CDCR employee Roberta Sanchez was appointed to the Voices for Victims Coalition.
Inside CDCR recently sat down with her for an interview about her experiences and goals. (Editor’s note: Parts of the interview were published earlier in Inside CDCR.)
What is the Voices for Victim’s Coalition?
The Voices for Victims Coalition is a coalition of members who have personal experience with the criminal justice system. Members have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to achieving justice for themselves or a loved one.
The coalition also includes community leaders who advocate for crime victims. We are dedicated to giving back to our community by adding our voices to the call to strengthen legislation and services that support crime victims and their families.
Why is it important for domestic violence survivors to be heard?
I want to be clear that the Coalition supports all crime victims, not just the victims of domestic violence. My experience speaks to the plight of domestic violence survivors specifically – unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence, child and elder abuse, sexual abuse and human trafficking are silenced by shame, fear and embarrassment.
In our society, people often associate victims of these crimes as people who are in their plight because of drug use, pervasive victim mentality due to generational abuse or as a norm of their particular societal group; it gives those observers an attitude of, “well, they can always shape up/get off of the drugs/leave the situation,” or whatever narrative they use to distance those victims from their own community.
What happens when we talk about these experiences, these crimes and their aftermath, is that we normalize the idea that these things happen to EVERYONE. We engage with the idea that people are people no matter what their circumstance, and that everyone is entitled to live a life where they are heard and where they matter.
What advice do you have for domestic survivors, based on your experience?
Based on my experience, the first thing I would say to someone experiencing domestic violence is to have a plan. My ex-husband did his level best to keep me powerless, through controlling finances, personal interactions, gaslighting, you name it.
It wasn’t until I started attending some theater classes at my local community college that I recognized that my life was not only “abnormal” but dangerous and incompatible with life in general.
That’s when I began to secretly save money in my own name, look for a safe place to stay once I left, to tell a few people who I trusted that my life was not what it seemed to be from the outside.
What happened after you developed a plan?
My plan was in place, but sometimes even the best plans aren’t enough. That’s when it’s important to recognize that you may need help.
I recommend any of the great community organizations that specifically reach out to domestic violence victims.
Lastly, if there’s any way for a survivor to receive professional therapy, whether it’s through a victim advocate group or health care, they should grab that up! Therapy is key to learning how to live your life again.
You continue to participate in community theater both as an actor and a playwright. Does that help you?
Community theater literally saved my life. It was through my involvement with the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival and Sacramento City College’s theater arts department that I began to see myself as a person again, as someone worthy of love and friendship.
It strengthened a part of myself that I thought was gone, destroyed by the daily abuse I endured for 20 years.
After my ex-husband tried to murder me, the people in that group of actors, directors, teachers, technicians, costumers and coworkers surrounded me with support and friendship.
The environment of acceptance, pride, joy and love that envelopes you in a theater community is unmatched anywhere else! Plus, there’s something about the interconnectedness of it all that appeals to me – it’s a family.
To this day, 7 years later, those people are more than friends, they are my family.
One of your favorite quotes is: “There is only honor in being a survivor.” Please explain what you mean.
For a very long time, I was ashamed of being a victim. I was embarrassed by my bruises, my scars, by the psychological, physical and sexual abuse I endured for those 20 years.
I was angry when I heard the words “victim” and “survivor,” because those words made me feel like less than a person. They triggered feelings of shame and embarrassment.
It wasn’t until I recognized that surviving made me more than who I was before that I regained my personal power that my abuser stripped from me. I realized that surviving the murder attempt made me stronger in every way, and that made me proud.
That quote reminds me that I am worthy of the life that I took back. There is no shame or fear – only honor, in being a survivor.