“We saw everything. We are not just witnesses, we are co-victims”
In her book “The Day I Stopped Being Afraid” (ed. Harper Collins), Cindy Bruna gives a moving account of her childhood memories, marked by domestic violence committed by her stepfather in a fight against his mother. But even more, the 28-year-old model warns the conscience about the place of children in the midst of these alarming situations, witnesses, but also victims of violence that takes place in the privacy of the home. In “La Face Katché” for Yahoo, Cindy Bruna looks back on those hellish years spent with her mother and sister, and analyzes with emotion and dignity the psychological impact that surrounds domestic violence within the family unit. A moving testimony, and especially important, to break the omerta and convey the voice of those who suffer behind the walls.
We knew her under the spotlight, shining with a thousand lights in her most beautiful attire. Beamed at glossy magazines or under the crackling of cameras. Today, Cindy Bruna she wants to use this resonance that her modeling career offers her to serve strong engagements. In 2017, the young woman came into contact with the association Solidarité Femmes, of which she is now a godmother. And it is not just another title in his resume, but an obvious choice, a way to pay tribute to his mother’s struggle, but also to his own and his sister’s. Because Cindy Bruna is a woman who is still struggling the violence that shook his childhoodwith the arrival of a two-faced stepfather in his life.
“He called my mother a ‘nigger in front of us.’ He was racist and unrestrained”
It all started with the meeting of this man and his mother Cindy Bruna, born in the Congo. After divorcing the father of her two daughters, she falls under the spell of this character, almost blinded by the magic of the moment. “When my stepfather enters my mother’s life, she perceives him as a white man who comes to save her,” Cindy Bruna analyzes today. In the Congo, his mother grew up with the racist precepts of colonialism, including one that casts the white man as the savior of the nation. But little by little, she becomes disillusioned. The man she loves is nothing like a superhero, or a prince charming on his white horse. Very soon, their marriage gets stuck in a violent everyday life. Cindy Brune’s mother is devastated by the physical, verbal and psychological domestic violence inflicted on her by this man. The racist slurs add to the horror.
Find the full La Face Katché by Cindy Brune on the podcast:
Cindy Bruna in La Face Katché: “At school they called me ‘Grilled Baguette’, because I was good and mixed”
A helpless witness to this hell, Cindy Bruna remembers the terms used by her stepfather, who called her mother black all the time and in front of her daughter: “For him, he was not a racist, because he married a black man, and he raised two girls of mixed race who were not were his.” Little by little, he imposes double dominance in their lives. That of a man on a woman, and a white man on a black woman. Cindy Bruna also faces the same racism at school as her classmates. It’s called “Grilled Baguette”, because it’s nice and mixed. It is the same verbal violence that is then played out against the little girl on the playground, the very one that is already weakening her daily life at home.
Cindy Bruna, her sister and her mother have to try to build themselves up in this highly toxic environment, victims of “normalized racism”: “I’m not sure he realizes today that he’s a racist.” Added to this is physical and psychological violence, those “insidious” attacks that the executioner does his best to hide from the two girls, but always end up with guesswork behind closed doors. Cries, tears and insults merge every day and always end in deaf and painful silence. The bubble of violence is created little by little.
“The bloodsucker is gone, we’re sure, but it’s limited if we don’t miss it”
Cindy Bruna’s mother is getting weaker as time goes by, but she is well aware of the urgency of the situation. “He tells us that if something happens to her, it’s him. And he will tell us so many times after that,” the model recalls. As is the case with many other women victims of domestic violence, the psychological dimension is intrinsically linked to the difficulties can feel at the thought of leaving their tormentor. Cindy Bruna knows this: her mother was in love with the man who put her through hell. She realized this when they almost got divorced and her stepfather left home. This is where the influence is felt the most: “In the house, his absence and that lack of tension, that’s the limit so that we don’t miss him. We have this feeling that my mom is wasting away, she’s unhappy with his lack, I don’t feel good.” when we should be relieved. The executioner left, he left the house. We are safe.”
And yet, Cindy Bruna remembers the thoughts that went through her head. “He actually has to come back. It’s terrible,” he breathes today from the height of his 28 years, still terribly marked by this duality so painful for life. Faced with Manu Katché, it’s hard to hold back tears remembering this letter she wrote about the rules to be followed at home: “‘Stop alcohol, insults’.” Despite the violence inflicted on her by her stepfather, young Cindy witnesses her mother’s despair when he leaves home: “In my child’s heart, I really want him to come back and make everything happen. good.” It is this hope that carries the trio, every day. Until one day too many.
“I slept with a frying pan next to the bed. It was my protection from my stepfather”
The end is when the danger grows. Cindy Bruna still remembers this day when her mother had a click, felt she had to run away. Before that, mother and daughter share the same bed for a while. A teenage girl is on guard: now that her sister has left the family home, she has to be extra careful to protect the mother from the stepfather. As a hostage of this man as well, he sets up several things. Their survival is at stake. So he sleeps with a bowl next to his bed: “Just in case. We never used it, but it was a protection for me.”
And then the day comes, when too much violence motivates the exceptional courage of his mother, who decides to leave this man and file a lawsuit. There is no longer any hope that things will change. Mother and daughter understand that. “This is really the end. Even in my heart. I no longer give him excuses, I no longer forbid myself to insult him, we no longer have respect,” confides Cindy Bruna. That day she was “devastated” by the violence of this stepfather, embittered, exhausted by the years of hell. In the house, the kingdom of her abusive omnipotence, Cindy Bruna breaks everything, enraged by this who knows how many times guilt for not being there to protect her mother. Their executioner has escaped and will not return.
Years and many rebuilds later, Cindy Bruna saw it again. She was already a model then, but her new status as a “strong and independent woman” was no match for the childhood traumas revived by the appearance of this man. “When I found myself in front of him, I was a 6-year-old girl. It was like being at home. I was broken inside,” she explains, adding that there were no words between them. The pain was still too much.
“Children are co-victims of domestic violence, not just witnesses”
This silence also surrounded Cindy Brune’s relationship with her father. After the divorce of her parents, the model did not dare to tell her the horror of what she, her mother and her sister lived in this mixed home. “It’s a private matter,” he replied when his eldest daughter confided in him. A painful response that, unfortunately, is often faced by victims of domestic violence, locked in this omertà that envelops the intimacy of the home. It is very difficult for anyone then guess what’s playing behind the door. This is precisely what Cindy Bruna condemns: domestic violence should no longer be protected by this private, opaque and dangerous sphere. “Indeed, it is a scourge that affects all societies and there is responsibility,” she warns.
Today, with hindsight, the model understands her father’s reaction to that situation: “Back then, we didn’t see children as co-victims. Her father told her: ‘As long as it doesn’t affect you.’ As if, as long as the violence is not against us, it does not affect us. There is a problem. Children are co-victims, be it physical, psychological, verbal violence. We have seen it all. We are also victims, we are not just witnesses.” Very moved when she discussed these last exchanges with her father, who sadly died last year, Cindy Bruna still wonders. “I don’t know if he understood,” she breathed in tears. A touching testimony.
Video. Find the full interview with Cindy Bruna here:
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