Stella Parton wants women to "tell it like it is." Even when "it" is uncomfortable to talk about.
The gospel singer and author of "Tell It Sister, Tell It" will do just that at the Sept. 20th Celebration of Hope Luncheon which raises money for Hope Harbour, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter and services for victims of domestic violence.
Parton's goal is to inspire women to speak up about domestic violence and share their struggles.
"I hope I'm a messenger of hope... I've lived long enough to talk about some of these things, to give hope to other women," she said.
Never one to shy away from unpopular topics, she'll talk honestly and openly about the good and bad times in her life and share her opinions about what should happen in the future.
"Don't ask Stella what she thinks unless you want to hear the truth," warns Parton's country music superstar sister Dolly Parton in the book.
Stella Parton detests the idea that domestic violence is a family problem that should remain private.
"I think it's unfortunate that people won't talk about unpleasantness, darkness. I just decided to take the cloak of secrecy off my own shoulders," she said.
Fear, silence and a series of secrets kept Parton from knowing the truth about the domestic abuse her cousin and close friend was facing until it was nearly too late.
Parton says it's a miracle that her friend escaped her apartment and crawled to a neighbor's door after surviving a vicious attack from her husband.
Parton now realizes just how close her friend came to becoming one of the three women who are killed each day by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Yes, you read that correctly. Each day, one in three women in the United States are killed by the men they love.
Parton thanks God her friend wasn't murdered but is distraught over how many women's lived end at the fists of their partners.
She's made her mission to 'tell it' about domestic violence and dedicates her book to the memory of all the women and children who have lost their lives from domestic violence abuse. "You are not forgotten," Parton writes in her preface. A portion of her book's proceeds are donated to domestic violence shelters.
Parton will never forget seeing her friend's disfigured face and damaged body at the hospital when she was recovering from the attack.
One winter night in Chicago, Parton's friend was showering after returning home from work when her husband pulled her by her hair out of the shower and started beating her. He paused to toss her his denim shirt before marching her to his car and shoving her into the trunk.
He said he was taking her to the city dump.
When Parton asked her friend what she was doing and thinking lying in the trunk, her friend said "I was mostly praying Momma and Daddy wouldn't have to know I died this way. They wouldn't have to know I had been beaten to death and thrown into the garbage dump," Parton writes in her book.
Parton was shocked to discover the abuse suffered by her friend, a woman she considered a "surrogate mother" to Parton's son Tim because she looked after him while Stella worked.
Several weeks after the attack, Parton's friend was released from the hospital and turned to a women's shelter for a safe place to stay while she started the long process of recovering from her wounds, visible and emotional.
With an estimated 1.3 million women being abused by their partners each year in the United States, Parton says it's time to stop feeling ashamed and embarrassed and it's time to start talking.
Hope Harbour executive director Diane Hett agrees.
"We continue to deal with fact that it's not talked about," she says. "If the person has experienced domestic violence the guilt and shame should be on the person who has committed the violence not the person who is the victim," she says.
Still, victims are often too frightened to talk and their friends are reluctant to ask difficult questions.
"We hesitate because it seems to be a personal issue but often it takes that person to reach out to help the person get out," she says.
It's a delicate topic, though. And considering that 75 percent of domestic violent homicides occur when the victim has left the abuser, caution and professional services such as those offered by Hope Harbour are essential.
A common mistake made by friends is believing a situation was a one-time incident that will resolve itself.
"If she's in a relationship where she's already been hit, she'll be hit again," Hett says.
Hett hopes that Parton's story will motivate women to talk openly and honestly about domestic violence.
Parton is up to the task.
"Life is not just about having a teddy bear in your arms all the time. It's not a warm fuzzy everyday. Sometimes we have to have courage when we don't think we have any in us," she said.
When Parton feels discouraged, she turns to her faith and her music.
Hearing "It's a Wonderful World" always cheers her up and she often finds her inner strength when reading bible versus and singing or listening to praise songs.
She uses that strength to speak up even when it would be easier to be quiet.
"Let intuition, the Holy Spirit and your conscience be your guide," she urges. "There are people who live by principles and others who live by political agendas. Which one do you want to be known as?"
Parton wants to be honest, even when it makes her unpopular.
Expect that honesty and openness to come through at the Celebration of Hope. Expect to laugh, too, especially at Parton's stories about growing up in the Smoky Mountains with lots of love but little money.
Parton promises to "tell it" all: the good, the bad, the funny and the frightening.
706-324-3850 or 800-33HAVEN (800-334-2836)
The 24 hour crisis line provides emotional support, resources, referrals, and safety planning to victims throughout the country.
Celebration of Hope Luncheon
When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday Sept. 20
Where: St. Luke Ministry Center, 301 11th St. Columbus
Ticket price: $35 each. Raffle tickets for gourmet baskets will be available for $1.
More information: 706-256-0237 ext 111 or hopeharbour.org
1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence.
4,002 acts of family violence were reported to police in Muscogee County in 2011. (It's estimated that only 1 in 5 incidents are reported).
Hope Harbour provided support and service to over 500 women and children either through shelter or as outreach clients in 2011. In the first 6 months of 2012, there was a 48 increase in the number of victims served compared to last year.
Note: Hope Harbour provides victims with the chance to heal from the trauma of abuse and learn life skills for independent living while recovering in a location that is undisclosed by court mandate and is under 24 hour surveillance. Women identify goals for self and children and work toward their goals with referrals and support for counseling, legal advocacy, housing, employment, education, health care, child care, and transportation. They receive support from advocates, volunteers, and community partners. Risk assessment, ongoing safety planning, and assistance with civil protection orders are vital for keeping families safe.