I thought I was too smart to ever be victim to an abusive relationship. I thought I was “too good for that.” I’ve learned the hard way that no one is..that it sneaks up on you and grabs a hold of you before you have any idea what you are involved in. I will never forget the pain he inflicted on me, how much I longed to be with the friends he isolated me from, how he convinced me the meaningless fights were my fault, that if I just did this or that, he wouldn’t hurt me anymore, simple as that. I will never forget the exhausting nightmare that was my time with him, but even more impactful to me is what that horrible year has done for so many people, including myself. During my last 2 years at Marist, I created heart1 and established it as a campus club. My number one goal began as and still is for no one else at the school we all love so much to learn the dangers of dating violence the way I did: by living through them. We have become a family, a movement, a power force that says: we can make a difference, this doesn’t have to happen anymore if we just open our eyes. My only hope is that during my time at Marist, I have healed at least one other heart, because I know it is the support of this community that has contributed to the continuous process of healing my own.
A fellow survivor, friend, and teen dating violence awareness advocate, Elin Stebbins Waldal, writes in her book Tornado Warning, “The chokehold of shame is rinsed clean and makes room for me to see that I am not a victim. I am a survivor, but there’s more. I need to thrive, share, prevent. I can no longer stay quiet in this world, I have a voice and I feel it reverberate off my internal walls, making its slow climb upward until its melody can be heard all round.”
This online resource center is my way of leaving behind all that I have learned so that the heart1 message will live on within the Marist community, protecting its followers from something no one in this world deserves to endure. So please, share this page, share this story, take note of the signs and be aware, you could save a life..maybe even your own.
Here’s to healing hearts!
- Danielle DeZao
Danielle DeZao, a Fashion Merchandising student of Marist class of 2012, is originally from Bergen County, New Jersey. During her freshman year at Marist, DeZao was quickly sucked into a whirlwind that she never saw coming – effectively disguised as the seemingly perfect boyfriend. When frivolous arguments over her clothes and friends culminated with her ex insisting on knowing (and controlling) every moment of her day — and eventually pushing, shoving, and striking her — DeZao decided she’d had enough. After nearly a year of emotional and physical abuse, she broke away and knew something had to be done.
Upon learning that 1 in every 3 young adults is in an abusive relationship, DeZao created h<3rt1 (pronounced “heart-one”), an organization representative of her goal to “heal a heart, remove the 1” of the 1 in 3 she never thought she would become. Since creating heart1, DeZao has spoken at various schools and events to spread her message, becoming a coalition leader for Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Love Is Not Abuse and working with the likes of Tim Gunn, Joe Torre, Willie Mays, and Judge Jeanine Pirro. She has also attended a round-table discussion on violence against women at the White House, appeared as a teen-dating violence expert on ABC’s “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones, named “College Do-Gooder” of the Best of Hudson Valley 2011, recognized by Marist College for outstanding community service, and been featured in such publications as Cosmopolitan Magazine, Cosmogirl.com, and Seventeen Magazine.