CHARLOTTE, NC (Rick Bonnell/The Charlotte Observer) - Every time she watched another survivor tell her story, Brittney Bogues couldn't help but cry.
There was the woman beaten so badly she lost hearing in her left ear. The college professor with an expertise in domestic violence who still ended up a victim. A woman being dragged by her hair and thrown off a balcony.
And yet, there was hope, too, in the public awareness project Brittney oversaw as Community Outreach Coordinator at Charlotte-based Safe Alliance. Each of these victims had volunteered to tell her story of domestic or sexual violence to the public. Brittney's passion for this issue was reinforced by friends reaching out to her for help in recovering from abuse.
This had a profound effect on Brittney, the daughter of iconic Charlotte Hornets point guard Muggsy Bogues. It inspired her to tell her own story, sharing a secret she had kept from her family for nearly a decade. And that proved to be a life-changing experience.
"I said, 'If these women were brave enough to share their story, then why shouldn't I share mine?' Brittney said.
Now 31, Brittney recounted being attacked by a former boyfriend when she was a college student at Wake Forest in 2007. She says the man she'd dated at a Maryland high school choked her in a sudden fit of rage after a party at his home.
"Bruises go away," she says now, "but what he did to me still haunts me."
You might have seen Brittney Bogues if you were a fan of the original Charlotte Hornets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her dad, a former Wake Forest star, was the shortest player ever to be drafted into the NBA at 5-3.
Brittney was often courtside before or after games. One of her early playmates was the son of Hornet Dell Curry, Stephen Curry, who would grow up to become the NBA's Most Valuable Player. One of her first babysitters was another original Hornet, Rex Chapman.
Brittney and her brother went to an elite private high school in Baltimore when she lived there with her mom, Kim, after her parents divorced. She went on to Wake Forest, but stayed in close contact with a circle of high school friends.
She was visiting those friends in Maryland the summer between her sophomore and junior years when she was invited to a party at the home of a man she had dated in high school.
After that party, Brittney was supposed to spend the night with a friend from high school, Jaclynn Cross. But Cross, who was at a different party that night, later fell asleep at home and did not hear Brittney's phone call. Brittney said her former boyfriend persuaded her to spend the night in one of twin beds in his bedroom.
Once the two were sitting – separately, each on a twin bed, she said – he asked why they weren't still a couple. The two had parted amicably years earlier, Brittney said.
She said she told him she didn't want to rekindle the relationship.
Then, Brittney said, he broke into a rage. Pacing back and forth, he threw his cell phone at a wall, shattering it. Then, she said, he lunged at her.
"I was trying to grab my stuff and get out of the room. He pushed me on the bed that he was on and started choking me," Brittney said.
"He had his hands wrapped around my neck, and I did my best to pull him off me. I don't know what snapped in him, but he stopped."
She recalled grabbing her bag and sprinting to her car in terror.
"I feared for my life," Brittney said. "Once he did stop and I got away, I felt ashamed, like I deserved it, but I don't know why. I felt so alone because I didn't want to tell anybody. I didn't want them judging me. I felt hopeless, which is totally not like me."
Fear, anxiety, distancing
She spent the night with another friend before driving to Cross's home the next morning. She hadn't slept that night, and Cross spent several hours trying to help Brittney compose herself.
Brittney confided first in Cross, and then another high school friend, Gina Bourne, over the two days following the attack. Both corroborated that Brittney had told them what happened then.
"Totally and completely distraught. She was crying so much and I was just trying to calm her down," Cross said. "She was in shock, and really broken at that point."
Cross said that the marks were still visible on Brittney's neck that day.
Both friends suggested she tell her parents what happened, but she decided against it.
Brittney considered filing a police report, but ultimately decided not to.
"I did think about filing a restraining order, but I knew I was going back to school (in Winston-Salem). I thought (asking for a protective order) was a lot of stress," she said.
"You can get a restraining order, but if the officers don't enforce it, how helpful is it? You can have a piece of paper that says, 'Please stay away from me,' but what if they still harass me and no one enforces it?"
Brittney took other steps to avoid any potential contact with the man she said attacked her.
"I know there was a lot of distancing from him. And from some other folks who hung out with us," said Bourne, her friend. "She didn't go out to certain places, for fear he would be there. She was very wary of putting herself in a situation where this could happen again."
The Observer has been unable to talk with the man Brittney said attacked her. A telephone message left at a relative's home (his last known residence) was not returned. Several other phone numbers for him or his relatives were either no longer in service or had no message system and messages sent through social media were not returned.
Feared being judged
Brittney didn't get counseling sessions until two years ago, after she went to work at Safe Alliance. Instead, she mostly leaned on close friends.
"It's traumatizing," she said. "It makes you feel like you're not worth anything. You're not sure what's next. Will the next person beat me, too?"
Krystin Jacobs, a women's counselor at Turning Point, a Monroe-based center aiding domestic abuse victims, said such feelings of confusion and misplaced shame are common. Jacobs said it's important for women to tell their stories publicly, to reinforce the message that victims are not to blame for these incidents.
"That they are not alone, that they are not the problem that causes this or excuses this," Jacobs said. "In group therapy, people learn that you're not doing everything wrong because this has happened to you."
Besides working on the "Share Your Story" project at Safe Alliance, Brittney also heard from others.
She referred three friends for counseling and other services, including a request for a restraining order, she said.
"Once I saw friends go through this cycle, I thought, 'Maybe I should share this on a larger platform,' " Brittney said.
Last summer, she approached the online publication the Huffington Post, about writing a commentary about the attack in Maryland, and her recovery. But before that could happen, she had to take a major step:
Finally telling her parents.
'100 percent supportive'
Brittney showed up at her parents' home one afternoon in October 2016. She found them in the kitchen, and asked them to sit at the breakfast table for an important discussion.
After divorcing in 1997, Kim and Muggsy had remarried in 2015 and live in south Charlotte.
Kim and Muggsy knew Brittney's former boyfriend well from when the two had dated.
"I'm thinking about sharing something very publicly, and I need to tell you about it..." Brittney began.
As she told them about the attack, Kim started crying, surprised Brittney had never before shared this. Muggsy looked shocked and withdrawn, Brittney recalled. Then, as both parents composed themselves, Kim told Brittney there was nothing in the future she couldn't share with them. Muggsy hugged Brittney, saying, "I love you and I'm proud of you."
"We talked about it again on the phone the next day," Brittney said of her father. "He told me he understands why I waited, and to never be afraid to tell your story."
"For me, it was very devastating" initially to hear about this, Kim said. "We had such a close relationship. She would really share things (growing up) that was almost TMI (too much information).
"With time, I got it."
Muggsy needed time, too.
"I was angry, not about her not telling us, but about what happened," he said. "I had to let all that go. Once I digested it, I understood. I processed it, that this was part of her growth."
'It's not you'
Today, Brittney Bogues says the anxiety and fear she felt after that attack is gone.
She says she is in a strong relationship with a man who shares her religious faith. She recently took a new job with Junior Achievement in fundraising. Among her long-term goals: To become a lobbyist regarding domestic violence and victims' rights.
She says the biggest lesson she learned is how her own tendency to be a people-pleaser contributed to a dysfunctional relationship that eventually became violent.
"I heard this expression – 'You can't pour from an empty cup' – and thought 'That is it! I'm pouring all of myself into other people, but no one is pouring themselves into me, so how can I be myself?'
"So, I started pouring into myself. I want to lobby and consult on things. I want to show people that if we come together for change, we can really see change."
Brittney says she received heartfelt positive response to her commentary in the Huffington Post, including a Tweet from her dad that read, "So proud of my daughter," with a picture of them together after a playoff game in the 1990s.
"It's been fabulous. At Safe Alliance, I learned not only to be passionate about something, but also to live the mission," Brittney says. "I took all the things I'm passive about, and made it active."
The message Brittney most hopes to spread?
"It's not you, no matter what someone is telling you. You didn't ask for this and you didn't deserve it," she says. "Nothing you do or say would justify someone putting their hand on you."