Judi Kamien is the chief development officer of the Springfield Daily Citizen. (Photo by Shannon Cay)


One night when my mom was in her early 20s, living north of Springfield in a small town on Route 65, her husband tried to kill her.

He took the pillow away from her face before she died. And later, while he slept, she crept out of their house and got away — but not without writing a note to him, saying she’d gone to Springfield to get a job and that she’d be back for her children.

But this was rural Missouri in the 1950s. The narrative became, “She abandoned her family.” And, whether she formally lost custody or just didn’t dare go back for her kids, the story turned out the same: my mom didn’t see her first two children for more than 20 years — and I didn’t even know I had half siblings until I was 10, when two strangers showed up at my grandparents’ house while we were visiting for Christmas.

To this day, I don’t know how many people in my family are aware that this happened. I don’t know if my brother or sister have any idea why their mom disappeared when they were barely toddlers. But I do know that the effects of domestic violence can reverberate through generations.

I know — because what happened to my mom happened to me.

Now, I’m not someone who fits the idea you might have of a person who’s experienced any kind of intimate partner violence. I have an Ivy League education; I’ve spent my career advocating for nonprofit organizations that make a difference in their communities; and I’m happily married to an accomplished, successful media professional. On paper, I have it all. But looks can be deceiving: hiding behind what appears to most people to be a pretty successful life are high school relationships with overbearing, older men; a date rape in college; multiple instances of sexual harassment in the workplace; mentally and physically controlling relationships with questionable partners; and a first marriage in which emotional abuse led to physical harm.

I look like a success, but on too many days, I feel like a failure.

I only recently learned that what my mom went through might have influenced some of the ways I’ve structured my relationships and made me more prone to choosing situations in which I’d experience abuse in my adult life.

Generational trauma is real

There are many theories emerging about generational trauma — trauma experienced by the generations that came before you (like my mom) — and the myriad ways in which that kind of trauma changes your response to potentially stressful situations. In my case, it taught me to please others rather than myself. There have been times — lots of them — when I should have stood up for myself, and instead did nothing. Pleasing others, putting up with behavior that I should have said “no” to, or fought (if the behavior was physical), gave me a false sense of security; it tricked me into thinking that I was in charge of my life, when in reality I was letting others control me.

Being controlled — because that’s what any kind of intimate violence, no matter where or how it takes place, is about — comes with voices in your head. They tell you that you’re not good enough. That you deserve to be treated the way you are. That you’re too ugly, stupid, needy, poor to be able to leave. That you can’t get along by yourself. That you’ll be fine if you just make yourself small enough not to be noticed. That you need to please the abuser, however they want you to please them, to stay employed, stay safe, stay alive.

Last week, the Springfield Daily Citizen began publishing Living in Fear, a four-part investigative series examining domestic violence in Greene County. The series includes stories that are really hard to finish. Stories about things you can’t imagine. Stories that don’t even seem believable. Stories so grim, they come with content warnings.

Stories about things that happened to me.

Telling my story so you know it can happen to anyone

I’ve never told my story before in public. But I’m telling it today for three reasons: first, because at the age of almost 60, I finally feel safe; second, so that other people who are in situations I’ve been in know they’re not alone; and third, so that people reading Living in Fear know that intimate partner and domestic violence can happen to anyone. Anyone. No matter how unlikely a victim they may seem.

The abuse you’ll learn about in Living in Fear could be happening to your neighbor; your brother; your grandma; your college roommate; your boss. Trust me: it’s happening to someone you know.

So please, educate yourself about the terrible epidemic of domestic violence in our community. Read the stories — all of them, all the way through. Believe them. And know that if you are experiencing abuse, you are not alone. It’s hard to have faith that you can break the cycle, but I promise, help will be there for you when you’re ready. It was for me.

I’m grateful to our newsroom for creating this series. We’ve all been putting up with the epidemic of domestic violence in Southwest Missouri for far too long — and I know we can do better.

Living in Fear will show you ways you can help, and ways you can get help. But again, you’ll have to read the articles to find them. So please, for the sake of all the people you know, and don’t know, who have suffered — or are suffering — in silence: don’t look away. Read Living in Fear.

Judi Kamien

Judi Kamien is the chief development officer of the Springfield Daily Citizen. She has 30 years experience in the field, and has managed teams from Manhattan to Montreal. Kamien grew up overseas; lived most of her adult life in New York; and moved with her family to Springfield, near where her mom was from, in 2017. More by Judi Kamien