The Grammy Awards aren’t all about who wore what. After a video of President Barack Obama urged viewers to support the ItsOnUs campaign, activist Brooke Axtell gave a moving potential victims of domestic violence to reach out for help. She also opened up about her traumatic childhood experiences, and how they led her into an abusive relationship.
Axtell’s story is truly awful, and moved everyone who watched it. She revealed in a 2012 essay- titled What I Know of Silence- that when she was only seven years old, she was chained in a basement, and raped by her male nanny, and sold to other men as well.
The sex trafficked girl was put under her nanny’s care while her mother was in the hospital, and her father was traveling for work. Her caretaker, named Jim, was in training to become a priest, so her parents entrusted him with their daughter. In her essay, she wrote: “Jim tied me up and called me a whore. He gave me to other men who pay to rape little girls and film it for their private pornography collections.” Axtell never reported Jim, and never told anyone what had happened to her, because of the shame she had felt. She then found herself in an abusive relationship.
During her touching speech, she stated: “I am a survivor of domestic violence. After a year of passionate romance with a handsome, charismatic man, I was stunned when he began to abuse me. I believed he was lashing out because he was in pain, and needed help. I believed my compassion could restore him and our relationship. My empathy was used against me. I was terrified of him and ashamed I was in this position. What bound me to him was my desire to heal him. My compassion was incomplete because it did not include me. When he threatened to kill me, I knew I had to escape. I revealed the truth to my mom and she encouraged me to seek help at a local domestic violence shelter. This conversation saved my life.”
“Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.” she added. “If you’re in a relationship with someone who does not honor or respect you, I want you to know you are worthy of love. Please reach out for help.” After Axtell’s boyfriend had threatened to kill her, she finally told her mother about all the abuse her boyfriend put her through. After finding a shelter, the 34 year old founded the Survivor Healing and Empowerment group. The group, S.H.E., supports survivors of rape, abuse and sex-trafficking. Since then she has been a member of numerous organizations whose goals are to help abuse victims and to coach them through the healing process.
She is a communications director for Allies Against Slavery, a nonprofit against human trafficking, and aims to stop it. She also works with a domestic violence shelter in Austin, TX, and a spokeswoman for RAINN- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Axtell is also hugely talented, being a writer, poet, singer, and songwriter. She has won the Phyllis Smart Young Prize for Poetry and has had several of her poetry books published. She has produced three albums, working with members of popular bands such as British pop star Dido and Bob Dylan.
Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the Grammys, asked Axtell to be a part of the ceremony due to her work as an activist. Axtell apparently had no idea that she was to appear alongside Katy Perry, and was only informed last week. She commented that Katy’s song choice- By the Grace of God- might have been influenced by similar life experiences. “I think it’s clear from the song that she is choosing to perform that she has had an experience in her life where she felt very devastated by a relationship, and I think that’s her entry-point into this.” Axtell says, though specifically stating that Perry has never explicitly confirmed this.
In an interview with Slate Magazine, Axtell comments on her Grammy speech. “I wanted to find a balance between sharing the reality of my own trauma but also to emphasize that there is a path to freedom, and to offer a call to action: to encourage women in this position to value their own lives and their voices and reach out for help.”
If you are suffering from domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.