Penn State welcomes Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reality star and New York Times bestselling author, Taylor Armstrong, for a speech on her experience with domestic violence. “My face is the face of domestic abuse,” says Taylor, regarding the publicity that struck after her previous husband and long time abuser, Russell Armstrong, committed suicide in 2011. From then on, Armstrong has used her fame as a platform to educate young people on unhealthy relationships.
“I have to the freedom to talk because my abuser is new longer with us”, explains Armstrong, “most victims do not have the safety to speak out.” She began the lecture circuit after the release of her memoir, “Hiding From Reality”, in 2012. The event was sponsored by the Penn State Gender Equity Center in partnership with the Student Programing Association in the HUB on the evening of Oct. 8.
Identifying Red Flags
In an exclusive with VALLEY, Armstrong revealed that she loves giving these talks at colleges because the audience can absorb this information at such a pivotal time in their lives. Armstrong says that college may be a potential victim’s “first opportunity to make decisions on their own” regarding their relationships and “it is important to understand and look out for red flags.”
Examples of red flags include, but are not limited to, extreme jealousy, financial manipulation, control patterns, constant scrutiny and physical violence. “Abuse starts slow and escalates,” says Armstrong, “for me, when the red flags began I was willing to overlook them for the sake of my relationship and my family.”
Abuse On and Off Screen
Many people question why Taylor decided to begin filming the Real Housewives while she was in a toxic relationship, but Armstrong explains that in hindsight she “hoped the cameras in her home would supply a sense of protection” for her and her daughter Kennedy. Armstrong reports that when she first watched Season one back she did not recognize herself. “I was a becoming a different person [due to my abuse]”, explains Armstrong, “things became clear to me as I started seeing my life play out on TV.”
Armstrong solemnly states about the period when her relationship was coming closer to an end, “there became a point where the emotional torture was so hard to deal with I’d almost prefer the physical.” Everything changed in the middle of Season two when Camille Grammer exposed the dark side of Taylor and Russell’s marriage on camera. Armstrong was shocked and scared of what her abuser may do after this information was broadcasted on TV. She knew she has five months before the episode aired and she constructed a safety plan to leave him.
“The day a victim leaves is the most dangerous day of a victims life,” explains Armstrong. She feared for her physical safety, the custody of her five year old daughter, and her financial stability, but with the support of her friends and family she finally gained the courage to leave.
In situations of relationship violence, a victim’s support network is their most important resource. In abusive relationships, it is extremely hard for the victim to leave. Armstrong reports that her family and friends began to doubt that she was actually being abused. Due to frustration that the relationship went on for so long from an outsider’s perspective, it looked like she was not doing anything about it.
“I want people to understand not only the red flags of abuse, but how to support victims,” Armstrong explains, “when as a friend or family member of a victim it can be hard to watch.”
One in four women experience physical or emotional abuse in their lifetime. It is necessary for young people to learn from Taylor Armstrong’s story and create healthy relationships. “It is so important to build self esteem in young people,” says Armstrong, “I want people to choose partners out of love and want, not need and dependence.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship abuse, please contact the PSU Gender Equity Center at 814-863-2027 or call the 24-hour confidential hotline 877-234-5050 to learn more about the many resources available to you.