LOS ANGELES (CBS) — "It's probably the only time in my life that I've ever felt helpless," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recalls.
The mayor of Los Angeles sat down for his first in-depth interview with CBS2 to discuss the domestic violence he experienced as a child. Now, he's coming forward with his story to empower others to seek help.
Villaraigosa said he grew up in an abusive home, watching his alcoholic father repeatedly beat his mother.
More than five decades later, those memories continue to haunt him.
"Being with my little sister, hiding under the bed, hearing the screaming – we had to witness the terror that comes with watching your mom getting beat," Villaraigosa said. "…Those scenes that get repeated in your mind are images you never forget."
His father left when he was five years old.
"It wasn't just physical – it was the psychological violence, and usually in fits of rage that were associated with drinking," Villaraigosa said.
He said he has no relationship towards his father and does not hold anger towards him either.
When the economy crashed the mayor met many boys with whom he could relate.
"...And I can almost tell before I ask them about their family situation…because I grew up like they did," Villaraigosa said.
As a boy, Villaraigosa was kicked out of school and had anger issues. He said his mother helped him to turn his life around. She became his role model, each year becoming stronger, and, later, counseling other victims.
"Deep inside there's this feeling of helplessness and this feeling that I kind of failed her by not protecting her on some level," he said.
Now, as L.A.'s mayor, he has used that feeling to protect others.
Villaraigosa has secured millions in federal funds and private donations to fight domestic violence through an organization called Safe L.A. Last year, he partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department to add domestic abuse response teams to all 21 police divisions.
But fighting the shame is an uphill battle.
"They'll deny anything happened, even though the whole block heard the screaming," Villaraigosa said of many victims.
Villaraigosa had recently been elected as mayor when he witnessed a man beating up a woman on a city street.
"I jumped out of the car and I started chasing this guy around and my security just freaked out – 'Get in the car! Get in the car!'"
The mayor caught the man but he couldn't save the victim. She wasn't willing to press charges.
Villaraigosa said he hopes his courage to speak out will empower others to come forward.
"That was the beauty of my mom," he said, adding, "My mom talked about it and that was the strength of her."
Mayor Villaraigosa said his new year message, in his mother's memory, is to stop hiding from his past.
"That's why I was willing to talk about my own situation, because we should all be willing to put a light on the dark things that happen in our life."
For more on domestic violence awareness and how you can get involved visit Safe L.A. online.
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