Behind every organization there is a reason why it was created. Whether it be passion, an unmeant need, or the longing to encourage others; there is always story behind it. Break the Silence (BTS) was founded by a determined young woman who wanted to tell her story as proof that you can move on and live a fulfilling life after domestic violence. By simply creating a Facebook page, Kristen started a movement. At only 22 years old, Kristen Paruginog created an organization that has been able to touch the lives of thousands of survivors across the country. We were able to get to know more about the woman who started the life changing non-profit organization, Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. Kristen discusses topics such as why she felt like she had to start BTS, her advice about starting your own business, and her most memorable survivor story.
What made you start Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence?
At 18 years old, I found myself in a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. For the next three years, I struggled with trying to find myself as many young women do. By 22, I made a way out and I didn’t turn back. I started BTS because I learned that there were thousands of men and women around the world who were experiencing the same situations as I did, and I felt called to help. Since I lived through it, I made a promise to God and myself that I will use my story as a testament that there is life after domestic violence.
What experience do you have with domestic violence?
Every form of the word domestic violence, I’ve experienced. Whether it was witnessing it as a child, teenager, and young woman or if it was facing abuse in my own relationships. I was financially, sexually, psychologically, physically, and emotionally abused.
When/how did you start BTS?
The journey began December 3, 2011 when I started the Facebook page – the rest was history from there!
Was it hard as a young woman to start a business?
No, I have always been ambitious, that’s one thing no one could take away from me. Even in my abusive relationship, I knew I wanted to be someone and do something with my life. I may have lost my drive and confidence while “in it,” but the flame of passion always lived within me. Even though my self-esteem was a mess during that time in my life, I knew God had a bigger plan in store for me. I would have never guessed it would have been BTS, but I sure am grateful my journey has led me through this path.
How large is BTS internally? (how many employees etc.)
We have one paid staff member, about 30 Volunteer Leadership Team Members, and 200+ volunteers. Every member of Team BTS plays a fundamental role in our BTS family.
Can you discuss how you were able to build BTS from just one person to what it is now?
This question took me back for a second! BTS became the organization it is today because of the same reason why I started it. Others see the need to address domestic violence, and the way we do it – is innovative. We are out of the box; we welcome the unconventional advocates, and we are campaigning in ways that make people uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, it means it needs to be done in order for people to “talk about it.” BTS has grown significantly so fast because we have our boots to the pavement and we are marching forward in an untraditional way on a united front with men and women alike ready to combat this issue.
What did you do career wise before you started BTS.
Since I was 16, I worked in the financial services industry working for banks, law firms, and most recently Ameriprise Financial. The shift to social work was interesting, but definitely worth it! I tell people all the time, money doesn’t make you happy – pursing your passion does.
How were you able to transition from having a normal job to working with BTS full time?
What’s normal? I’ve always been different. The transition from a traditional 9-5 to a 24/7 job was a new, but I was willing to adapt. When BTS started I was working full time, going to school full time, and working on BTS on the side. Talk about no sleep, right?! I have always been keen to multitasking so making the transition wasn’t extremely difficult. I was going to make it work regardless, because this is my passion.
How did you realize that you had to leave your abusive relationship?
From the beginning I knew something was off about our relationship. One thing led to the next and I felt stuck. I didn’t know the abusive qualities in our relationship were considered [abuse] or [domestic violence], because I saw similar things growing up. I compared my relationship with my ex-boyfriend to my parent’s marriage. I tried leaving several times during the 3-year relationship, but each time was a fail. When I finally left, I realized that if I stayed any longer my life would only continue spiraling out of control. I realized after 3-years, I deserved better. I deserved love and that is not what I was getting from him.
Where do you see BTS in 10 years?
2026. Honestly, a lot can happen in one year for BTS. Our growth is literally off the charts. But just some things to expect and anticipate from us are: 22 Scholarships in honor of 22 Angels, Greater National Conference, More funding for all of our programs, More staff, More retreats across the country, More programming in more parts of the country and potentially the world, More Partnerships with local, state, and national institutions, And ultimately living up to our brand: The National Voice of Domestic Violence. I am pretty confident in saying, many more amazing things will be happening in the next year through 2026.
How do you handle being the founder/boss/CEO of a company?
I handle it the same way any other CEO does, professionally. It’s very important to me that BTS maintains our original message and upholds the highest level of integrity – because we are a nonprofit 501c3 organization. We value our survivor sisters and brothers and really cherish the relationships we have with the community. Our organization was created by a survivor for survivors and through this we have an organization that is committed to combatting domestic violence.
How do you handle all the stress and responsibility of having multiple roles?
Not very many people know this, but I do have a lot of roles and wear a lot of hats (not literally). You can find me staying late at the office until 10pm or working on weekends because we have so much work to do. I work 7 days a week, roughly 10-12 hours a day, even on holidays and vacations. I had to learn the hard way, that everyone (even me) needs work-life-balance. In order for me to be the best at what I do, I need to put my health first. Social work can be stressful, so self-care is a must. Whether you enjoy vacations, walking on the beach, or getting pedicures – always be sure to self-care. It’s important and very crucial to your long-term success.
What do you enjoy the most about BTS?
I love…everything about BTS. I love meeting new survivors. I love seeing transformations. I love seeing the strength our survivors give to others who are new to our organization. I love the events. I love our programs. I found my peace in BTS.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself anything while you were in your abusive relationship, what would it be?
Only one? I would say, focus on you. One thing I think many survivors can relate to is we lose focus of ourselves and spend so much time focusing on how to help our abusers. We want to weather the storm with them, but in reality we have our own journey we need to focus on. Our lives shouldn’t consist of trying to fix our partners; we should be more concerned about how we can enhance ourselves.
What is your favorite memory as far with BTS?
My favorite memory is landing in New York City to share the story of Break the Silence against Domestic Violence with dozens of celebrities, NPO’s, and executives of Glamour and Investigation Discovery. The platform Glamour gave BTS opened up a new window of opportunity for more women to reach out and ask for help – that is exactly what feeds my purpose, knowing our story is getting heard and it encourages others to grab our hand for support.
What is your best piece of advice for a young woman wanting to start her own business?
Do it! One of the best pieces of advice I heard about starting a business was, “If you ever start a business, it should be to change the world.” Do not let anything stop you. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.
What’s the biggest piece of information you feel is being left out when it comes to the discussion of domestic violence?
Hands down, helping abusers. This is a very sensitive topic but in order for us to see greater change we need to address abusers more in-depth. They need more resources than victims do, because most have mental health issues and unaddressed trauma. As an advocate, I believe that we need to see the full picture and address all angle’s, because only building strategies for one side of the issue isn’t going to solve the overall problem.
What was the most powerful survivor story you have encountered
This is impossible to answer. My best friends Audrey and Johanna are nearest to my heart. But stories like Amy, Maria, or Mama Tammy are all so powerful. Every survivor story I have heard over the last 4 years has impacted me. Every – single – one. God bless the survivors who have been touched by BTS and may God bless those who still live in silence. My hope is we inspire you to break your silence and live a life you have always dreamed of.