Amazing Mom: Maggie Dammit

Filed under: Health & Safety: Babies, Resources, Extreme Childhood, Bullying, Amazing Parents, Sex

Maggie Dammit and her daughters. Credit: Courtesy of Maggie Dammit

Amazing Mom: Maggie Dammit, journalist and founder of Violence Unsilenced, a website for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Maggie's Family: Husband: Dave; Kids: Two daughters

Molly Lives In:
Rural Wisconsin

Why Maggie Is Amazing: "Be brave and talk about it." These are the words of Maggie Dammit -- her blogging nom de plume -- speaking to women and men who have survived domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2007, Maggie launched the website "Violence Unsilenced" after she interviewed Gloria Steinem for a profile piece about the iconic feminist.

"During the interview, she told me that 30 percent of all arrests in the county where I live are related to domestic violence," Maggie says.

The area is affluent, white collar and nearly recession proof, thanks to a large public university, she says, and the statistic was shocking even to a journalist who had covered the community for many years. She calls the moment "life-changing," because that single fact led Maggie down a path that began with a magazine profile of seven local women who survived domestic abuse and ended with the founding of Violence Unsilenced.

The site, which posts essays written by survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, is by turns compelling, distressing and empowering. The landing page warns readers that the stories they find there may be so brutal as to trigger an emotional response in someone who has experienced a similar trauma.

It is sometimes difficult to read, but Maggie believes there is power in sharing the stories, both for the women who endured the abuse and for those who may believe it is the kind of thing that happens to strangers, not to friends or loved ones.

"So much of the way that abusers exert control is through shame and secrecy. 'No one will believe you if you tell,' so everyone stays silent," she says. "If we all keep talking about it, if we can shrink those degrees of separation [between people] and get people personally involved, we take away the power. [Since I began this work] I have had friends and family coming out of the woodwork, confessing about what happened to them."

Maggie is a firm believer in the cathartic power of writing as a path to healing, and she is careful to maintain Violence Unsilenced as a safe place for survivors to bear witness -- only supportive comments are allowed. In addition to compassion and empathy from readers, support also comes in the form of organizations geared toward helping those currently in abusive situations, as well as those who have survived such relationships.

The blogosphere is the perfect environment for a site like Violence Unsilenced, she adds, because of the desire for community and support among those who blog. Indeed, the woman who designed the website did so for free, and plenty of other bloggers pitched in, as well.

"The day we went live we had 5,000 hits, and we have a wait list of between four to six months for posting," Maggie says. "I believe in the validity of this medium, so often misunderstood." The wait list is because Maggie only posts two survivor essays a week to give each writer a chance to be heard.

Maggie also has a personal blog, Okay, Fine, Dammit, where she is equally fearless in her sharing of the truth as she sees it. In her distinctive, lyrical prose she writes about motherhood, alcoholism and family relationships, but she does so while mindful of the privacy of her husband and children. She also tries to be conscious of how much her children see her on the computer, but it is a very fine balance.

"You can't write about life if you're not living it," she says.

Maggie's Friend Sarah Says:
"I'd consider myself lucky if I turned out to be half the mother Maggie is ... She affirms over and over what supportive, expansive, good motherhood is."

Maggie received a 2009 Community Service Award from the Madison, Wisc. organization Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. In 2010, Violence UnSilenced was a Bloggies finalist. In addition, Maggie has received three industry awards for her print journalism on a variety of subjects.

Maggie's Guilty Pleasures: Swedish fish and really bad TV

Maggie's Best Advice: Doesn't really like advice, but loves wisdom.

Katherine McWilliams, author of the play Babel, also contributed to this story.

Amazing Mom: Diane Granito

Want to see who else made the list? Click here for the rest of AOL's 2010 Amazing Moms!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.