Senator Leanna Washington

Senator LeAnna Washington: Saving the Abused Women of Philadelphia

Senator Washington tells her life story as a survivor of domestic violence and how she's working to help every victim in Philadelphia start over

Melanie Yvette

by Melanie Yvette, October 05, 2012

Senator Leanna Washington

Senator Leanna Washington

In 2011, 91,000 women were affected by domestic violence in the city of Philadelphia. Many years ago, State Senator LeAnna Washington (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia)  was a victim herself. But, unlike many women, Senator Washington was able to escape and save her life. Now, she is serving her purpose to bring awareness to the victims of domestic abuse. Senator Washington has helped establish the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline, and this October, will help lead the 5th Annual Walk to End Domestic Violence in Philadelphia.

Senator Washington shares her story with EBONYwith the hopes of inspiring victims of domestic violence everywhere to get up and get out, for good.  

EBONY: Can you take me back to your life as an abused victim?

Senator Washington: I was getting abused by my ex-husband, and at a very young age. I believed that it was out of love, though. Especially when he proposed. I grew up thinking that if a man wanted to marry you, he for sure loved you. But the abuse continued throughout our marriage.  Then, there was this girl that I became friends with and she had a sister that lived in Detroit. I remember telling her that he would beat me.  But I would tell her, “you can’t say anything because if you do, he will get me.” I remember once she asked me to go to Detroit with her to see my sister, who lived there at the time. So I went, but when I got back, I got beat up. It went on for years. But there just came time when I had to leave.

EBONY: How did you escape your abuser?

SW: My cousin and I rented a U-haul truck. I put my two sons and our dog and all the clothes and furniture I could, on the truck. My cousin drove the U-haul from Philadelphia to Detroit and my daughter and I flew. She was just a baby. My stuff stayed on the U-haul for two weeks because I didn’t have an apartment. I just had to get away because I couldn’t take the pain and the abuse he was putting my children through. You need to know I loved him, up until the last 5 years we were separated. But seeing the pain in my kids faces made me realized that I was either going to kill him, or he was going to kill us

EBONY: It has to be the scariest feeling, when you feel like the only way you’ll survive something, is by taking someone’s life.

SW: Oh yes. Today my daughter is the only one that pretty much still deals with him. It’s something about dads and daughters I guess; he never abused her. But he hit the boys.

EBONY: How do you feel about him?

SW: There is some interaction. We can be in the room together, but I used to hate him. God has been so good to me that I have learned to let it go, and when I look at him today, I laugh. If he had not treated me so badly, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. Now, I just always say, “Thank you”. I remember going to psychotherapy because my self-esteem was so low. I remember I had been in a mental institution up for evaluation. I did 18 months of psychotherapy, and afterwards, I decided to go back to school to get my GED.

EBONY: And that’s when your life began to change?

SW: Yes! Opportunities where I thought I just didn’t have them, showed up. I began to see that I was somebody; that I had a brain and that I was smart. I got my masters degree in Human Services in 1989 from Lincoln University, and I graduated PI Gamma Nu. Everyone came to graduation in a pants and shirt, but I came in a suit and hat because I didn’t graduate from high school.  It was so special to me. I’ve had some awful life experiences and it’s only by God’s grace have I served in the capacity that I am today. Once I graduated from Lincoln, the stars and the sky were mine.

I wrote my autobiography at 67, and I remember in my autobiography I said, that by age 70, I would be a State Senator married to a judge. Well I’m 67 and I’m a state Senator. I don’t know where the judge is [laughs]. But the bottom line is that my commitment is to show women who are victims that they can escape domestic abuse.

EBONY: Tell our readers about the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline you helped get established for victims in Philadelphia.

SW: The hotline operates in the city of Philadelphia. It wouldn’t operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if we didn’t raise the money from the Walk to End Domestic Violence. It’s operated by organizations

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