don’t get into a teen dating violence situation.

The most important thing to tell them is that they have a choice. They can say no to anything in the relationship and shouldn’t feel bad about getting out of a situation that makes them uncomfortable.

Here are 10 tips they should keep in mind when dating. You have the right to:

  1. Be respected and treated as an equal.
  2. Say no to someone who asks me out.
  3. Suggest activities or refuse activities.
  4. Have your own feelings and ideas and share them without worrying about how my dating partner will react.
  5. Speak up when I think my dating partner’s actions or language are unfair or hurtful.
  6. Express my opinions and be heard by my partner.
  7. Refuse physical touch with anyone, at any time, for any reason.
  8. Have friends and space aside from my dating partner.
  9. Leave the relationship.
  10. Have my privacy rights respected, including the rights to private conversations, phone calls, text messages, social networking activities, emails, etc.

Warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship may look different for everyone. It is about when a dating partner chooses to break boundaries. Those boundaries can be emotional, physical, sexual or verbal.

Here are some behaviors that can be warnings that a relationship may be abusive:

  • Calls or texts excessively
  • Makes the other ask “have I done something wrong?”
  • Uses guilt to control or manipulate
  • Isolates from friends and/or family
  • Keeps the other person from doing things they enjoy
  • Monitors the other person using technology
  • Shows up unannounced
  • Embarrasses the other person in public on purpose
  • Tells the other what to do, what to wear how to act
  • Threatens to do self harm if the person leaves the relationship
  • Shows or hints at an explosive temper

Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any age. If you or someone you know may be a victim of domestic violence, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 500-1119.


She finally became a participant in her own life

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The following is a survivor’s story as told by her advocate. 

The pair met in a rural village in Haiti. They courted, fell in love and then got married. They were poor and learned to live with the bare necessities. She thought he would be the one to share her journey, but he turned out to be no loving companion.

She stated she was no different from many other Haitian wives who resigned themselves to their lot. She desperately wanted to wake up to a new life, so when he suggested moving to this sacred land, she readily accepted.

They came to the U.S. and had three children. He spoke English. She did not. He had family here. She did not. Her journey was grim and painful. Her living conditions in Haiti were archaic and prepared her well to accept the crumbs he was willing to give her.

He spent money on other women and changed their family portrait by adding a child he fathered out of wedlock. This new life was plagued with doubts. She saw herself as a trapped, limited being. Confrontations with his wrath were abundant. She learned how to read his moods and watched for the crazed look in his eyes. When he displayed his heinous behavior, she refrained herself from engaging because she was not allowed to wedge a word into the conversation. She practiced silence.

There was no net to capture her from the abusive life into which she had fallen. Faith became her nourishment. She endured his abuse in silence. She shrouded herself with shame while he assumed an attitude of superiority and constantly reminded her that she could not speak English. He said that she was a nobody. He cursed at her, hit her, and threatened to practice voodoo spells on her and the children.

She explained that their culture has been strongly rooted in voodoo and the fear of it was real. She once told her advocate, “Once voodoo comes into your life, voodoo follows you, always. It doesn’t stop. You have to pray, pray and pray.” And so, she prayed. She prayed fervently and ceaselessly. Her advocate finally understood why she looked as if she was humming all the time.

She was exhausted with stress and fear and looked aloof. He had sapped out her sense of self-worth. It took her advocate quite some time to instill in her that it was her birthright to live without abuse, whole and unfragmented.

She faced a myriad of challenges such as leaving her abusive husband of 17 years, navigating the legal system, getting food stamps, obtaining Medicaid for the children, finding a new apartment and a new job. Luckily she was documented, but this was still an uncharted territory, especially for someone who did not speak English.


A Florida domestic violence center

All of his assumptions vanished when he saw that she had the proper resources to address all the legalities she was facing. He was floored when he saw that she had an attorney representing her and a translator communicating everything in Creole. She was not going to be excluded from the conversation.

The garden at a Florida domestic violence center

Finally this survivor became a participant in her own life. It is exciting to report that she has increased her English-speaking skills significantly, gained employment, and relocated to safe housing where she lives free of abuse; something she never thought possible.


If you or someone you know may be the victim of domestic violence, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119. More info is available online.

Breaking the Cycle of Family Violence

Guest post by a graduate of Healthy Families, a home-visiting program that prevents child abuse and neglect by teaching positive parenting skills, promoting healthy child development and improving family self-sufficiency.

When I enrolled in the Healthy Families program, I was 24 years old and just had my fifth child. I had no sense of direction or purpose as a single mom trying to raise all of my children. I never finished high school, did not have my GED and was unemployed. I was living in a very bad domestic violence situation with the father of my children and thought I had no way out. He had me believing that I could not make it without the little bit of financial support he provided to us.

One of the first and most important things my family support worker did was help me learn how to set goals for myself. She taught me that I could achieve things on my own. She believed in me and, more importantly, helped me believe in myself. She pushed me and told me not to give up even when I faced setbacks, and I faced a lot.

With the help of Healthy Families, today I am proud to say that my children and I no longer live in fear of domestic violence because my support worker showed me where to go for help and I got it. The father of my children is in jail where he belongs and I helped the police get him there.

My children and I are safe, I am working full-time, I have gotten my own transportation and my own home. Now I want to get my GED, and I know I can do it! Healthy Families has helped me to see that once I had my kids, my life became about them and their well-being and no longer just about myself. I have learned how to be a better parent and how to help my kids be the best people that they can be too.”


Almost 25 percent of Healthy Families participants are identified as having experienced, or currently experiencing, domestic violence at program enrollment. As indirect victims of domestic violence, children who witness family violence experience similar trauma to those who are abused. This trauma significantly alters children’s brain development leading to emotional and behavioral problems, poor school performance, and increased risk of criminal behavior as youth and adults. A child’s exposure to domestic violence is also the most significant predictor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. 

Healthy Families home visitors prevent child abuse and neglect by teaching positive parenting skills, promoting healthy child development and improving family self-sufficiency. Home visitors also connect families to other community resources that can address domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health and other issues that place children at-risk. 

For more information, visit