Letter to a friend

Patty Wain Smith lost her marriage 15 years ago, and then she lost a close friendship. Different people, same culprit: domestic violence.

After processing what happened in her own family and counseling others in a family violence prevention program she started at her church in Surfside Beach, S.C., Smith began writing what would become a short book on the topic. “A Letter to a Friend — The Story of Abuse in America” is written for victims of abuse and those who want to help them.

“I went to two different churches and asked a Catholic nun and a male Lutheran pastor what they would want to see in a book about domestic violence,” said Smith, a 1982 USC psychology graduate with training as a shelter and hotline counselor. “Both said they’d want to see compassion for both parties — the abused and the abuser.”

With that in mind, Smith wrote a book that’s both tender and empowering, sprinkled with scripture but not preachy.

“Women who are abused still love their men,” she said. “But you can love them and still walk away. It’s OK to say, ‘I love you but I can’t stay with you.’”

The e-book, available through Amazon, can be downloaded free every Sunday in October, which has been designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“The book is short — that was intentional because most victims need something that’s easy to hide,” Smith said. “Plus, it’s scary to read a book that mirrors the situation you’re in and victims often don’t read them through, so I wanted to make each page, each chapter really powerful. It’s a hopeful book.”

Smith’s daughter, Nicole, was 5 years old when the family split apart. Now a 20-year-old junior at USC majoring in public relations, Nicole has seen the impact of abuse in her own family and in the lives of others.

“I was friends with the daughter of a woman who was my mom’s friend and also caught up in an abusive marriage,” she said. “When my mom tried to reach out to her, the husband cut her off from any contact. So we’ve both lost friends as a result of that abusive relationship.”

Nicole is passionate about speaking up when she sees warning flags in relationships.

“It’s a sensitive subject to talk about because most people think a relationship is between two people only,” she said. “But if you see a parent abusing a child, you would intervene, right? It’s the same thing if abuse is happening with two adults.

“My mom has been good at teaching me to look for red flags or warning signs that someone is controlling or potentially abusive. I try to share the advice my mom gave me with my friends, but most 20-year-olds don’t think it’s something to worry about.

“But I have a couple of friends in an apartment who had a woman beating on their door to save her life. She was bloody and bruised. This stuff really does happen.”

The Counseling & Human Development Center provides USC students a safe place to speak privately with a trained counselor about a variety of concerns.

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