Destiny Mabry

This Brave Domestic Abuse Survivor Is Making Sure No Other Teen Goes Through What She Did

25-year-old Destiny Mabry is using her pain to heal others'.

When it comes to intimate partner violence, the effects are never just skin deep. And when someone experiences this kind of abuse in their teenage years, the ramifications can be felt for the rest of their lives.

According to the Center for Disease Control, "23% of females and 14% of males who ever experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age."

Destiny Mabry survived intimate partner abuse she when she was just 19 years old -- and watched both her mother and sister go through similar experiences. At the time, like many teens, she wasn't sure what she was experiencing constituted abuse. Now 25, Mabry is fighting to help young people in similar situations find the support they need to heal and form healthy relationships.

MTV News spoke with Mabry about the experiences that ultimately led her to become a powerful advocate for ending teen dating violence.

Destiny Mabry

Destiny Mabry

As a 19-year-old at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, Mabry was a more vulnerable version of herself. "I was very, very insecure about myself," she said. "I definitely didn't know who I am the way I do now. I still am a very outgoing 'people person,' but I think I was dealing with a lot of insecurities at the time."

Mabry said that her ex-boyfriend thrived on these insecurities and used them to manipulate her. "[The abuse] was more verbal and emotional than anything else. It was a lot of putting me down and shame, and comparing me to other women. It really destroyed the little bit of confidence I had at the time, and it got worse once I graduated college. It seemed like I was always crying."

Despite this, Mabry said, "I never saw it as abuse, I saw it as me being really sensitive to what he was saying. I didn't think that it was him -- it was me."

Mabry wasn't alone in feeling this way: It's common for victims to blame themselves or not recognize what is happening to them, especially if their abuse doesn't align with common cultural depictions of intimate partner violence.

Although she was hesitant to confront her ex, in the times when she did speak up Mabry said her partner would make her feel unreasonable for voicing concern. When she finally decided to seek professional help for depression caused by the relationship, he told her that he wasn't abusing her because he never hit her.

"I think that [kind of language] waters down any other kind of abuse that isn't violence," she said. "What that message is giving out is that unless there's a visible mark, nothing that you're going through right now is even relevant, and that's the complete wrong message to give to someone.

She added, "We all know that words hurt, and words don't leave any black and blues, but they leave black and blues on your spirit. But you can't see that."

It took Mabry until age 24 to realize that years earlier, her mother had been involved in an abusive relationship. "I remember my mom's boyfriend going into these episodes of rage -- yelling, cursing, vandalizing the house, even throwing things at her," she said in a radio segment on WNYC. "But we never spoke about it, so I thought that’s what happens when you get serious with someone: You yell, you cry and you fight."

But it the was abusive relationship between Mabry's older sister, Kia, and her husband, Sheddrick Byron Von Miller, that led her to come to terms with her own situation. Mabry said she began to grow increasingly concerned for her sister, whose husband seemed to use money as a means to control his wife.

"It was more so financial abuse and isolation," she told MTV News. "They moved down South. We don't have any have any family [down there]. Not one family member ... He had a lot of control over my sister, period."

Destiny Mabry

Destiny's sister, Kia, and her two children, Syrai and Kyler

Mabry said that one day she confronted her sister and laid out all her concerns. "I spoke to her and I said, 'Something is wrong, something is not right here. I've been in an abusive relationship myself and this is how it looks.' But she didn't agree with me."

That was the last time Mabry ever spoke face-to-face with her sister. In January of 2014, Sheddrick shot and killed the then 28-year-old Kia, their 3-year-old, Kyler, and their 1-year-old, Syrai. He then took his own life.

Mabry's world was irrevocably shaken, and she didn't know how to move forward from such a cataclysmic loss. "I didn't want to tell anyone," she said. "I couldn't believe that my sister's husband, someone that she trusted so much, would take her life."

"It felt like a Lifetime movie, like I was waiting for the camera guy, because, like, how can you kill your wife, your two children and then kill yourself?"

Destiny Mabry

Destiny and Kia

The painful memory seared itself in Mabry's mind, but this dark, devastating moment was also the spark that motivated her to become an advocate against intimate partner violence.

After her sister died, Mabry was flooded with phone calls -- many of which focused on friends who'd been in abusive relationships. "When someone dies, you get a lot of calls, people sending their condolences and stuff like that," Mabry said. "One thing that I remember hearing from so many people that I grew up with either telling me that they were in a relationship or their best friend is in a relationship like that or their sister is still in one, and that hurt me ... We've gone through so much [abuse] and nobody knows anything about it."

Now, Mabry is making sure everyone knows about what abusive relationships look like. In addition to working with Day One, an organization that helps young survivors of domestic violence, she travels around New York City, speaking at high schools and after school programs to teach kids about healthy relationships.

Destiny Mabry

Mabry believes conversations around relationship dynamics should be happening at home and in school.

"Even something small as dedicating one week to healthy relationship awareness, that's necessary. We learn about everything else in school. We learn about the planets, we learn about math, we learn about science, we learn about English ... Why can't we talk about healthy relationships?"

In any relationship -- romantic or otherwise -- Mabry tells people to look out for signs of a partner exerting too much control, which she said aren't always obvious. She wants people to ask themselves: "Do you feel comfortable talking to this person? Do you trust this person? Is there any kind of communication present, and when you do communicate, how is that? Is it effective? Is it one-sided?"

If you think a friend or someone you care about is in an abusive relationship, Mabry has some sage, simple advice: "[This] is something that my mother taught me: two ears, one mouth. Listen twice and speak once, don't speak twice and listen once. You can't force a lot of things onto someone else, because it won't be that effective. So try listening to your friends what information they're willing to give before you offer to give any kind of help."

Destiny Mabray

Destiny and her mother, Kathy

She added that one of the best ways to prevent yourself from being in an abusive relationship is to focus on yourself first. "I've learned that loving yourself is definitely a journey, I'd say it starts there. One of my favorite hip-hop artists, Lauryn Hill, says, 'How you gon' win when you ain't right within?'"

"You gotta work on yourself," she added. "And I know a common thing people say [is], 'What am I supposed to do when I love this person?' But you hardly ever hear people say, 'What am I supposed to do when I love myself?'"

You can learn more about gender-based violence, including dating violence, by visiting MTV's Look Different.