Barbara Bentley’s mantra is simple: passion, planning, patience and persistence. She has used these four “tools” during several key moments in her life, including the time that she survived a murder attempt by her ex-husband in 1991. She used them again as she fought to change California’s no-fault divorce law, which forced her to pay her ex-husband alimony, give up half her retirement and pay insurance for the man who had tried to kill her. Barbara sponsored Assembly Bill 16, which passed in 1995 and ensured that no other victim of domestic violence would be financially re-victimized as she had.
“When I started with the idea of changing the law, I knew it wouldn't help me,” Barbara shared. “It would not be retroactive. But I wanted to right a wrong in the legal system. So I started writing letters [to lawmakers]. […] I ended up being the sponsor of the bill (I didn't know what a sponsor was). Even when I would call on the assemblymen’s offices or the senator's offices, the secretary would say ‘who’s the sponsor?’ and I’d say, ‘I am. Me. One person. I’m sponsoring it.’”
Later, when she decided to write a book, A Dance with the Devil, about her marriage to and divorce from a psychopath, Barbara found herself embracing her four tools more than ever.
“I had to learn to write,” she told STAND! “First, I became involved in some writing organizations. I joined the International Women’s Writing Guild and attended their summer conference. Five days later, the lady that founded it came to me and asked if I wanted to speak. I hadn't written anything, but she asked me to talk about my story. That night, doing what I did, I found that I had a voice. And I found that what I shared with other women was helping people in that audience — passion, planning, patience and persistence! While writing the book, I discovered that those were the tools I had used. I had never sat back and analyzed my life in that respect.”
Today, with her own experience of domestic violence and family court long behind her, Barbara continues to support survivors in a variety of ways. She manages the website — www.adancewiththedevil.com — where she provides resources for survivors of domestic abuse. Barbara also shares tips online with those who want to right a wrong in the legal system by changing a law or writing a book, like she did. At STAND!, she has been a dedicated volunteer for over 15 years, first on the Crisis Line and then with our Speakers’ Bureau, through which she has shared her story to raise awareness of the different forms of domestic violence.
“For many years I was going out representing STAND, talking about my story or talking about domestic violence,” Barbara remembers. “That was really interesting, to go out to a lot of different venues and be able to share what domestic violence can look like beyond the traditional image of being socked in the face every day. Until the murder attempt, there really wasn't [physical abuse] in my relationship. And, you really couldn’t even recognize the financial abuse, the way it was done.”
In addition to her volunteer work, Barbara and her husband, Rex, have donated generously to STAND! for over 20 years and have recently become founding members of the Friends of STAND! Giving Society. With her success in literature, love, life and law, Barbara makes surviving and thriving look easy. However, it all comes back to her mantra: passion, planning, patience and persistence.
“It took about 2 years for recovery,” Barbara explains. “Recovery is not instantaneous. I get many emails from women on my webpage who have read the book or seen the story on Dateline. They say, ‘Please help me,’ and they tell me their situation. One of the first things I tell them is that I wish I had the magic wand, but it’s going to take a lot of work. It takes a lot of work for the victim to understand themselves and move forward while still trying to wrangle with the abuser, either in family court or criminal court.”
Barbara’s engagement with STAND! to end all forms of family violence —as donor, volunteer and author—has helped countless domestic violence survivors begin their own process of recovery. Her experience is a shining example of the power of one’s own voice, both as a tool for amplifying an important message and as a reminder to listen to your instincts.
“In any kind of abuse, if you're beginning to feel uneasy in your relationship—if that little voice is saying ‘this isn't quite right’—you need to reach out and talk to somebody,” she says. “Sometimes, if you talk to a friend or your family, the abuser may be so charming that you're not going to get the type of feedback that you need. A lot of times, as I said on Dateline, they'll go, ‘Well, we always thought he was the nicest person!’ And yet, he ends up being this killer, abuser, whatever. So calling an organization like STAND! is a good place to start to get information. You may not even realize what kind of abuse you're experiencing and, if it’s not anything that fits in within a STAND! program, then there are resources that they can recommend.”