Sunnetta Slaughter and Tiffany Westry
DescriptionSunnetta “Sunny” Slaughter (42) talks to her friend Tiffany Westry (23) about being a survivor of domestic violence, learning that her daughter was a victim of child molestation, and becoming a victim’s advocate.
Subject Log / Time Code
Recording LocationMobileBooth East
Venue / Recording Kit
- Anthony Perillo
- Birmingham, AL
- Black people
- Child Abuse
- child molestation
- domestic violence
- family secrets
- first African-American
- Fred Astaire
- Gaming Enforcement
- law enforcement instructor
- Lena Horne
- memories of former times
- memories of growing up
- Night school
- personal experiences
- Piggly Wiggly
- rape kit
- record breaking
- school day memories
- Sexual abuse
- Trenton, NJ
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00:04 My name is Tiffany westry. I'm 23 years old today is January 6th 16th, 2011. I'm in Birmingham, Alabama and I am a friend of Sonny's.
00:17 I am Sunny Slaughter. My given name is synetta. I am 42 years old today is January 16th, 2011 and I'm in Birmingham, Alabama and this is my story.
00:33 So Sunny, why do you why do you think it was important to come to storycorps and kind of tell your story?
00:43 I wanted to be impactful.
00:46 I wanted to leave something for my children. I have four children Porsche and Alexander. He likes to be called Alex and Sienna and Xavier and we've been going through some rough times. So I wanted to leave them with something. So they'll know how much I love them. And also the world's something about me.
01:13 And who I was and what I've gone through.
01:18 And I guess the evolution of of my life which can be so many other people's lives. I'm originally from New Jersey Trenton, New Jersey actually and my mother used to say when I was growing up your mouth is going to get you in trouble.
01:36 How many times do you remember your mom ever telling you something like that or your grandmother? You know, they just have a way with words and words can be impactful and important.
01:49 My mother died March 25th 1998 and I wish you could be here to see all of the things that I have done some good some not so good, but she's not so if I if I want to dedicate this to anyone else other than my children it would be to my mom.
02:13 To Donna everybody called her Judy Joo Donna Barnwell
02:18 That was her know Judy and she was beautiful.
02:24 And you know, I was thinking when I was going to do the story like what I was going to say and and and where I was going to start and I guess to figure out who I am. Now, we have to talk about who I was poor and Tiffany we've been meeting at Jerrys house and and having fellowship and that's been really important to me to change my life so you don't know that much. So let me tell you a little bit about who I was
02:58 When I was a little girl, LOL, so sassy little something my mother used to say.
03:04 I did like to get my hands dirty and I always like to be cute.
03:11 So as a little girl, I actually grew up in two places. I grew up in the city of Trenton and I also grew up in Baltimore Maryland. And in the summer time. I was been all of my Summers with my grandmother Dorothy in Baltimore. So she was quite interesting to say the least.
03:33 What do you mean my Nana was some she used to be roommates with Lena Horne why he was very beautiful, but she was so, you know black people say bougie or boujee a toe. That was my grandmother. So she was really funny and she danced with Fred Astaire and our families to have a recording studio in Baltimore call Berman and Berman labels. So I had a mink stole at 4 years old and all of my things had to match my gloves in my shoes in my umbrella, you know, all of that frilly stuff.
04:13 But also went when I was growing up, I was always a determined child, I guess.
04:20 I remember calling Mary Holland who is the longest serving mayor in the city of Trenton, and I was in grade school, but they aren't the park. The battle monument in Trenton was really dirty, and I said all we need to fix that. So I asked my mom to get me the number to the mayor's office. So I could call I wanted to have a look clean up day. I was always coffee so we had clean up day.
04:47 Yes, he called me back and I was like, this is Tynetta Barnwell and I would like to clean up the park because people are over there and it's really dirty. So we did we clean up the park in the mirror come out. Yes, that was all purpose for him for him to come out and actually help clean up the park. So I have had a lot of first in my life and when I was sick team.
05:13 I went to register for high school at a public school. I'd never gone to public school, but it was my last year of school and
05:23 Cuz finances were tight, and I when I went to Trenton high, they said that there was not enough room for me to go during the day. So I actually had to go to school at night and I had never heard of that before but I had almost double the credits to graduate but they made me go to school at night my senior year. So what I did was I I got a job working in my first real job was working for the Attorney General's office for the state of New Jersey for the division of gaming enforcement.
05:58 And I worked in the word processing pool initially and there was a position that came open in the front office for the director. And I said I want to work in there and the people in the word processing pools that girl ain't never had black people work in the front office. And I said well, I guess I need to be the first.
06:18 And you know a lot of times us as people of color black people. We never want to encourage someone to be the first.
06:27 And I filled out my application anyway, and I got the job.
06:33 So I was the first and the youngest to ever hold a position in the front office. I was the assistant secretary to Anthony Perillo who was the deputy attorney general at the time for the division of gaming enforcement. He was the director and I also became the public information secretary to John Haggerty who was the Pio for attorney general Kerry Edwards. So that was my first big break into public relations.
07:05 And how was that job very political very interesting and I learned a lot I learned a lot there used to be an elevator in our office that the attorney general and his staff you-know-what for every floor and there was a special key. Well, they were always asking me to go and get stuff from his office. So I would usually have to go out to the main elevator that was not working for me. So one day I saw him and I said, I need a key to the elevator to
07:40 And he said you do and I said, yes, you always want something I have to keep going up and down the you know, the main elevators, you know, it gets crowded. I got a key. I came down the elevator and my supervisor Sharon. She was like, what are you doing on the elevator? So I got my own key.
07:59 So that was that with me and with my mouth again as my mother said but it was working for me this time and then I got married when I was 18 to Phillip.
08:11 Philip Clark from Birmingham and it was the first time I ever came to Birmingham.
08:17 YouTube met here. Yes.
08:20 No, no. No, he we did meet here. We met in Philadelphia at a stoplight for redoing in Philadelphia. I have lived on Earth come from a club and he was really cute.
08:35 And I I looked over at him and he looked over at me and I said follow me and he did.
08:42 So that's how we met.
08:45 And we
08:46 Lightly brought me to Birmingham we were driving and I said what what how long is it going to take us all these lights and he said we're in Birmingham with all these lights and yeah, we are coming down 65 and this was Birmingham first time. I had come to work. Not the first time I've been in South now first time I've been in what did you do? What did you guys do down here? The first time you ever came to Birmingham? We met his family and his father took me to the Piggly Wiggly.
09:21 I said daddy where we going. He said to the Piggly Wiggly is the grocery store in Birmingham.
09:31 And everybody knew my daddy my father-in-law at the Piggly Wiggly.
09:37 And we came for the classic. It was a very first time I ever been to a classic but you're quite interesting people dress up for the football game like in high heels.
09:51 So what year was that?
09:54 That was in 1987.
09:59 That's the year. I was born.
10:04 Oh, so you now you're here. I'm weird. I'm telling you my story about what happened in the year that you were born.
10:10 Sounds quite interesting.
10:13 There were street lights and Rose unlike where my father was from where they just had dirt roads. So it was it was interesting and a Phyllis in the Navy at the time.
10:29 And Phil and I were so much in love.
10:35 It was also.
10:37 The very first relationship where man hit me.
10:43 It was my first experience with domestic violence.
10:50 And you know now when I talk about and I teach about domestic violence, I'm a law enforcement instructor with the Department of Homeland Security and I trained law enforcement. Nationally. I always tell that story but I say
11:07 It wasn't domestic violence, then, you know, we call it a fight because that's what black people call it. Now. I'm not saying that other people don't but as black people we don't use the term domestic violence. We say we're having a fight and everybody knows that people fight and it's okay.
11:28 And Phil was the first person to ever. Give me a black eye.
11:33 The first man I should say.
11:36 To ever give me a black eye.
11:41 To ever make me cry.
11:45 In pain
11:47 Because my father had never hit me I had never seen that in my life growing up.
11:57 Oh, yeah, you never forget your first.
12:01 We were driving down the road. We were going to Virginia.
12:07 And we had an argument about a car.
12:10 Something was going on cuz we see the race cars and something was going on about the car and he reached over and he hit me in the face.
12:21 And I was in shock.
12:27 That was the first time.
12:30 You know he had grabbed me before.
12:33 But he had never hit me before.
12:36 So you always remember the first time?
12:39 And you always remember the last time and the last time Phil hit me.
12:47 I can remember.
12:49 If I think about something more present, it would be like the Rihanna and Chris Brown story and we were in the car once again and for some reason domestic violence is it's the worst in the car and that's one of the things that I always talk about how bad it is, but why is that cuz there is no immediate way to get out of it. Is that one? Yeah, and it's such a confined space and it's so small and you're usually moving at the time because perpetrators can drive and hit at the same time and that's what Phil had done. He he was driving and he hit me.
13:29 And I saw Stars.
13:32 You know, like real stars all these blinking lights in front of my eyes and and I put my hands up to my eyes and and he shoved my head against the window the passenger window.
13:47 And I remember.
13:51 They didn't break, you know, not like on television.
13:55 And it hurt
13:56 Like I don't know what and he took me by the back of my neck and we were in a the car had it was a standard shift car and it had the little you know the aisle in the middle and he took my head and he slammed it down in the middle.
14:16 You know into the console.
14:19 And he had me by the back of the neck with his fingers and he was squeezing so hard I could not breathe and he had me shove down in in the front of the passenger seat, you know that little space down on the floor.
14:37 And when we got to the house, he dragged me out of car and have me in the house up against the wall and he punched me in the eye.
14:47 And he threw me on the bed.
14:57 You just don't forget.
15:01 Some things you just don't forget.
15:05 And we have had fights, you know in between them, but you just there's some things you just never forget.
15:15 But that was the last time.
15:18 It was the last one I had had enough and the one thing about domestic violence has you know, we like to tell people and I say we as an expert on paper and
15:32 An experience, you know to get out.
15:37 And there's so many reasons why people don't get out.
15:44 They always remember.
15:46 How long were you and Phil together? We were married for almost 10 years. We were not together all of those 10 years. We were off and on and we separated probably three. I don't know not necessarily maybe two out of the almost 10 years. We were married. We were separated.
16:11 But when I went back, we we did not fight and we try to work it out. I stayed in New Jersey and he came here, but when it was time to go.
16:25 Actually, nothing had happened.
16:28 I just realized I don't want to be married anymore.
16:32 You said that you always remember your first and the last time with him what was different in your mind between the first time he hit you in the last time that he hit you.
16:44 The first time
16:47 I thought it was my fault.
16:51 And when he said I'm sorry, I love you and I'll never do it again. I believe them and all those are the times in between which we don't fight all the time. We didn't physically fight all the time.
17:06 But it was something about that last time.
17:12 When I thought I was going to die.
17:15 And we didn't have any children.
17:20 I can always go home.
17:24 How was pretty smart? I was pretty brave.
17:28 On the outside
17:31 So, why would I Stay?
17:36 So it was just something about that last time that and I didn't leave like right away that last time.
17:45 We still stay together, but he never hit me again, and I don't even know what it was that I said, I think he saw what he could do to me.
17:56 And it was painful for him to
17:59 I don't know whether to scare him or whether the fear of God came in him or what happened, but we never fought after that.
18:09 We never had another fight. We stayed together and when we separated it has nothing to do with a fight or even an argument.
18:20 I just said I don't want to do this anymore.
18:25 And while I was the while we were living in Virginia, and he was in the Navy and I
18:34 I was the Federal women's program coordinator for the United States Navy on the non-appropriated side. I actually handle EEOC in sexual harassment cases. I will see you August and the first non-degree person to ever hold that position.
18:52 And I used to do lots of big things toy drives and fun drives always looking out for other people and yet in my house.
19:00 I can take care of my own house.
19:03 How ironic
19:06 The evolution of life
19:13 I left him.
19:16 I didn't like him necessarily, but I loved him.
19:22 I did.
19:26 Because when he was good, he was good and we were close and we had good times and we would look out for each other and and we were young and
19:42 He was my first love.
19:45 A boy when I started loving me that turns the tables when I started loving me, I think more than I loved anybody else.
19:57 For that moment with him.
20:01 It was just different.
20:05 But from him
20:08 I was in another abusive relationship and I don't and I couldn't figure out where I got that from not for my mother and she are not from my grandmother.
20:20 But I had seen it in my family, you know black people like to keep secrets.
20:26 The secrets in black families are so deeply in routed that sometimes they weave in and out of our lives and we don't even recognize it when we get touched by it. I had seen my aunt beat up by a married man that she was seen and I remember I can vividly see is I'm sitting here all of the blood on her shirt.
20:55 In her eye being busted and I was a little girl and I kept saying wow.
21:02 Not going to lie by do that to me. How old were you?
21:08 13 at the time
21:11 She got beat up and that's all that.
21:15 And it was my father's sister.
21:18 I kept thinking.
21:23 We have so many secrets.
21:27 Tell me secrets.
21:33 From there. Like I said, I was in another abusive relationship.
21:38 And then I met Charles who is my second husband.
21:45 Charles was 9 years older than me.
21:49 And I married him after my mother died in 1998.
21:57 Charles was a great provider.
22:00 I cared about him.
22:05 He is the biological father of my last two children Sienna and Xavier.
22:12 Where did you two meet?
22:14 In New Jersey, he was the Telephone Man.
22:19 Yep, he was a Telephone Man.
22:23 And in 2003
22:28 I found out Charles was also a child molester.
22:35 So I could pick them.
22:41 Have been molesting my daughter Portia who was the oldest portion wasn't even 7 years old at the time.
22:49 So by this time I had you know, I feel like I've lived a life of where my
22:58 Or I'm straddled life so to speak where I've been the victim.
23:05 And then The Advocate
23:10 Of something or some some situation and now you know, I was on the school board for the city of Trenton at the time. I have my own Consulting business and I was traveling around New Jersey and on TV and fighting for everybody and here we go.
23:32 Again this time I wasn't being hit that with my children who are being affected.
23:40 Charles I remember when I got the phone call. I seems like my light keeps changing with telephone rings.
23:51 And the principal said I'm not the principal the teacher said can you come to the school?
23:57 I need to talk to you I said, okay.
24:00 In an instant my life changed.
24:06 I didn't get hysterical.
24:09 I didn't freak out or anyting.
24:12 I just said will Porsche why didn't you tell me?
24:18 She's a little girl. How would she tell me something like that?
24:24 Charles is doing a comfortable 24 years in a New Jersey state prison for sex offenders.
24:30 I was determined to get him and I was so determined that.
24:39 I took him to jail the next day.
24:43 Yeah police came to the house and they are saying okay. He has to leave and and I just wanted to get her understanding of the process, you know, most of the time black people we do if somebody says something you just said something and I wanted to understand the process of what was about to happen. Like okay, you tell him to leave and then what is that going to you know, how is that going to work out? So I was one of those uppity Negroes.
25:15 You might say
25:17 But I did want to know what the process was. So I didn't cooperate to the extent that they wanted me to but I have my own plan and I was a little too, so they almost thought that I was helping him, but I wasn't
25:34 In my head
25:38 I was talking to them as, as I'm talking to you now, but in my head.
25:44 There were so many screams in.
25:49 So much pain
25:53 My head was just screaming screaming screaming.
25:58 And behind my eyes. I was just ripping up everything including myself, but I was holding it together because I didn't have a choice.
26:13 If you've never
26:15 Watch the sexual assault exam.
26:19 Arepa exam in the hospital. It's not pretty and if you have to watch your daughter who is less than 76 years old go through it. He was 30 days away from her seventh birthday when you have to watch your child go through it and you can't cry and I was standing there next to her head as they had her on the table and holding her hand.
26:43 And she was looking in my eyes and I was just saying it's fine. I'm right here with you and do a few things and and then we're going to get out of here and we're going to go home but in my head all the scream.
27:00 She doesn't know that I didn't want them to do that.
27:06 But I had to let them do that because I needed to get him.
27:12 And I thought it was so weird that a man was actually don't me examples?
27:19 And I wanted to fight him too.
27:25 But I couldn't cry.
27:28 My mother was so strong.
27:31 And she used to always say sometimes you just got to hold it together. That's all I was holding it together.
27:38 And I was also talking to him on the phone, too.
27:42 Do you know Charles the child molester and I was trying to keep tabs of him.
27:48 Cuz I wanted to make sure that he didn't get away.
27:54 I took her home.
27:56 And the next day
27:59 I told him to.
28:02 I took my kids to my sister's all of them. I had them all sleep in the bed and I didn't sleep. I just watch them, but I had him come to the house next day cuz I need him to bring the car.
28:17 And I had already made a few phone calls and
28:21 I took him to jail myself.
28:24 I drove him there because you know, they had issued a warrant for his arrest, but I need to make sure that he got there.
28:32 So why I said oh everything is going to be okay. Oh how I hated him.
28:41 On the drive there. Did you two talk? Yes.
28:45 What did what did you say to each other?
28:49 He says today, you know I didn't do this without the first thing that was said in the car. Yeah, he was the first one to say something. He said, you know, I didn't do this. I would never do this. And I know that it's hard for you to choose between your husband and your child.
29:11 Those were his words verbatim.
29:16 Remember I said sometimes you don't forget the first thing you don't forget to laugh.
29:22 Did they respond?
29:25 I did.
29:26 I said we're going to get through this.
29:31 And everything is going to be okay.
29:34 You just have to go in there and tell your story.
29:40 And I'm going to do my interview.
29:44 And everything is going to be alright.
29:48 He says I love you.
29:52 I said love you, too.
29:57 But what I didn't say, but what I was saying in my head, I almost love you to death.
30:05 Because if you have done this to my child.
30:09 I'm going to get you.
30:14 I see him sitting now on the bench.
30:20 I left them on.
30:23 And when I took him and he's never left since
30:28 He was in custody from the day. I took him there.
30:32 And how did it feel Sunny knowing that you took him?
30:39 On one hand. I felt glad that I took him.
30:45 And then on the other hand.
30:48 I wanted to take him someplace else.
30:54 And I wanted to kill him.
31:04 But I was a mother.
31:07 Some things sometimes we don't do the things that we want to do, but we always do what we must.
31:15 And at that time I had to do what was necessary.
31:26 Oh, yeah.
31:29 I remember asking portion.
31:32 To tell me what happened.
31:34 And I remember.
31:37 Asking God to give me something so that I'll know the truth.
31:47 I said you got to give me something hard as it is. I need you to show me something and she said something to me and when he said it I knew.
31:59 I knew without a shadow of a doubt had it was the truth.
32:05 And I remember calling my sister and I said you need to come get the kids and she said I'm okay or is everything okay? I said I just need you to come get them now.
32:17 She came I got the kids.
32:22 Can I threw up all over the floor and I was so sick, but I got them.
32:29 Black Adam I made Portia testify
32:33 And I say maid it's because when the prosecutors finally realize that I was not working against them and working with them. I sent them letters and information that Charles had sent to me hear somebody in my own family betrayed me and told him where we were.
32:51 He wouldn't take the deal.
32:54 I would talk to him and and they would talk to him and he wanted to we got our way down to five years and I said I'm not going to be able to do it.
33:03 I'm not going to be able to let him walk free.
33:08 I can do it song Porsche take the stand right before her.
33:14 Birthday her 8th birthday and she testified
33:19 And I have not been to New Jersey since
33:26 I haven't been home.
33:31 Can you know I told you and the ladies at?
33:35 The kids and I have been going through. I think Porsha still hates me.
33:41 She still has pain.
33:48 She still.
33:50 I think she blames me even though I didn't know.
33:57 So unfortunately
34:02 Black people sometimes just people in general don't heal.
34:08 We've done all the therapy. I done all that I could.
34:17 Peeling sometimes just doesn't come.
34:23 That's where black folks we have to.
34:28 We have to evolve from truth.
34:32 Even when it hurts we can't keep secrets.
34:38 We can't keep
34:41 Silent about what happens
34:44 We have to
34:49 Being honest with ourselves and with other people I do this work for a living.
34:57 You and I are new found friends, you know, I'll talk to you many times at the station. We've called for interviews for stuff about domestic violence to human trafficking and and when we were at the study group and you begin to tell us what was going on with you, I just could not I was shocked because I had no idea and I know from talking with you on the phone that you are so passionate and everytime. We need an interview about anything related to domestic violence or anything like that you you know, you never hesitate and it was it was very surprising that you were going through what you were going through I think.
35:37 I think when you you go to these people who are The Advocates, you would think that to him, you know, they're immune to those problems. But how do you how do you feel?
35:50 Being you're not being your profession and you're going through some of the same things that these women have went through. How do you think that do? You do find that ironic such irony it is it is the greatest of our needs but you know, what would be worse.
36:09 If I kept it quiet.
36:13 So that's why I've been telling it is so painful for victims.
36:20 To tell their story and it is so necessary for survivors.
36:30 To tell their story.
36:33 Because as survivors we have triggers we have things that happen.
36:38 And because I'm in the public eye people seem to think everything is okay.
36:46 So I think a part of the reason why I wanted to do this was to evolve and continue to evolve and Truth.
36:56 That there are good days and there are bad days and there are things that
37:02 Can never be fixed the way I want them to be fixed.
37:07 But the only way I can help somebody else is to be honest with myself and to be honest with the world with a voice that I have.
37:17 That makes it possible for other people to know that some things will change some things will get better.
37:27 And surviving is not something to happen to the moment. It happens every single day.
37:41 Children that you haven't yet told
37:44 Yes, the children are not with me right now.
37:49 I don't think we'll ever get back to where we are.
37:54 But know that I love you.
37:58 With all of my heart
38:00 Porsche said I was trying to save the world.
38:05 Because I would not stop being a voice.
38:09 4 people
38:13 You know it and I find it ironic to because
38:18 As as we're sitting here and people are celebrated Martin Luther King.
38:24 Sometimes I'm not great like him but what I can say is one thing I have come to realize is that
38:33 When you become a voice either by choice situation or circumstance when God calls you to do something and this is really for my children. I want them to know that it is my belief that God has called me to be more than just their mother.
38:53 But to be a voice
38:55 Not a savior.
38:58 But to evolve in truth and as much as I love you, I will always be your mother.
39:06 But I have to do this and you may not understand today, but maybe you'll understand in a lifetime one. God gives you whatever your calling is.
39:18 That you walk in what you're giving.
39:22 Or you succumb
39:26 To what you fail to do?
39:36 And with the second gentleman and then finally with Charles, who are you talking to about what you were experiencing nobody?
39:47 Nobody and I didn't think and I didn't hear anybody talk to me. Oh, well, at least I didn't hear anybody that look like me that was talking.
39:57 You know, we have all of these Advocates around the world and we see them on stage, but they don't look like me.
40:04 And people respond to those that look and sound more like them fake. There's a walk.
40:10 Because I look this way because I am a black woman because I am an African-American there are things that are different for me than anybody else.
40:24 So my voice is for those that for everyone but particularly for those that look like me.
40:30 I'm sorry. I just want to say thank you for sharing your story with me. And I know a lot of people are going to hear and get a lot of great things out of everything you have to say. Thank you Tiffany for
40:44 Listening to my story and for our fellowship that we shared together that is evolving me into who I hope to be
40:56 In the future, and I love you for that. Love you too. Sunny. Thank you.
41:06 It's like for you to hear this about her.
41:11 I was I can tell you the first time I ever heard anything when we were in the Bible studying you start opening up. I was deeply saddened. Like I said I talk to you number of times on the phone. You're always so, you know, I'm happy, you know and just up and ready to talk about and help us out and help anyone and I was sad and I couldn't believe it. I was sad that you were going through that.
41:36 I I feel honored that you would open up to me so much and you know, let me in and because I know it's a lot of hard stuff on your heart and your mind that's a that's a very difficult situation and
41:53 I'm just I'm just glad that I've been able to meet you.
42:01 I appreciate that.
42:05 You are
42:07 A beautiful woman
42:11 And with your gift of making people stories come alive at CBS 42.
42:19 You are a voice. You may be a quiet voice. So, you know, we talked about that in class but a voice nonetheless and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to in the station and everybody who asked.
42:35 For me to be a voice.
42:40 My kids one day.
42:42 They'll understand. You know, my my fan book page on Facebook says the crime Advocate speaks.
42:54 I think I should have that on my Tombstone. Okay, you've heard it here, but whatever it is.
43:04 I just live my life of one day at a time. I was going to do good work one day at a time.