Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.

“I have been silent too long now”

24 Aug

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Julien, a 30-year-old survivor of an abusive relationship.  I have deliberately chosen to use her story as my last substantial blog post, for two reasons.  First, because it is the most direct profile that I have been able to put together.  I have interviewed several professionals that work with victims and survivors of domestic violence, and two people who lost loved ones to domestic abuse, but Julien is the only person I have interviewed who actually went through the abuse herself.  And more importantly, because I think it is the most hopeful interview I have done.  I think it’s almost miraculous that the person who has had the most direct experience with domestic violence is also the most hopeful and positive about not only her future, but the future of all those who suffer this kind of violence.

Julien was married in her early twenties.  Unbeknownst to her, her new husband was already married, and had never divorced his first wife.  He started abusing her when she found out that their marriage was not actually legal (polygamy is illegal in Namibia, despite the fact that some tribes practice it traditionally).  He beats her and often threatens to kill her.  He has a gun which he sometimes points at her.  He does all this in front of their two sons, who are only 4 and 5 years old.  In this video, Julien tells us about one instance in which he used the gun to frighten her:


She told me this story before I actually video-taped her, and she started giggling a little bit when she told me that after he brandished the gun at her by the side of the car, she started running, and he couldn’t catch up because he is “a little bit fat,” in her words.  I think that’s why she smiles when telling this part of the story in the video.  I loved that she could still laugh, could still find things funny, even while telling me this horrifying tale. She has an undeniable joie de vivre and enjoyment in life.  Talking with her, I found myself filled with admiration for her bravery, and also anger that someone would try to repress her joyful spirit the way her husband did.

I got to interview her because she took her kids, left her husband and her home, and came to Windhoek to find help.  She is working with Rosa Namises (I profiled Rosa in a previous blog post) who is helping her to find a safe place to live and work through the legal side of things.  Julien has taken out a protection order with the police, and as she put it, knocking on every door that could possibly help her, because ultimately, she does believe that her husband will eventually try to kill her.  She was not at all shy about being photographed and video-taped, and immediately gave me permission to use her name, because:

If there are women out there and they are are scared what their husbands are gonna do to them, if we don’t speak out no one is gonna hear us and know how we are suffering.  So really I’m willing to take a stand and make a change.  I might impact somebody else’s life, some other lady who cannot speak out.  So I’m willing to go that route.

After I was done asking all my questions, I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to say.  She thought for a minute and then said this:


I am so grateful that I got to meet Julien.  She reminds me that even after undergoing trauma, women can change their own lives for the better, and that they can even emerge with their spirits intact.

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Aug 24th, 2009

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