Article By: Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
LaVerne Badger and Natalie Hayden remember what it was like to feel trapped in an abusive relationship, fearing for their lives and unsure how to escape.
They were in survival mode.
Now, though, they’ve both survived and gotten out. They don’t consider themselves victims — or even survivors — anymore, but thrivers.
With their podcast about life after abuse, the two Milwaukee women want to help others who have suffered domestic violence achieve the same freedom.
Their conversations offer thousands of listeners crucial reassurance and a chance to envision a better life.
“It’s a sense of hopefulness,” Hayden said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, OK, so I can think beyond this.’”
Hayden and Badger started “EXPOSED The Podcast” about three years ago after meeting at a domestic violence prevention event. They agreed: No one was talking candidly about what life is like once a person gets out of an abusive relationship.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re out of that relationship, now things should be good,’ and that’s just not the case,” Badger said. “There are definitely hurdles that you have to go over, things you have to relearn, confidence that has to be built.”
From the outset, the two wanted to be transparent about the ups and downs of their journeys, the happy moments and the struggles. They know it could make a big difference for a listener to hear: “You’re not alone in feeling this.”
As Badger and Hayden’s weekly conversations reach ears around the country, the two are expanding their prevention efforts locally as well — work that has become even more pressing because domestic violence has surged with the pandemic.
But they believe their real, honest chats about their experiences, shared through the podcast medium, fill an important gap in the domestic violence advocacy space.
It’s one of the few places a listener who has faced domestic abuse could hear someone else who has a story like theirs or is struggling with something similar, aside from attending a group therapy session.
And for many, tuning in on a podcast app is a less intimidating prospect than sharing with a group.
With over 10,000 listeners since its inception, the hosts often bring on special guests to discuss a range of topics, from forgiveness to youth dating violence.
Listeners, the hosts say, often report that they appreciate Badger and Hayden’s humor and authenticity and that they’re willing to talk about issues people who haven’t experienced domestic abuse wouldn’t understand.
Both see “EXPOSED” as a chance to pass the tools they’ve used to others.
“You can never have enough in your toolbox,” Hayden said. “Even when you’re out of (the relationship), you still have to defer back to that toolbox.”
Badger and Hayden first met at a meeting for VOICES, an advisory committee for the Sojourner Family Peace Center made up of abuse survivors. Badger was struck by Hayden’s “elegance,” she said, and her thoughtful perspective.
But it wasn’t until a short time later, when Hayden attended an event Badger was hosting, that the two actually had their first conversation.
They immediately hit it off, something special bonding them despite an 11-year age difference.
They were also at different places in their lives: Hayden had just left her abusive relationship and was still staying at the Sojourner shelter. Badger had been married to her new husband for 13 years.
But they were kindred spirits who both felt strongly it was their responsibility to speak up and help others.
“I think we should have a podcast,” she told Badger in that first conversation, even though she barely knew her.
Badger remembers saying no three or four times. It would require her to be publicly vulnerable, and that was nerve-wracking.
But eventually, she agreed and they launched the project soon after that, becoming fast friends as well.
“We just started talking and we never stopped,” Badger said.