"Letters, I get letters, I get stacks and stacks of letters ... " Perry Como used to croon from his stool. I get stacks of letters, too, but mine do not request songs to be hummed. My letters relate to a subject that few songs are written about -- domestic violence.

Now I can just hear some of you grumbling "Oh no, not THAT again! But it hasn't disappeared and, since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it seems appropriate to share some disturbing and also inspiring thoughts about this national crime.

Wife abuse is the principal cause of injury to women, and experts know that "Woman abuse is child abuse." A woman is beaten at least every 15 seconds by a man she knows and loves. Thousands of women die every year at the violent hands of these "loved ones."

Many victims of domestic violence are beginning to be heard and are making changes in their lives that affect the multitudes -- themselves, their families and the world. "Love doesn't have to hurt," "You can't beat a woman!" and "Family violence hurts everyone" are becoming familiar expressions associated with the topic of domestic violence. Spousal abuse is no longer a crime hidden entirely behind closed doors.

Five years ago, my life as a victim of this crime became public during what I naively hoped was going to be a routine divorce case anonymously processed through the bowels of the Montgomery County court system. I learned that "routine" is not a word that adequately describes a divorce that ends up in court, especially when one is divorcing a very smart and powerful man who battered. "Settling out of court" or even court-ordered mediation rarely -- if ever -- works successfully. An abusive man is unable to relinquish the control that was the underlying factor in his violent behavior toward his spouse and children. If he doesn't get his way, he will often be stingy and vindictive. Unfortunately, the court systems have not yet learned the dynamics of family violence and often further traumatize victims by their decisions.

Because I was married to a powerful Washington attorney, my "case" -- an odd name to describe the end of a marriage -- created a stir and I became a "reluctant advocate" to victims of this violent crime.

How and why did all this happen? I am still not sure. People told me, "God only sends us what we can handle." In this case He served us a full platter heaped high with challenges and then sent us some help. Our family and friends were and are always there for us, but our unexpected support came from you.

So many of you wrote and called me expressing support, empathy, sadness, sympathy, hope and love. I have gained great strength from these encouraging words and prayers.

From the day the first letter arrived, I have felt that these "love letters" were not meant only for me. They are addressed to me, but I know they could have been written to any victim of domestic violence -- one person standing up for the rights of another.

Many have shared their own stories of abuse. Some recount sagas of their friends or family members who have endured controlling violence -- mental and physical -- and their respective fates. These are letters of caring, hope, survival and love of family and life.

The most inspiring are those that confirm what I have learned from my family's personal triumph: A person and, indeed, an entire family can survive the tragedy of domestic violence and go on to thrive and be genuinely happy and content.

To the many who have contacted me, I say "thank you" for offering your support. I have chosen to share some of your wisdom with others, since it is so bountiful and refreshingly free from bitterness:

A mother of three, whose husband was a "very successful businessman," wrote, "... people find wife abuse very hard to understand, especially why we stay ... I even have trouble understanding it ... I had a good education but lacked the courage to leave until 10 months ago ... it just seemed easier to keep everything to myself. Now that I am free, I don't know how I managed to keep my sanity. To everyone who knew us, we seemed to have everything ... I am finding peace and contentment for the first time. In one way, I am luckier than most. I came out of this emotionally stable ... maybe it's time for us to unite and let women know there is someone out there who does understand."

A woman "married over 50 years" wrote, "I am glad you were able to get away from the situation as early as you did {not early enough, though} ... I finally got away when I realized that my kids would have a murderer for a father if I did not get away when he tried to kill me. I didn't want them to have such a stigma on their lives and the lives of their children ... there were a few golden moments which made a better life appear possible ... there was the early dream which lends hopefulness ... as for "talking back," I didn't get into sarcastic remarks until ... after about 27 years of marriage ... I left many times ... finally I escaped to a "safe house" for battered wives ... when I said I must go back -- this poor old man could not be left alone -- the social workers tried to explain that circumstances could only get worse. They were right. ... I believe the sadness of a life like that bothers me mostly now. I cannot say 'wasted' since my children are living pretty capable and productive lives ... I need to have another life -- a reincarnation -- to be happy, loving and joyful in."

I received the following card from a gentleman: "This is a short note of support for you and your children ... You are a very strong and brave individual to be able to get out of your abusive situation. My mother was not {strong} and not able to get out of her situation with my father, so the abuse continues with them. I myself am getting therapy, because of the pain that I feel is still with me full force, even after all these years away from home ... continue to be strong ... an example to others in abusive situations that one can escape."

In 1988 a letter arrived from New England that said, "I was battered by my ex-husband ... I got out of the marriage after a year and didn't have any kids... but I thought we were married to the same man ... I have read every battered woman's story I could find, but yours was the closest to mine ... In our cases, we were both married to professional men ... It started with him banging his fist on a table or kicking a cupboard, then shaking me or throwing something in my direction (this was my first black eye) ... In the same breath, he would say, 'Look what you made me do,' and I believed it just as you did ... He became a real Jekyll and Hyde. When Jekyll was out, I played a great denial game about Hyde. When Hyde was out, I blamed myself for not making sure Jekyll stayed out ... I was unusual because I left ... most women stay. You're unusual, too, Charlotte -- because you had the courage to leave. People who don't understand probably think you were a masochist who chose to stay and that your options were clear. I had a job and no kids and found it hard to leave ... I've been happily married for almost three years and my past marriage seems like a nightmare that happened to someone else. Please drop me a note and tell me how you are doing ... "

Tears were shed when the following note arrived: "I divorced four years ago ... I am now 75 and though lonely at times, it is better than being miserable and worrying each day what the next will bring ... God bless you and your wonderful boys and may your future be only filled with health and happiness."

Space prohibits me from sharing more, and one of my regrets is that I have been unable to respond individually to everyone who has extended advocacy and love to me and through me to many others.

Yes, this is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Victims of this crime must realize that they have the right to live in a safe, loving home, but they need the courage to seek the help and strength to follow the road that leads to a life free from domestic violence. If my family and I could do it, I know that anyone can. I would like to leave you with these thoughts:

The Rights of a Battered Woman

I have the right not to be abused.

I have the right to anger over past beatings.

I have the right to choose to change the situation.

I have the right to freedom from fear of abuse

I have the right to request and expect assistance from police or social agencies.

I have the right to share my feelings and not be isolated from others.

I have the right to want a better role model of communication for my children.

I have the right to leave the battering environment.

I have the right to privacy.

I have the right to express my own thoughts and feelings.

I have the right to develop my individual talents and abilities.

I have the right to legally prosecute the abusing person.

I have the right not to be perfect.

I have the right to be.

Charlotte Fedders's story, "Shattered Dreams," was aired on television last May.