Kristen Faith Paruginog is the Executive Director and founder of national nonprofit organization Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. A survivor of domestic violence, an artist, a creative, a visionary and a lover of life, Kristen is committed to building community amongst survivors of domestic violence across the country. When I met Kristen for our interview in Colorado Springs, her new home base as of the last few months, she asked if I wanted to come watch one of her friends get engaged – and we did! Kristen’s warmth, openness, and dedication to making change shined through from the get-go of our conversation, and we are honored to wrap up Domestic Violence Awareness Month with her story.
Tell us about your path to starting your nonprofit organization.
After growing up in San Diego, I graduated from San Diego State University in 2013 with a major in journalism and a minor in sociology. While I was in college, I fell victim to domestic violence. From ages 18 to 22, I was in an abusive relationship. In October of 2011, I realized that if I didn’t get out of that situation, my life would only continue spiraling out of control. So, I filed for a restraining order. Eleven days after receiving this protection order, I started a Facebook page called “Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.” I created this page as a platform to encourage men and women to share their stories, including my own. In July 2012, I shared my restraining order against my ex-boyfriend, and realized that there were so many other people out there still suffering from domestic violence. I knew I needed to take action.
Immediately after creating BTSADV, thousands of survivors flocked to our social media platforms to join our growing community for support. We became an official nonprofit shortly after our inception in 2012. 2013 was the first year that we provided services for victims, survivors, and their families. The journey to that point all happened so fast. Even now, there’s such a great need for people to get help. There’s such a great need for people to feel heard. I think we live in a time right now where people just want to be heard, whether they’re victims or abusers.
“After creating BTSADV, I realized that I have power in my voice: that when I shared my story, it gave strength to other people.”
My best friend, who inspired me to continue this journey of speaking out and healing, was set on fire by her estranged husband. Her name is Audrey Mabrey. She was on the Dr. Phil show when I saw her the first time on Youtube, when I was researching different DV situations. It was her first television interview, and she was covered in scars. 80 percent of her body was severely impacted by the fire. I saw her story, and I was blown away. She inspired me to break my silence, and all I wanted to do after that was inspire people to share their stories. Fast forward to now: I’m going to be her maid of honor in her wedding in November! It gives me goosebumps, even now. I found my best friend on Youtube! She lives in Florida, and we met when she was in Los Angeles receiving reconstruction surgery for her burn injuries. I found her on Facebook as I was going through and liking every page I could find related to domestic violence. And I found hers, and recognized her from her appearance on the Dr. Phil Show! She was like a celebrity to me (and she still is). That just goes to show that there’s power in your words. You have the power to make a difference, to deeply inspire someone else.
Tell me about your identity as a writer and creative.
Growing up, and witnessing domestic violence, my avenue of talking about it was writing poems. Sometimes they wouldn’t make sense, but it was always just for me. When I was in the abusive relationship in college, I stopped writing, and I felt I stopped being creative. I was just there, just living—barely, sometimes. It took moving back home and starting this organization to spark my creative flow again. For a while, it felt like my voice and the voice of the organization had become one. And it took me moving here, to Colorado Springs, to find my voice again. I started writing poetry again. This February, I was notified from the District Attorney’s office in San Diego that my ex-boyfriend abused another woman, I felt a whirlwind of emotion. I never had the opportunity to press charges against him because every time I wanted to, I was too scared, or I wasn’t ready to.
And when I finally was ready to break my silence, it was too late. So, here we are, six years later. Multiple people told me that I needed to start writing again. Write down everything, video record it, take notes, put it on a napkin—whatever, it doesn’t matter how. Write down how you’re feeling, because one day you’re going to look back at it, and realize, wow, look where I am now. This was a whole different chapter that I wasn’t expecting. I thought I was good. I thought I was fine. Leading up to the trial, and to the sentencing, it was a rollercoaster. There was a piece of that journey between February and now [September] that I was angry, when I didn’t have compassion. I eventually gave a victim impact statement, in the form of a video as I wasn’t able to be there in person. He got to hear everything that I felt. My message was really about compassion, for forgiving him for everything that he did to me. If it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
How did you get from San Diego to Colorado Springs?
A former board member of BTSADV invited my boyfriend and I out to Colorado two years ago and introduced us to different community members, and really inspired us to broaden our horizons and think about the reach we could potentially have in a new community. We fell in love with this city, and we fell in love with the vibe. We traded the beaches for the mountains, and I feel like it’s absolutely been worth it. It’s a peaceful place. In 2015, I got this tattoo on my arm. It says, “I found peace in BTS.” Recently, I was sitting on our porch, which overlooks the city, thinking about how peaceful Colorado Springs is. And what brought me here was BTS. I found peace here. I got this before knowing I would move to Colorado! I absolutely feel my most peaceful here.
What’s the most difficult aspect of running your own organization as the only employee?
Bandwidth. There’s only so much one person can do, especially when you have family, or school, or a job. But for our volunteers, they do a hell of a job doing the moon and the stars for our BTS family. Our volunteers are geographically everywhere. It makes it hard for communication sometimes, but we make it work. We believe in teamwork.
What else makes Kristen, Kristen?
For the last six years, I literally have been known as “Kristen Break the Silence.” Some people didn’t even know my actual name. My best piece of advice to readers is, “We’re more than our titles. We’re more than our accomplishments.” I think along this journey, I’ve realized that I’m a person too. I’ve realized that it’s okay to focus on me, it’s okay to live life for me. I think the biggest thing in these past 10 months [living in Colorado Springs] has been finding faith in God again, and finding faith in myself; my middle name is Faith. The biggest takeaway is that it’s okay to be you, in whatever capacity that is. You don’t have to live your life by titles. Yes, I want to be remembered for the impact I’ve made on the world, but I want people to remember me as a person and how I made them feel.
Kristen, what does power mean to you?
After creating BTSADV, I realized that I have power in my voice: that when I shared my story, it gave strength to other people. My biggest belief is that when someone shares their story, it inspires other people to share their story—to break their silence. This goes to show, with the Kavanaugh situation and other sexual assault cases that have been happening amongst political leaders. When you have the strength to share your story, you give other people power in their voice. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. Sometimes people are terrified to share their voice, even if it’s not about domestic violence. Everyone has a purpose here on earth, and if we follow our purpose, we have the power to do anything. The power in numbers allows people to come together, to congregate, to spearhead any issue they’re passionate about.