During this week's episode, I interview Deanna Kuempel, a survivor of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking.
This is a heavy topic and could trigger some listeners.
Learn more about Deanna in her BIO.
Deanna was born & raised in Chicagoland and studied Business & Accounting at Harper College. Before meeting her husband, she had a small event-planning business & offered personal training services. Deanna has an extensive background as an entrepreneur & leader. She was VP of Key Accounts & Business Operations for a $20 million transmission remanufacturing facility with 150 employees. She simultaneously ran four other entities (3 commercial real estate holding businesses & 1 installation arm for our manufactured transmissions) for 10yrs. Before a life-changing event, she closed one of the most significant contracts in my career with the State of South Carolina for 5yrs, estimated at $20 million. In one contract, she doubled the size of the business. She has many multi-million contracts/Key Accounts (FGA, Verizon, AER Dhamer Powertrain, and more). All have given her stellar recommendations.
But In 2016, she was forced to start over. Deanna always had a passion for Fashion. So she engaged a design company out of Soho, NY, to start on that journey. In 2017 she founded Deanna Marie Label - where she designed, produced, and launched three collections over a few years. I successfully fulfilled a Kickstarter campaign raising over $5k to make my first collection. I was on the runway in Rhode Island at StyleWeek. Deanna was a finalist for Style Chicago for the Cadillac Design Challenge and ended her fashion adventure with the last collection at a significant runway charity event against Human Trafficking at Stan Mansion in Chicago. During that time, she also rolled out a skincare line with her label and still has a steady client base.
In 2019 she read an article on how to start a podcast and thought, "I don't know who the heck I think I am, but I'm gonna do it!" Deanna says, "I have overcome much abuse & trauma, so I decided on the name Label Free with the help of my best friend, Julie Bryant. I truly live my life free of any labels. I focus on talking to entrepreneurs that are living life on their terms and can offer insight or a piece of wisdom for the audience." Since then, it has been such a great experience as I have grown and extendeSupport the show
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HOST: Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the What Women Months Day Podcast. I'm your host, Terry Kellums. And today I have a guest on the show with me, Deanna Radalusco. Radalusco, I did I mess it up, I know I messed it up. It was close, it was close.
GUEST: Yeah, it was good enough.
HOST: Welcome to this show. I'm so happy that you're here with me today. I know that you are a fellow podcaster. How long have you been podcasting?
GUEST: Four years.
HOST: And the name of your podcast is label free podcast?
GUEST: Yes, to live your best life live label free.
HOST: I love that. So what made you want to do a podcast?
GUEST: Well, as I know, we're gonna be jumping into some of my story and my history. After my late husband passed away, I came to a point where I was just like tired of all the labels that people put on me. Like I was a widow. I shouldn't try to date. How dare you start your life over like you know, you need to be XYZ, you know, it just a lot of different negative things that were like put on me. And I put on myself too. Like I was also like in that headspace. And so I just came to a place where I was feeling very peaceful. I was waking up grateful every day, a lot of joy. And then it took me several years after he passed to get to that place. And I'm just like, you know what? I got an article for how to start a podcast under $100. And I'm like, I don't know who the F I think I am, but I'm going to do it. And I was talking to my best friend about my idea. of society and us ourselves putting labels on each other, which causes division, causes just like this, like, you know, kind of like what we've been experiencing the last couple of years. And I think that it's a very powerful message across the board and it means something different to everyone. And so for me, it was just, I didn't want to carry those labels anymore. I was leaving at the door in every conversation I have is about how we get past those and how we live a life of purpose and being dynamic. having any self-limiting beliefs.
HOST: I love that so much. There's one label that has been placed on me, which I think has meant as a compliment. I'm pretty sure it's labeled as a compliment, but at the same time, it puts a lot of pressure on you as a woman, and that is the word strong. You're a strong woman. You're a strong woman. And it's almost like, okay, well, that means you can't break down, you can't have bad days, you can't fall down. You know what I mean? You just always have to just be strong because that's the label that's been given to you. So I'm really glad to hear you say that. That's very affirming for me that I don't always accept that word as a compliment. I think it's like almost saying I can't be vulnerable. And I struggle so hard to be vulnerable sometimes that's really shrugging off that strong label these days. What do you think the most difficult label was for you to shrug off and keep off?
GUEST: It's my like something that you know I had a belief of like that I wasn't worth it. And so, you know, into this next phase of my life after all the things that I've been through, it's like I'm worth it. Like I deserve all the best and the life has to offer. I deserve to be happy. I'm not damaged because I went through all this stuff and the podcast has been very healing from me. A very cathartic being you know I have no more skeletons in my closet none whatsoever. Everything is out there So that is like one side, the first episode I ever did around, you know, what I know we're going to get into about being human trafficking survivor or victim, whatever. I thought the weight of the world, like, you know, just went off my shoulders. It was so liberating and so freeing that that was the point of, yeah, something I never felt before I was very felt very good.
HOST: you've been through, but I can't imagine the human trafficking side. And, oh, this is a heavy topic today. And as I was preparing for it and actually found you on one of the sites that we both belong to, my initial response was, I don't want to talk about that. That's hard. That's tough. That opens up a lot of wounds. That's difficult. But this year on the podcast, I am not going to shy away from difficult things. bring things that almost like you said, just like bring people together and not tear them apart. But this is one of those things, like you and I talked about before, it's necessary. It's painful. You're at the airport, you go into a bathroom stall and you see the plaque on the door that says, if you're a victim, a human trafficking call this number. And I remember the first time I ever thought, I thought, well, how the hell they supposed to call that number? Yeah. And You know, this is just, so I have a definition here because I wanted to make sure I truly understood what human trafficking was because we hear a lot about it on the news. But the definition that I found online was the unlawful act of transporting or coursing people in order to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Do you fall into that category?
GUEST: Yeah, I mean, I mean, it means, yeah, it means many different things. I mean, that's like, I guess the, the dictionary version of it. But you know, what people think is, oh, they, you kid, girls get kidnapped and they get shipped off to the God knows where that's one, one definition of human trafficking or one avenue of other. Yeah, I mean, there's many like the girl or the boy that's getting molested by a family member or parent that's human trafficking. because you're exploiting them for sexual favors, sexual abuse, you know, sexual abuse. And that's a, that is they could, they define that as sexual or human trafficking as well. So that's one, you know, obviously like people that need their forcing to work, elderly people forcing them to work and, you know, on savory conditions. That's one. I mean, there are, when I worked with one of the charities, I did a big human trap, a huge event against human trafficking. When I worked with them and I heard, I sat down with them and I talked to them for several hours decided to work together. And some of the stories I heard were just unreal. And I went to a lot of the meetings that were like at the villages and the churches just to kind of wanted to educate myself a little bit more. Like why wasn't I aware of this when I got like dragged into it, right? Why didn't I? And it's because you know, people don't like to talk about it. It took me eight months to organize that event and during that time frame, there are so many women that like reach out to me, you know, on the side doing I would never have the courage to tell my story and you know I was a victim. Like there are many women that reach out to me like secretly and I you know there's just a please don't tell anybody my name and and I think to me for what I was doing and I was just like wow this is such. It's so I think that that needs to be talked about more because if we talk about more and educate families kids at school what this means and what the possibilities are the better off the to knowledge's power, right? So you know what that means? Have you given them the opportunity to say no or to look for, get help?
HOST: Right. So I was not entirely shocked to hear that 70% of victims of human trafficking are women.
HOST: Average age is 12 years old. These are like, these like, make you sick to your stomach. It's happening all over the world. Millions most common countries are Africa and I wrote down my notes, I can't even read my hand writing. The Middle East and Sudan, I think it says, I can't read it. Russia, China. And these are situations where people are living in poverty, so they're very vulnerable or women are not valued for their gender. And so it's just so much easier to get them into this trap. more of an expert than I am. I'm just, you know, reciting Google statistics here, but what do you think puts someone at risk for human trafficking?
GUEST: So my situation I was 17, it was just, and I know I felt their friends that this happened to too as well, getting involved with a boyfriend, maybe you didn't have a good father a few year at home or two parents that were kind of absent. I think that any younger person that's looking for attention in some way might get the track the wrong type of attention and it turns into something very ugly. And you think that that's okay that person and you're just like and then next to you know you're doing drugs and you're being passed around and you're you know you're you're you're you're money making machine doing things that you never thought that you would do and it's um you know it's it's pretty sad because you know you don't you didn't know like oh this is a possibility you think this person loves me I'm doing this to make them happy and that's not that's not the case.
HOST: Wow that's pretty heavy. Yeah um I lived down Mexico and southern Arizona and they're always talking about like the people's smuggling aspect of human trafficking. The cartels are using people every day people enforcing them into criminal activity that's another aspect of human trafficking. You know what went surprisingly maybe the most was for the removal of organs.
GUEST: Oh yeah well I don't know a lot about that and when I was working with the didn't run to that a lot, but yeah, that's a thing. That's a thing. So there's, we need to raise the level of awareness on this topic for sure, for sure.
HOST: Yeah. And I'm going to put some information in the show notes for today's episode. There's a website trafficking resource center.org. Make sure to put that in the show notes for today. I've got some emails and some hotline numbers. Um, if you know somebody that might be at risk, suspect human trafficking. Um, but your story a little bit. So you said you were 17. Let's hear about how this all started for you.
GUEST: Well, I mean, I got involved with a boyfriend that encouraged me to do things that weren't good. And my father was abusive. He was abusive to me and my mother. Then I got involved with the man who was abusive. It took me a long time to really break that pattern, you know, and I realized when I was probably like 21, I'm like, okay, I can't keep living this life. I'm going to either end or something. So I ended up finding a counselor on my own and started going to counseling. But those couple of years were kind of like a blur, just doing what you think, what you see in the movies, doing lots of drugs and being passed around and making money and just like that was, and he ended up abducting me and stabbing me and almost killing me. So, my God, I think And I had girlfriends that were going through the same thing and I don't know if they're still alive or not, but you know it's Very interesting. I was blessed to have a good head on my shoulders I mean, I not really an addictive personality so luckily the drugs and take you know Or so that could have been something completely different right and you know, I got away from that and got into some counseling and eventually I Met I got it real big into the gym. I started working out a lot and you know That's where I found some of my like healing just my strength to, I mean, I was a strong person too. I was always told, you're so strong, you're a warrior, you're gladiator. And so it was like, if I needed help, it's not like I could ask for it, you know, because I had that label put on me. And so it was like, I find a way to find help myself. And, you know, I ended up meeting my late husband at the gym. He, one of my girlfriends came to meet me and he wanted to get an introduction. And I, he pursued me for like six months because I was trying to just like relationship and he was kind of like my night in shining our member and you know we ended up being together for almost 20 years before he passed.
HOST: I'm sorry for your loss. So it wasn't your husband then that was the abuser is want to make that clear. It was not the man before the man before your husband. So you know interesting enough we are doing a book writing challenge on the podcast through the podcast I guess and a lot of women are writing books to kind of help with the healing process. Is that something that you've considered doing?
GUEST: I have considered doing that. How long does a book have to be? Or the section?
HOST: It does have to you, but they say those experts quote unquote, they say around 150 pages is probably, but I've read larger ones than that. Or my co-host Elizabeth, she wrote a 400 page memoir.
And yeah, so let me ask you this, my mom was abused. I was a witness to her domestic violence for years and she never talked about it. You know, she never, she never explained why things were happening or why she stayed or, you know, none of that was ever really talked about. My mom was very quiet. Got a lot of that stuff to herself. But, you know, part of this book challenge is that, you know, we're sitting down for 20 minutes I was writing something down and I thought, oh, she has a friend that's still around that I'm friends with on Facebook. I'm gonna call this woman up. And I told my husband, I said, I'm gonna call her. And I go, I texted her, our Facebook messenger and I said, she's willing to talk to me. I go, I'm gonna call her. And he goes, well, what are you gonna ask her? And I go, I don't know, but we're about to find out. But, you know, I asked her, I said, you know, did my mom ever confide in you? No. Did you know what was going on? It's a good report. Yeah. She said, we suspected there were things that we saw that we didn't think were quite right, but she would never talk about it. And at some point, she distanced herself from the friendship with this woman. And I think it was just to continue to hide, you know? And so I guess maybe, I don't know if you'll know the answer to this question, or it's kind of a general question. But why do you think, protect the abuser.
GUEST: You know, I mean, a lot of reasons I think that because they're scared, you know, they're scared of what that would look like if something happened. They don't know their way out. You know, your identity gets so wrapped up in that situation that it's really hard unless you're ready. You mean, no, someone can talk to you until you're blue in the face and you're not going to go. You know, I eventually, I had had it. Like, you know, I had, I can't, luckily I came to a point where I had had it. And, you know, even after, even after he abducted me and like, and he had broken into my house twice. Like there were several things that had happened, but even after that last where he abducted me, and my mom forced me to call the police, and we had to go to the court, and he got arrested. I was sitting there bawling, because I didn't want that to happen to him. Even though it was completely wrong, I could have died. I ended up running out of the car, and it's like a movie. It's crazy when you think about it. But even at that point, am I crying? this to him, I don't want him to be in jail, you know, and but I knew at that point, like I had to distance myself and, you know, luckily I got away. But I think that it's just it's your identity and you're the shame of dealing with it, like your self worth is so low that you feel like that's all you deserve.
HOST: Mm. She said something similar. She I said, you know, why after she left and got out of the situation, I said, why do you think she never, you know, talked to us girls about it? Because I mean, you're susceptible as a as a girl growing up in the household watching mom get abused like that. You're so susceptible to picking a partner just like that. I said, you know, why do you think, oh, yeah, why do you think she didn't say anything to us? And she said, I think she was, I think she felt shameful. Like somehow she deserved that. And she didn't want to talk about it because she didn't want you girls to feel less of her. And I was like, I can't wrap my brain around that. It's hard. It's hard for the person who hasn't to wrap your brain around some of the things that you're saying. Do you understand? Does that make sense to you?
GUEST: No, it doesn't make sense. She probably knew when it first started happening, she should leave. And so the fact that she didn't leave in the beginning made her feel worse and worse and worse that she stayed in. So at a certain point, she kind of dug her own hole mentally and emotionally, even though no matter what, whatever stage you're in within a relationship like that, it's never too late to get out. You deserve better. You deserve better. know, there is, I believe that we can be strong and vulnerable at the same time, and that doesn't make us any less than, or, you know, weak or anything like that. You know, I'm finally like you, maybe, at a place where I can feel vulnerable even though I've been through all that stuff, and it's a very good place to be. So I think that, you know, no matter what stage any woman is in, that they deserve to live a life free of abuse.
HOST: is because I don't want to hurt some people in my life. But I had a partner who was starting to get physically abusive with me when I refused to have sex. And I put a knife underneath the mattress. And the next time he did it, I pulled it out. And I said, if you touch me again, I will stab you while you were sleeping. And I will kill you. And I meant to think I really meant it. And I was pretty young. But I had seen my mom. I saw my dad, my real father abuser. And then I turned around and watched depth data user for years. And I am like, you are not doing this to me. I am not putting up with this. And, you know, I mean, I am menopause Terri now who has a much louder voice. And, you know, much more, I feel much more confident in my voice. I wasn't that confident girl back then, but I was determined you are not going to abuse me. So, did you have any children?
GUEST: No, I don't have any children. Not yet. We're still hopeful. We're gonna do IVF because, definitely. I feel like I'm gonna need help. So yeah.
HOST: What do you think you would say to your daughter? Like, do you have any idea what you would say to your daughter if you saw her exhibiting some signs of being in a relationship like that?
GUEST: So I have a niece. And my whole world changed when I had a niece. She is seven now. And the way I feel about her, I'm sure I'd feel 10 times more about my own daughter. And I just knew all that if anything ever happened to her, I would go to the deepest, darkest corners the earth to kill anyone that harmed her. And I don't even know what it would feel like if I had my own daughter, because the way I feel towards my niece, and it's just like, no, I wouldn't tolerate that. Like I would not. Like I'd probably like have to take her, me and my sister probably take her through her somewhere, like lock her up to get her some real deep, like, you deserve better. You know, no, I wouldn't, I would, I mean, there's like, I think that this day and age, like emotional and mental well-being and mindset. Because mindset is a very key component of living a successful life and getting what you deserve. Absolutely. There's something that goes on with us at a certain point in our younger years where we don't, we feel like it's okay to tolerate something like that. Like you said, you grew up around it. Luckily you didn't repeat that pattern. I grew up around it and I repeated that pattern So what's the difference in our mindsets, right? Like why, why did I feel like that was okay? And I can continue the cycle and you did not, you know what I mean? So I feel like there's something that needs to be done there and is part of like that, the education and teaching our children when they're younger, you know, to kind of guide them so they don't, they don't feel like that's okay to deal with.
HOST: Yeah, you want to hear something crazy. My sister was two years older than me. She dated a man who abused her. man that abused her. And then when she finally got away from him and unfortunately she had two kids with him, but she got away from him. She met a really, really nice man. And at some point during her marriage to this nice man, she was in counseling and she wasn't happy with this nice man. And her counselor said to her, yeah, her counselor said to her, well, you're used to chaos. And she didn't know how to handle a normal relationship with a nice guy. And so, yeah, it's just, it is funny. I really, I hadn't thought about it like you just put it, but I really have to agree with you. It is a lot about mindset. It's about who you tell yourself who you are and what you believe about yourself.
GUEST: Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean, I'm the oldest of five. So two younger sisters, two younger brothers. And my sister's gonna go through that. You know, they didn't choose, they didn't choose partner like that. But I also took the brun of it when I was like 15, 16. I called the police and my father like I didn't want my siblings to go through what I had gone through. And so, you know, in a sense, I kind of protected them from going through that because that would have just carried, carried down, I think. Yeah.
HOST: Yeah. I remember grabbing my little sister who was his natural child. And when he would start, you know, we could hear it in our bedroom. and bring her into the bed. We had bunk beds and I would sing to her so she couldn't hear, you know, what was going on. So yeah, this is not going to be an easy topic for me today, but I so appreciate you being brave enough to come on and share it. And so tell us, like, tell us the other side of it. So once you break away from, you know, being a victim of human trafficking with a nice good guy.
GUEST: I mean, you know, it's still a working process, you know, or progress, whatever you want to call it. I mean, I don't, you know, marriage is hard.
HOST: Oh, yeah.
GUEST: And I was, I was with my late husband for 17 years, you know, he passed away seven years ago. Although we looked like the ultimate couple on the outside, on the inside, it wasn't the best either. He was a big steroid abuser, you know, he passed away because he needed when it's up taking steroids, he was incredibly controlling. So I went from a physically abusive man to a man that just completely controlled me. You know, like I could never spend any time away. Like probably in our 20 years together, I was spent maybe a total 10, 10 days away from him. And so like I couldn't even go out for tea with my sisters and my mom, my grandmother, you know, like we'd have like a hot, like a tea, you know, whatever, a sundae or something. huge fight over it. So I just would not go out anymore because I didn't want to, I just felt like it wasn't worth it. You know, we were very successful. We had five businesses, you know, I was the vice president of key accounts and business operations. And, you know, he gave me a lot of credit during that time. You know, I'm the driver. I am, I'm a big, I drive things forward. I like to get things done. I'm a decision maker, you know, so I will own it. I was that person, you know, when he passed away, I lost almost everything because he did have four daughters from a previous marriage. He was a bit older you know, during that time together, we at, you know, flew private, had the mansion, the Ferrari, the Mercedes motorcycles, you know, just, you name it, big lavish parties, you know, like we did all the things. And, you know, when he passed, you know, he specifically just inherited me in the will, which was a very big blow after investing most of my life with him, you almost half my life at that point, you know, and, you know, that was a, that was very hard to come back from, you know, I moved on and here's the crazy thing I got involved with another real abusive guy. Oh my God. Right after that. Like right after that. Like and he was abusive and 10 times like and I don't even know how to explain it because it's very graphic, but there were things that he was saying to women that were like he was with me and cheating on me talking to these women saying crazy things like telling him that they that we had kids in the basement that you know, like he was into kid like just create. I had the police in my house. times trying to get him out, he wouldn't leave. It was, it was nuts. Like I never, that was probably the worst. That was probably the worst. He was somewhat physically abusive, but more emotionally and mentally and verbally than anything. So it was bizarre. Yeah. So I took a break. I took a break from men for a lot of like no more.
HOST: I did not escape the second scenario that you describe. I was never physically abused and the controlling of money.
GUEST: That's the worst.
HOST: It kind of is, because it messes with your head. And you know, you, he would use religious things to manipulate me. And it was just a very different kind of abuse. It made you question who you were. Me do you think you were crazy sometimes?
GUEST: He was a narcissist.
HOST: Yeah, I don't know if, I don't know if I thought about it enough to put that label on him or not. But he, he just controlled me. so much and controlled the way I even tried to control the way I parented my daughters. And I remember after I finally got out of the marriage, like I think I was, I want to say I was 40, maybe I think I was 40. I thought, who the hell am I? I'm so used to someone telling me who to be, what to think. And if I don't believe the way you believe or think the way you think I'm wrong. And I'm like, okay, I got to figure this thing out. Now, I'm pretty old to be trying to figure out. who I am, but you can do it. Yeah. You can do it at any age, at any age.
GUEST: Yeah. I agree.
HOST: I hope you don't mind the label resilient because that's what I heard over and over and over like the whole time you're on the story. It is like resilient. She's just super resilient because you keep, you keep getting through these awful situations. So tell us what's, what's, go ahead.
GUEST: No, no, I think we're all resilient once we've sent our mind to it. Yeah. Like you like this way too short. I mean, that was one thing that was a wake up call for me. Not a wake up call. It was pretty surreal watching my husband lose his battle with life. When you watch someone day in a day out over the course of several years, just like lose his battle with life, it makes you look at things differently.
HOST: I imagine. So what's next for you?
GUEST: What's next for me? I mean, well, I am the host of LabelFree Podcast. I'm the head coach and founding partner of the female podcasters network. So I'm all about supporting women space and uplifting their voices and making sure that you know helping them get to the next level. So what's next for me is you know probably being more of a keynote speaker around things and I'm passionate about the things that matter especially the stay-in age you know and I would like to write a book. I'm just I'm just so overwhelmed by it. Overwhelmed by the thought of it though so you know I mean well I'm lucky enough to have a man at this point in my life that is he is wonderful feel super protected in every which way that supports me and whatever I want to do. So you know, it's, you know, it's all like the sky's the limit, I guess at this point.
HOST: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to hang out with me a little bit today and share your very vulnerable story. I appreciate you so much.
GUEST: I appreciate you, Terry. Thank you.