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Sohn, Torre, others tell of their struggle to overcome trauma

“The Wire” actress Sonja Sohn and Major League Baseball’s Joe Torre both watched helplessly as children while their fathers abused their mothers.

Both managed to find ways to overcome the violence they witnessed as children, but it wasn’t easy.

Now, both are speaking out about how violence affects children. Torre is the co-chair of the Defending Childhood Task Force and chairman of the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation, while Sohn, who played Detective Kima Greggs on the HBO hit television show about the drug trade in Baltimore, is founder and CEO of an outreach program called ReWired for Change in the city.

In testimony before the Defending Childhood Task Force at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Tuesday, Sohn painted a vivid picture of growing up in the face of violence at home.

She said she watched in horror as her father put her mother’s head on the chopping block in the kitchen, held a knife over her and threatened to kill her.

Watch video from the hearing

Sohn became desperate to find a way out, first thinking of running away at age 10 to become a prostitute in New York and then fantasizing about killing her father.

She got as far as boiling a pot of water to pour over her father, before realizing that the scalding-hot water would not kill him.

“I began to see myself as this tiny child I was,” she said. “A wave of grief and sadness rushed over me. I stood there feeling smaller and smaller until I felt completely insignificant and totally useless.”

Sohn began acting out, failing purposely in school where she had once thrived in the hopes of getting sent to boarding school. Then she moved on to drugs.

She later found out that her father was a paranoid schizophrenic, a brilliant man who had a mental illness. Now, she said, her family has been rehabilitated.

One thing that helped Sohn get away from the violence in her home was the presence of two stable families in her neighborhood, where both parents were caring and lived quiet lives.

“Most of my friends were sexually abused, most saw violence,” she said. “The whole neighborhood was traumatized.”

Now Sohn works to be that bright spot for the young people in her program, which she said focuses on allowing troubled teens to make changes in their lives.

Torre also shared his story, explaining that as the youngest of five children, his older siblings tried to shield him from the abuse. As a child, Torre saw his father, a police officer, threaten his mother with a gun.

“There is no worse emotion than fear,” Torre said.

He kept the abuse a secret, spending time with friends instead of going home when he saw his father’s car outside the house after school.

It was not until 1995 that Torre, who managed the New York Yankees to four World Series titles and now serves as executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, connected the dots between his fear and self-esteem issues and decided to speak out.

The task force will use the testimony it heard from panelists as well as testimony from three future events to write a report to present in December 2012 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who attended Tuesday’s event.

Other panelists, like Rosa Almond and Jacquelynn Kuhn talked of personal abuse.

Almond and her children suffered at the hands of her husband until she finally decided to leave and press charges after he slammed her head into the ground in front of her children.

Kuhn was sexually abused by a teenage neighbor, who she said was a master manipulator.

When she said she would tell, he said he would bring her sister and brother up to the tree house and do worse things to them. The abuse only stopped when she turned 7 and her family moved.

Kuhn said she believes the abuse she endured as a child and the subsequent secret she kept until she was 30, led her to make poor decisions. It took her 10 years to divorce a man who emotionally abused her and cheated on her with many women.

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