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

by Melanie Yvette, October 5, 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 such as Women Against Abuse, Lutheran Settlement House and Women in Transition. Victims can get resources on shelters and safe housing and things like that. Sometimes people just need somebody to talk to, because everybody who calls the hotline is not ready.  They may have just been beat or frustrated or depressed, so the hotline can be a lot of things for a lot of people. But if you do want to leave and you do feel like your ready, the Women Against Abuse have several shelters that they can go into. There is an opportunity for obtaining self-sufficiency, which is your own housing, furniture, and the resources that you need to live a different life. But you have to be committed.

EBONY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about domestic violence?

SW: That only a type of woman gets beat. Let me tell you something, domestic violence has no face. And my thing is: if they push you they’ll slap you. If they slap you, they’ll punch you. If they punch you, they’ll kill you.

EBONY: Wow, that is such a raw and honest statement that many women just may not understand. Can you tell me more about the walk, how did it come about?

SW: It didn’t start out as a walk, it started out as a resource conference for women who were in drug and alcohol programs, half way houses and things like that. But I didn’t think we were really reaching the masses. The women with the “big secret” weren’t being reached. So we started the walk, and we will mark the 5th annual walk this October.

EBONY: How do you plan to expand the conversation about domestic violence beyond Philadelphia? What else do you hope to accomplish?

SW: I hope to be standing on a soap box in a mall in a parking lot going from state to state, telling my story. I came from poverty to two PhD’s to House Representatives to the State Senate, where there are only two African American women and I’m one of them. Just my story alone might make someone say, “you know what I’m getting out of this relationship”. My goal ultimately, is to wake victims up and say to them, “you don’t have to take it anymore”.

EBONY: Straight from your heart, what can you tell to the woman reading this story, who is in an abusive relationship, and who is asking the question: "but how can I get out?"

SW: You've got to make up your mind that you’re ready, because you can get out. The real questions is: Will you stay out? You have to make up your mind that you’ve had enough. I had enough when I left my ex-husband. So when you make up your mind your going to leave, you got to make up your mind you’re not going back. They need to contact an agency in whatever city, town or state that they’re in to find out what kind of resources are there for them. We have these national programs they can always call.

EBONY: How can people who may be emotionally detached from domestic violence, help battered victims?

SW: They can always go to my website which is They can join the walk.  Of course they can call my office here in Philadelphia, because you know I’m a soldier. That number is: 215-242-0472. They can go on my website and get more information on the walk and find out how to donate money. The funds we raise for the walk goes to the hotline. We are always in need of support. 

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