Name: Erica Wiley
Location: San Jose, CA
Occupation: Prevention Education & Community Engagement Coordinator at YWCA Silicon Valley, Mother, Survivor
Erica Wiley is a survivor who uses her previous hardships to prevent harm to others. This mother and San Jose native works to educate young people about what healthy boundaries in relationships look like. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting them know that what they see in the movies isn’t real life.
“When I was a little girl I dreamt of being a famous dancer. Growing up in the 80’s I watched movies like Dirty Dancing, Grease, and anything with Molly Ringwald,” Erica remembers. “I also dreamt of the day I would be swept off my feet by “prince charming,” I thought at a young age that my end goal was to be married and have children, that by the age of 25 I should be happily married, living out the ‘American Dream.’”
Erica found her desire for a partner was deeply influenced by what she saw on TV. She yearned for a perfect partner while, in reality, like many other young people, she didn’t know what a healthy relationship actually looked like.
In 2017, Erica was 36 and a single mother of two. She had just extracted herself from a 4 year relationship that was plagued by abuse. She was hoping to heal and move on.
“The relationship was toxic from almost the very beginning, but I was so in love with the idea of being in love that I missed the warning signs,” she explains.
After leaving him, she discovered that the most dangerous part of leaving an abusive relationship sometimes occurs after the breakup. Things for Erica suddenly got worse.
“It began with non-stop harassing phone calls, texts, and emails. This went on for months, with no response from me in hopes the harassment would stop.”
But ignoring the onslaught only seemed to further inflame him. After distributing private photos and videos of Erica on social media, local law enforcement got involved. Her ex violated the restraining order within three days and he was arrested. After countless scheduled and rescheduled court appearances, Erica finally was able to get justice. A year and a half after his arrest date, her ex was found guilty.
“I tell my story because it was the most difficult time in my life, having to advocate for myself, feeling like there was a barrier around almost every corner. It’s not easy for a survivor of domestic violence to get the help or support they need. I had to advocate for myself every step of the way, with little to no help from the justice system,” she remembers.
With the support of her friends and family, she was able to get her life back. But she was dogged by the knowledge that there were other survivors out there who didn’t know where to turn. It was then that she began to volunteer at the YWCA Silicon Valley.
“YWCA is a nonprofit organization that supports survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking,” Erica explains. “My first experience with YWCA was volunteering at their 2017 Inspired Luncheon. Listening to the stories of other survivors of gender-based violence was truly inspiring. I registered for YWCA’s 65-hour sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking counselor training in spring 2018.”
From there, Erica’s activism took off. She was introduced to the Education and Outreach Team and began to teach young people about consent, healthy boundaries, body ownership, and how to safely intervene in harmful situations. By 2018 Erica had been hired as a Prevention Specialist in school-based programming for that same YWCA. She now oversees the domestic violence and sexual assault prevention for grades K-12 throughout Santa Clara County.
Today, Erica helps to support and empower survivors of gender-based violence, while also educating young people to stop violence before it starts.
“Though this job can be hard sometimes, if I can help one person not become a victim of gender-based violence, then I feel I’m doing something right,” she says.
And what advice does Erica have to young girls who are struggling to find their place in this world?
“You are important, you are worth it, and you are special. The secret to happiness is self-love, once you truly love yourself the possibilities are endless and happiness will find you.”
For her courage, strength, and compassion in action, we think Erica Wiley is a very Cool Girl!
Check out YWCA of Silicon Valley at https://ywca-sv.org/