There are many definitions for the word “victim.” I have never thought of myself as one because of the way women are treated under this title. Therefore, I did my research of this word, to find a definition that would describe it in terms that I would understand. The definition that settles within my spirit is as follows:
Victim – One harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition. For me…this definition is correct for every aspect of what I went through as a victim of domestic violence.
Sniper Targets Wife
My journey into domestic violence began early in my childhood, when no one was clear on what domestic violence really was. It would take me years to understand it and still, after my personal experience, I’m puzzled as to why this terrible social dis-ease has not come to an abrupt halt!
I am Mildred D. Muhammad. My former husband, John Allen Muhammad, the convicted sniper for the DC metropolitan area, would be arrested for randomly killing innocent people in a reign of terror that held the Washington, DC area literally hostage for weeks in 2002. It would come out later to the public that I was the intended target, although law enforcement knew it at the time. The theory: after my death, John would come in as the grieving father to reclaim the children, and to receive the crime victim compensation monies. No one would have been the wiser because I would have been randomly killed like the other victims. He would have been looked upon as a loving father re-gaining custody of his traumatized children.
Abuse Not Physical
Because my abuse was not physical, I was not taken seriously by anyone! I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness for help and my cries went unheard. I truly believe if I’d had a scratch or a bruise or broken bones, then “real” help would have been available to me.
John’s abuse towards me was mental, verbal, spiritual, economic, and involved stalking – all the abuses that cannot be seen by others! He was very strategic, analytical, and proficient with the way he carried out this abuse. Because he was trained in the military as a combat engineer, he was skilled in psychological warfare and used me, without my knowledge, as his “test project.” He would make me think I was not clear on what I was saying. In domestic violence, it’s called “crazy-making.” I thought I was going out of my mind. He would jokingly put me down in front of others, but I knew he was serious. Others would laugh because they thought it was funny. I would walk away hurt. I remember telling him how I felt. His response: “It’s mind over matter. I don’t mind because you don’t matter!”
When we separated, he would give me $50 a month for food for me, our three children and my mother to live on. Someone had to sacrifice for there to be enough food for everyone to eat. I began practicing, thoroughly, one of my pillars of my faith: fasting. I would eat enough to sustain myself, but the bulk of the food would go to my children and my mother. He still had a key to the house and would come into the house in the middle of the night and stand over me. I was too scared to move. I believe that had I moved, I would have been killed. I knew since he was trained in military warfare, his night vision was already in effect. Had I opened my eyes, he would have seen the white of my eyes. I could not take that chance, so I listened closely for footsteps and movements as he left the house. I soon saved enough money to have the locks changed on the doors. That angered him even more!
I truly believe from my personal experience that those of us who suffer without physical scars in silence with verbal, emotional, mental, economic and spiritual abuse are traumatized severely as victims. All the evil, hurtful things that are said will continue to play long after he is out of the picture. I believe that it is equally difficult to come back from, to live with, and to move forward from.
“As My Enemy, I Will Kill You”
When John said to me, face-to-face, “you have become my enemy and as my enemy, I will kill you,” I knew it was time to leave. Anyone who really knew John knows that when he said that to me, his intent was very clear. Now, what was I going to do about it? I began going first to friends. They sent me back telling me that he was tired, and asked “did I have food ready for him when he was hungry?” Moreover, some even asked what I did to him, or what wasn’t I doing for him. In essence, it was “my fault.”
When he forced his way into the house, I called the police. When they arrived, he had already left the residence. They told me that since his name was on the lease, there was nothing they could do. They told me I should file a restraining order to begin a paper trail to document his behavior. They gave me the paperwork stating where to go to file. The next day, I went to the courthouse to file the restraining order. It was a one-page document that took me four hours to complete, not because it was complicated, but because I was crying so hard, I could not see the page. I was thinking, “what am I doing here, how did it get to this, and what did I do to make him feel this way about me?” So many questions, not enough answers! I even thought of walking out, not filing the paperwork at all. I called a friend and was told to complete the paperwork. “You have to protect yourself and your children,” my friend said. After that conversation, I went to the bathroom, washed my face, and completed the paperwork. That was the hardest thing I had to do at that time. The restraining order was issued in February 2000.
We had decided verbally that visitation of our children would be every other weekend. A friend of ours would transport our children between us. That went well for two weekends. The third weekend, March 22, 2000, would be the last weekend I would see my children. March 27th was my mother’s birthday. He was supposed to bring them back by 5:30 p.m. for her birthday because my children and I had plans to take my Mom to her favorite restaurant. 5:30 p.m. came and our friend brought a note to my mother from my youngest daughter, Taalibah. In the note were two dollars and a picture she had drawn telling her grandmother, “Happy Birthday.” I asked our friend where the children were. He said he didn’t know. I began paging John at that time. It was at 7:35 p.m. that he returned the call. Our son, John Jr, was on the phone. I asked him to ask his dad when he and his sisters would return home. I heard him ask his dad the question. Then he came back to the phone and said we would be back in an hour. “We are shopping for the clothes you told dad we needed,” he said. I said “okay.” That would be 8:35 p.m. When the time came and went, I began paging him again. It wasn’t until 11:35 p.m. that he called back. This time it was John Sr. I asked, “when are you bringing the children back?” He said, “we are en-route from Seattle and will be there shortly.” Again, I said “okay.” It was in the process of hanging up the phone that I became nervous. I felt butterflies in my stomach. I knew something was wrong. He did not bring them back! My heart stopped beating; my world became gray! My children were gone! My life as I had known it with my children was over.
I didn’t panic. I waited until the next day. I called the school at the time I knew they should be there. I spoke with the secretary and asked if my children were there. She said, “no, Mrs. Muhammad. You can call back anytime.” I continued to call for that week. They were not there. Finally, I went to the school that Friday. I spoke with the secretary. She said they were not there. I went to Mrs. Bullock’s class. She was John’s favorite teacher. The children were outside playing for recess. I went into her classroom, closed her door, walked over to her and said, “John has kidnapped the children.” I began crying uncontrollably. She hugged me, and helped me to sit down. She gave me tissue to wipe my tears. She asked, “Have you called the police?” I told her no. She told me to go home and call the police. She gave me a strong hug and told me if I needed anything to let her know. I needed that. On my way home, I could only think of my mother. When I arrived home, she saw me and screamed to the top of her voice because she did not see the children with me. “He took our babies, he took our babies,” she said as she was crying. “What are we going to do?” I said, “I don’t know Mom, but I will do something.”
I learned later that John had emptied the bank accounts, which left me penniless. Because of the stress I was under, I had passed out. The doctors found that I had lost three units of blood and needed to be hospitalized. It was at that time that my mother called the hospital, and informed them that John had called her and said that he was coming to kill me. The hospital took the necessary precautions and secured me in a different room. After four days in the hospital, my mother moved to Maryland and I moved into a shelter. I was there for eight months before moving back to Maryland. It would be September 4, 2001, before I would get my children back. I learned that John had taken them to Antigua the night he was supposed to bring them back from shopping. He had them there for 18 months without my knowledge. And it was there that he met and victimized Lee Malvo.
The shootings began in September 2002. Everyone was terrified of the sniper, including me! We were looking for a white box truck with two white men doing the shootings. The police came to my home October 23rd to question me about John. They later took me to the police station where they would tell me they were naming him as the sniper. They knew he came here to kill me. They placed my family and me under police protection until the threat of danger was over.
After that time, I went to various agencies for assistance. However, because I did not have the physical injuries to “prove” that I was a victim, I could not get the financial assistance that I needed for my children and me. They offered counseling, but we needed food, clothing and shelter. Most, if not all, agencies are set up to assist victims/survivors that have physical scars with their financial well-being along with counseling. For those of us who don’t have any scars, we have a serious uphill battle getting the assistance we need.
Commitment to Positive Difference
This has to change! There are thousands of women who suffer in silence (i.e., professionals, service workers, homemakers, etc) who don’t have physical scars because their victimizers are aware of the attention this will bring to the situation. You never know who you are sitting next to…a victim or a survivor? Just like there is a “victim compensation” program…there should be a “survivor’s compensation” program.
I began thinking of other women who have suffered because they did not have the scars to prove their abuse and began my organization, After The Trauma, Inc. My focus is to help survivors of domestic violence get the assistance needed.
This organization has become my passion. I have spoken at victim assistance conferences across the nation about my experiences, with the hope that it will help other survivors in their recovery process. I personally provide support and referrals to other survivors who contact me in desperate need of guidance and assistance. I wake up every day committed to making a positive difference for women like me.
I feel I am up to the challenge. This is the work I’m to do to add another link in the chain of organizations in the struggle to help other women who find themselves in a domestic violence situation.
I am one voice. Let our voices together continue to make a sound loud enough to be heard by those who can change the laws to protect the women in this country!
I’m a Survivor and I’m not going to give up!
Mildred D. Muhammad is the founder/executive director of After the Trauma, Inc., a Maryland-based national organization that assists women and children victimized by domestic violence. She published A Survivor’s Journal in 2008; her new book, Scared Silent, will be released in October 2009.