Bushwick-based domestic violence survivor uses experience to lead self-defense classes, help other survivors

A group of ladies met up for a training session during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Trainer Marie Driven uses her own experience to lead a self-defense course for survivors of domestic abuse.
Photo courtesy of Kpshotit/Instagram

One Bushwick native is using her experience as an abuse survivor to train other women in self-defense and connect survivors with needed resources.

Tough Brooklynite Marie Driven started teaching self-defense boxing courses shortly after being hurt by a former partner in her own home in 2020.

With the pandemic requiring people to stay isolated at home, Driven thought about all the potential domestic violence victims who would be forced to be home with their potential abusers — much like she was. Many were worried how the executive order to shelter in place issued on March 22, 2020 would affect survivors of domestic and gender-based violence, as families and couples were forced to stay in their homes for long periods of time, unable to leave or see other people.

Marie Driven brings women and domestic violence survivors together for self-defense courses.
Marie Driven brings women and domestic violence survivors together for self-defense courses. Photo courtesy of Kpshotit

According to a 2021 report from the New York City Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee the pandemic did not appear to have an “immediate, discernible” impact on domestic violence homicides, however calls to the the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline increased 17% compared to numbers from the previous years. The number of survivors using services by the New York City Family Justice Center increased by 35.8%

After being abused and not being able to get away safely, Driven began questioning her own strength and confidence.  With the help of family, friends and her personal trainer, she determined she would use boxing to regain her strength and begin her healing process.  

“I have made an impact on other people’s lives, and now I’m the female that doesn’t know what to say or what to do,” she told Brooklyn Paper. “In order for me to turn that around I had to get some mental, physical and emotional strength.”

A few months, using her experience, she soon began teaching a class to fellow survivors in Wingate Park alongside a personal trainer, Seguy Narcisse.

A domestic violence survivor uses her experience to train other women.
Driven started teaching classes in 2020, as she worried about the impacts of the pandemic lockdowns on domestic violence survivors. Photo courtesy of Kpshotit

Since physical training was such a big part of her healing process, Driven figured it could be used to help other victims. She named her course “We Fight Back,” and said it’s not just about training.

“We Fight Back is more than boxing but it’s helping other people that feel unsafe. Whether they have to hide out, whether we need to make some calls — whatever we need to do, we got to do something,” she said.

Over the past three years, Driven has connected other victims with adequate resources to either recover from domestic violence wounds, secure temporary housing, job opportunities, and counseling and fulfill other subsidiary needs like purchasing Ubers and AirBnBs.

Vianca Bentley, a participant in the self-defense classes, said the program has been a lifeline for her and other members, giving them the safe space to heal, recover, and regain control over their lives.

“The program has provided me with a sense of empowerment and renewed self-confidence. Engaging in the boxing classes, along with the support and community fostered by the program, has not only improved my physical strength but also my emotional well-being,” Bentley told Brooklyn Paper. “It has given me the tools to break free from the cycle of domestic violence and rebuild my life with courage and resilience.”

The tough group put on the gloves and shadow boxed with a personal trainer.
At Driven’s classes, students put on gloves and shadow boxed with a personal trainer. Photo courtesy of Kpshotit

According to data from the Division of Criminal Justice Services, in 2022 there were over 11,000 domestic violence victims in Kings County. These cases include intimate partners (7,744) and other family members (3,308). These numbers increased compared to stats from 2020 and 2021.

Both women agree that Driven’s initiative should expand, as both a victim resource center and a preventative group that can teach self-defense. 

“The boxing made me feel confident and made other people feel confident,” Driven told Brooklyn Paper. “When you work out, you feel good. So imagine working out and also protecting yourself.”

Driven’s class meets periodically throughout the year in Wingate Park in East Flatbush or Sunset Park’s Industry City. She announces when sessions will be held via her website or her personal Instagram profile. Most classes are free, however RSVP is required.