It’s not easy for Maggie McQueen to tell her story.
Sitting at a table where she works at John L. Scott Real Estate in Puyallup on March 1, the 41-year-old mother of three prepared to share how she became a survivor of domestic violence.
She paused. Took several deep breaths.
“This is where you need to give me a minute because I need to decide if I actually want to do this or not,” she said.
McQueen experienced financial, emotional and psychological abuse with her ex-husband of 11 years before she left with her children in 2015.
She earned her real estate license and two months later began selling houses, even while she was experiencing homelessness.
McQueen gained back pieces of her life, but the fear never completely goes away, she told The Herald.
In the end, McQueen decided to share her story for one reason: awareness.
“(Domestic violence) is not something that’s talked about,” she said. “It’s not something that’s dealt with appropriately on any level. I want those that are going through this to know that there’s help out there, that it is okay to get help, that they need to get help before it’s too late.”
The strength to escape
McQueen first came to the Pierce County area when she was 15. She attended Spanaway Lake High School.
She went to college to earn her degree in geology. She had three kids from a previous relationship who are now 15, 17 and 21 years old.
“I was carefree and happy and jumping puddles and just goofy, and he took that all,” McQueen said.
McQueen first met her ex-husband while working on a job site. She’d rather not share where she was working.
At first, everything seemed normal. Then, strange things started happening.
“There were a lot of red flags that I saw as a pretty pink color instead,” she said.
Her house was broken into. Nothing was ever stolen, just moved around. She said she’d wake up to her doors kicked in.
“There were times where he would show up in the middle of the night, and I’d wake up and he’d just be standing at the foot of my bed,” McQueen said.
Her friends saw the warnings, but McQueen said she told them that it wasn’t a big deal.
In 2008, they married.
Gaslighting, psychological, emotional and physical abuse continued, McQueen said.
She was told she was “too irresponsible” with money. When she went to counseling, he was always in the room. She was told she was useless with a job and useless without one, she said.
“Being with him I became very scared — very timid, very anxious,” McQueen said. “I started to believe the things that were being told to me about myself.”
McQueen felt she had nowhere else to go.
“I was a single mom of three,” she said. “I didn’t have a job. How was I going to pay the rent? How were my children going to have medical coverage?
“It’s not just, ‘We wanted to stay’ or ‘We went back because we loved them.’ We went back because where the hell else are we gonna go?”
Her three children and the instinct to survive pushed McQueen to leave, she said. It took a year and a half and seven tries for it to succeed.
She had a plan, but when it came time, she just had to run.
“Where I would have had money squirreled away, an exact escape route planned out like we’re taught to do — that wasn’t an option,” McQueen said. “I had to get out that week, period.”
In September 2015, she took her three children to their father’s house and rented a hotel for the time she could.
“Every morning he would go to work, and I would go to the house and start packing,” she said.
McQueen looked for a job and decided she wanted to get her real estate license — something her abuser told her she couldn’t do. Two months later, she started working at John L. Scott Real Estate in Puyallup, where McQueen said the team supported her and made her feel safe.
At the time, she was homeless, sleeping on her friend’s couch with all of her personal belongings in her car.
The divorce was finalized in 2016. Not long after, McQueen’s car was towed in the middle of the night to her work place from a house she used to stay in with her abuser. A broken wedding ring was on the front seat, she wrote in a petition seeking a lifetime protection order against her ex-husband.
A judge granted the order in November 2016, according to court records reviewed by The Herald.
Now, McQueen is enjoying her work as a real estate agent in Puyallup and recently bought her own house in Tacoma last spring.
“I know what it means to have a home … I didn’t have one,” McQueen said.
McQueen shared her story in a John L. Scott video earlier this year. People started sharing their own stories with her.
“It pushes further on me that more needs to be done,” McQueen said. “More awareness needs to be out there, more training, more education — just more.”
Misconceptions and change
“There’s layers. There’s layers to everybody’s situation.”
That’s what McQueen wants people to know. She also wants them to know that sometimes domestic violence is hidden.
“It’s not always bruises,” she said.
McQueen wants people to know it’s not as easy to leave an abusive relationship as it seems.
“This is not our fault,” McQueen said. “There are significant psychological things that are happening to us that put us in a position where we feel we can’t leave.”
McQueen wants to see change. A few months ago, she got involved with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“The laws need to change. Yeah, I opened the door and let him in. It doesn’t excuse what he did. It doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t make it non-prosecutable,” McQueen said.
The coalition wants the Legislature to invest more in affordable housing. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and kids, as many domestic violence victims grapple with facing homelessness or their abuser, said Kelly Starr, director of public affairs for the coalition.
McQueen said she supports a senate bill that would require sex education in all public schools because it will teach students what a healthy relationship looks like.
“If no one’s there to teach these children what a healthy relationship is, nothing’s ever going to change. The same things are going to continue to happen,” she said.
Starr encourages those seeking help to call a helpline, such as 1-800-799-SAFE. The helpline isn’t just for those crisis.
“You can call if you’re concerned about a friend or family member, (or) if you’re not sure you’re experiencing (domestic violence),” Starr said.
A guide is also available on the coalition’s website for family and friends with tips on how to help someone in an abusive relationship.
Starr said she admires those who are able to share their stories — it’s not an easy thing to do.
“When survivors share their stories, it lets other people know they’re not alone,” Starr said. “It lets other people know there’s hope out there, that they’ll be believed, that the community cares about them.”