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Audrey Prosper, 39, was recently bestowed the Purple Ribbon Award for being one of 2022’s Survivors of the Year, a bittersweet honor to win. Yet it speaks to how far the Killeen, Texas mom of two has come since her abusive ex-husband lit her on fire and tried to kill her.
In the fall of 2009, Prosper told her husband, Christopher Hanney, a police officer for 20 years-turned TSA agent, that she wanted a divorce. She was 26 years old and the couple shared two sons, ages 4 and 11 months.
“He begged me to stay,” says Prosper. “But I was done at that point. There had been a lot of lying in the relationship, and some infidelity and gambling.” But no violence over the past 7 years they’d been together, she says. Nothing that tipped her off about the extremes he would soon escalate to.
At first, the couple tried living together while separated and Prosper held out hope they could divorce amicably. But then things escalated.
“He attempted to sexually assault me,” she says. “I called the police, then I left that night.”
Three weeks later, she had to stop by the house and Hanney assured her he wouldn’t be there. Except, of course, it was a ruse. As soon as she walked in, her estranged husband grabbed her and dragged her into the garage where he attempted to sexually assault her. After that, he picked up a hammer and began beating her over the head. He followed that by pouring a nearby can of gasoline over Prosper before throwing a lit candle directly at her. She was immediately consumed by flames.
But she knew she couldn’t give up.
“I was able to lift up the garage door, even though I was engulfed from the waist up in fire. I ran toward where I thought the grass was and stopped, dropped and rolled, just like they teach you in school.” A neighbor was outside at that moment and ran over with a jacket that she used to help put out the rest of the fire. Paramedics arrived and soon determined her best chance of survival would be if they airlifted her to a nearby hospital. There, it was determined she had been burned over 80 percent of her body.
“There was a moment during my attack where I resigned myself to death.” Prosper says she uttered a final prayer—take care of my sons and let me go to heaven. In the next moment, she imagined her sons as orphans and that prayer changed. God, just let me live.
“When I woke up alive in the hospital, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.” It would be, in her words, the flame that ignited a whole new type of fire, a vow to herself that she refused to let this incident take anything else from her.
“It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t depressed or angry, it just helped me position my mindset in such a way that one could overcome what I experienced.”
Hanney was sentenced to life plus 60 years while Prosper began the long road to healing—17 surgeries and 9 procedures and counting—moved to Texas and became a successful real estate agent as well as continuing her advocacy for other survivors, even giving a TEDx Talk. Yet after more than a decade of helping survivors, Prosper began to feel like she was spinning her wheels.
“Us advocates were frustrated with the fact that we were not seeing the numbers [of victims] decline. Because many of us were survivors, we’d gone through all these different facets of the system and had experienced it firsthand. We knew where the errors were and where the opportunities for growth were.”
In April of last year, the National Domestic Violence Collaborative was born. Made up of a team of 17 advocates and survivors, Prosper says the goal is to raise the standard of advocacy and reduce the number of people impacted by domestic violence through collaboration, starting at a legislative level.
They’ve set their sights on the Crime Victims Compensation Act in Texas which allows for victims of violent crimes to recoup money for things like damaged or stolen property, medical bills or therapy.
“What we’re asking is for a survivor to have the right to choose their healing modality—letting everyone heal the way they want to heal.” While talk therapy is covered, alternative modalities like homeopathic remedies aren’t.
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“Ultimately we want survivors to have more opportunities to heal from what they’ve experienced so they don’t have to live with unresolved trauma day in and day out, and so it’s not passed down generationally,” says Prosper.
As for her boys, Prosper says the oldest graduated high school last year and the youngest just started 8th grade. Emotionally, they are both really healthy,” she says. “I’ve always had an incredibly open dialogue with them. I’ve never bad-mouthed their father because I know that directly impacts their identities.”
She even makes sure they see him in prison at least once a year, a decision she says has made more difference in their healing than anything else.
“This could be a very dangerous situation in many cases but in our case, we followed our gut and we just knew it was the right thing to do.”
Learn more about the National Domestic Violence Collaborative and their #raisethestandard campaign, beginning this month by visiting their site.
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