From domestic violence survivor to human rights activist, Women's Policy Institute-Riverside fellow Nancy Valenzuela has overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to become the formidable champion for women that she is today.
After witnessing her husband murder her oldest son, Nancy Valenzuela found the courage to leave. In 1993, she fled Mexico with her two boys and started a new life—a free life—in Riverside County. Once there, she dedicated herself to educating women and families about abuse. She channeled her unspeakable experience into unbelievable strength and joined Con Lideres Campesinas, a grassroots organization that supports women farmworkers who are experiencing domestic violence. This year she’s part of our Women’s Policy Institute-Riverside policy advocacy program and is learning how to use policy to affect system-level change.
What drives you and your work?
I have been in many abusive relationships and have experienced sexual, verbal and physical abuse. All of these experiences made me very strong.
I used to think that I couldn’t do anything about it, but then I learned that I have rights: the right to live freely, to live without fear of being hit, without fear of being humiliated. And a great passion was awakened in me. Today, I’m motivated by a rage that surges within me; a rage against the laws that aren’t enforced.
Imagine, in order to report domestic abuse, the law requires photographic proof or bruises as proof. But many times there are no bruises because the abuse is verbal, or your partner hurts you in a way that leaves no marks. It’s situations like these that make me want to learn how to defend our people.
I have a vision of a community that is free, a community that confronts the aggressor and says, “Enough. This is not love. This is not for me. This is not freedom.”
What prevents victims from speaking out against violence?
People are scared or ashamed. They think, “Well, how am I going to say something? I’m a teacher or a doctor. How can I say that I’m being abused, that I’m dealing with domestic violence?” So they try to cover things up for others’ sake, but they are unhappy in their own lives. Some end up so depressed that it kills them. For some, if the depression doesn’t take their lives, their abuser does.
What advice would you give to people experiencing abuse?
You don’t need to live with someone who hurts you. That person does not love you! A person who loves you is not going to do anything to hurt you. A person that loves you is going to make you smile, is going to make you feel good, is going to accept you as you are.
What love is—that’s what we need to teach our children, to the new generations. They need to know what it looks and feels like to be loved; what it looks like to be free in a relationship.
I believe in creating policies that prevent domestic violence and enable women to speak up more freely. I also believe that we need to create community centers—places where women can go and are told, “This is private information that will not be divulged. We want you to know that you can get help. This is not to embarrass you. It’s to make you feel worthy; it’s to give you self-worth.”
What are you working on these days?
I’m dedicating myself to Con Lideres Campesinas, an organization made up of farm-workers who educate the community on abuse. We hold meetings in our homes and discuss different topics. One of our themes is domestic violence, another is sexual abuse. We just did a training about the abuse of minors. We are finding that sexual abuse of minors exists in our own homes, with our own family members.
We also perform skits at the park. The skits depict acts of abuse so our women can know what that looks like. Many women in the audience can identify with our skits, but they don’t ask for help right then and there. They call later instead. We then listen, we make a report and we connect them with an agency that can help them. That’s the way we work.