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Human Factor: Baseball champ and domestic abuse survivor

By Joe Torre, Special to CNN
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed March 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Joe Torre managed the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2007
  • Every year, millions of children are affected by domestic violence
  • The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation provides education and safe rooms

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle -- injury, illness or other hardship -- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week one of the most successful managers in baseball, Joe Torre, opens up about growing up in an abusive home.

(CNN) -- Throughout my career in baseball, I have been very fortunate to experience some outstanding moments on the field. However, many fans might not know much about my experience off the field.

I am the product of a domestically violent home. My father physically abused my mother, and he emotionally abused me and my siblings.

But he also instilled fear in me, and I'm not sure there's any emotion worse than fear. He would yell and throw things against the wall. When I would come home from school and see his car in front of our house, I wouldn't go in. Sometimes, he would threaten us by reaching for his revolver.

My brothers and sisters would try to protect me from what was going on in the house, but I always felt something was wrong. I was a very nervous child. I used to admire the kids at school who raised their hand. I didn't have the courage to do that.

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I worried that I had done something to cause the problem at home, and felt ashamed that I couldn't stop it. I felt alone, and thought I was the only one who had this problem. That fear and helpless feeling I experienced as a kid is something that has stayed with me.

I was fortunate enough to have baseball as an escape. It became my shelter -- the place to which I went to feel safe. But, even on the field, I carried this sense of insecurity with me.

I didn't know until decades later how much the way I felt about myself had been shaped by fear. And I certainly did not recognize any connection between domestic violence and my feeling of inadequacy until much later in life.

As an adult, it took counseling for me to understand how deeply the violence I had witnessed affected me. It was a relief to finally be able to talk about it and, by doing so, encourage others, who had felt isolated and ashamed like me, to do the same.

But it isn't just my house where abuse has occurred. Every year, millions of children are affected by violence; more than 3 million experience it in their own homes. That is why my wife, Ali, and I started the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation, which provides education and safe rooms in middle schools for children caught in an abusive environment.

In starting Safe At Home, we decided to focus on the education of children by establishing safe rooms in schools, which we call Margaret's Place, in memory of my mom. They're a safe haven, where students can talk to one another. But they can also find a professionally-trained counselor, to whom they can reach out and discuss violence-related issues.

There's also a peer leadership program, which allows kids to be part of the process of finding ways and solutions to end abuse. We believe that, if youngsters understand that the way to treat people is the way that they, themselves, want to be treated -- that violence, control and verbal abuse is wrong -- we can change things.

If I had had a Margaret's Place to visit, I would have discovered that it's not my fault and I wasn't alone. And that's what we want kids in abusive homes to know -- that they are not alone and that it's not their fault. Every child deserves a safe home, a safe school and a safe community.

Visit www.joetorre.org for more.

If you or someone you know is being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

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