#HerStory | Michelle Behl

Michelle Behl, DCFOF Director of Advocacy 

The #HerStory below was written by Michelle and is title "Her Story & My Passion"

"As a Director, as an advocate, and as a Latino woman;  I can say with complete confidence I believe the purpose of Friends of the Family is compassionate and comprehensive service to those impacted by sexual abuse, and / or domestic violence promoting safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention."

Her Story & My Passion 

My passion to advocate begins with a story that happened many decades before I was even born or joined Denton County Friends of the Family . I was born in California  in 1981. My parents weren't the typical young couple, my father was a CPA and a notary from German descent he was about 20 years older than my mom and unfortunately he passed away in 1985 at the age of 72 years old. Once he passed away my mother decided to move  back to Durango, Mexico. 

At times I wondered why would mom want to return to Mexico and It took many years for me to be able to understand her goal.  Mom, shared parts of her story throughout the years about abuse, male privilege, sexual abuse and racism. However, the day I can recall perfectly is my 12th birthday. My mom said this is the age that you are now considered a young lady and you must know what women face and why I emphasize so much on your schooling. We sat at the kitchen table. I can even recall the smell of her coffee. She began by telling me my Grandmother's story and how the customs were in Mexico around the early 1900's. My mom told me how "Abuela"  was forced into an "arranged" marriage sharing with me how my grandmother was beaten and sexually abused by the husband she was forced to marry and how "Abuela" met him on the day of the wedding. She had basically been sold for land and cattle and was deprived of an education because she was a woman and the "belief" was she did not require schooling and her priority would be to bare children and tend to her husband. Abuela was pregnant several times only one child survived in that marriage, a daughter she had to leave behind to escape the abuse and because he had the means to provide for her. As years passed Abuela had other children and fell in love. My mother Esperanza was her last and youngest child and just like my grandmother she was deprived of schooling. Mom shared that she taught her self how to read and write by reading what would have been the version of the 1930's " comic books" .  As years passed Abuela saved enough money to open a bakery and buy some land. There at the bakery at the age of 13 my mother met her first love. 

He was a handsome young man about 10 years older than her and as it was customary in Mexico at the time "se robó a la muchacha"  meaning he "groomed" her for the purpose of running away with him. Little did she know about the abuse she was about to endure. They arrived to the outskirts of a small town to an old adobe home where he sexually abused her; my mother was only 14 years old and when he said "now you belong to me" she just thought it was normal and that he must love her. My mother spent her days locked in a room as he left to work without any food or water. A neighbor would sneak food and water for her through a hole in the wall.  Every weekend he drank and would come back home to beat and rape my mother. There were days and weeks where he would change and regret beating her.  At Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF) this is identified as the  " honeymoon phase". My mother described how he would take her out to the movies, buy her a dress and even gifted her a dog for companionship. However, when he felt out of control everything came with a price and cycled back into having the abuse escalate further going from mental, emotional and back to physical including the death of her beloved pet. Mom stayed with him 2 long years feeling helpless and powerless. Until, the day she was able to escape and walk away. She thought of different places to go and safety planned as best as possible. Crisis lines, shelters, counselors, advocates or agencies like DCFOF unfortunately did not exist.  She was aware that he knew where to find her if she went back home; so the only option she had was come to the U.S to escape the abuse and change her future.  

My mother faced many barriers culturally and learned thoroughout the years the importance of an education, language, race, privilege, and above all helping other victims.  That very same day after hearing #herstory I knew my calling in life and professionally.

I studied in Durango with the fortune of having all private schooling. I usually was involved in debate teams, school exchanges and everything that would enhance my skills to build my passion.  I even was accepted and attended Law School in Mexico. However, it was not enough I wanted to " evolve and do more" so 4 months before graduation I came to Texas. Mother was reluctant to my decisions yet she felt it was better to support me and learn about life on my own. Life on my own was not easy. However, I made my way to college working and gaining experience in different fields that in some way shape or form came back to domestic violence and made my passion grow further throughout the years. 

Friends of the Family has sheltered and fueled my passion for 3 amazing years; going through different roles as Bilingual Victim Advocate, life-skills advocate, lead advocate and now Director of Outreach Advocacy. Advocacy for the DCFOF Team has a victim-centered holistic approach. As a Director, and above all a Victim advocate, I understand my team and myself are the key elements to effectively safety plan providing guidance, support, legal help and connections with resources for victims. As Advocates we are the voice that helps a victim navigate the civil and criminal justice system. The DCFOF Advocacy Team strives to empower clients to restore their lives from domestic violence and sexual abuse; whether victims leave, stay in contact, remain in the relationship, or come and go. Victim-defined advocacy begins with an understanding of the needs, resources, perspectives and culture of each client. 

Personally, I can share that working at DCFOF has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional path. DCFOF has not only been the platform for me to grow and learn about the great impact that as an agency we make for victims and survivors of abuse in North Texas. As a Director, as an advocate, and as a Latino woman;  I can say with complete confidence I believe the purpose of Friends of the Family is compassionate and comprehensive service to those impacted by sexual abuse, and / or domestic violence promoting safety, hope, healing, justice, and prevention.

I invite you to be a part of Denton County Friends of the Family and help us continue to build a safer Texas.

If you would like to learn more about our agency or how to get involved reach out and get connected!

Need Help? Call our 24-Hour Crisis Line for anonymous information and advice: 940-382-7273 or 800-572-4031

Typical warning signs of abuse

1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence

591 clients were served through legal services in 2017