NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For years, Karrine Steffans was one of the most sought after video vixens in the hip hop industry. In the late '90s and early 2000s she had roles in more than 20 projects by multiplatinum-selling rap artists, appearing alongside the likes of Jay Z, Puff Daddy, Mystikal and R. Kelly.
Then in 2005, she harnessed her celebrity status to write "Confessions of a Video Vixen," a stark account of her hard life growing up in the U.S. Virgin Islands with an abusive mother to her days atop the music field and the abusive relationships she had endured throughout. She also chronicled her trysts with several of the artists she worked with, landing on The New York Times Best Seller list as two more books followed.
Nowadays, Steffans no longer performs on a video set. She stands at a lectern, telling her story to students on college campuses, hoping this time around people will look beyond the celebrity and hear her out about the ongoing fight against domestic violence and abuse.
In June, the 37-year-old published "Vindicated: Confessions of a Video Vixen, Ten Years Later," her latest memoir. The book newly explores her personal journey, this time in a more toned-down manner. And it focuses on her on-and-off relationship with her famous child star ex-husband and the continued cycle of abuse she said she withstood.
"This is not a metamorphosis," said Steffans in an interview with The Associated Press during a recent visit to New Orleans. "I haven't morphed into an advocate against domestic violence. I've always been this way."
She said when she wrote "Confessions" and talked about the domestic violence she faced as a child — no one cared. "Why? Because a woman's life isn't valued, especially if she is also a sexual being," she said matter of factly. " ... I've been talking about this since 2005 but no one's been listening."
In "Confessions" Steffans describes the hardships she suffered as a child of an abusive mother and the abuse she suffered later in life, including a severe beating that left her with cracked ribs.
Steffans was a guest lecturer at Dillard University in New Orleans as part of the university's acknowledgment of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She said she's been developing a college curriculum based on "violence as a language" for years, primarily at California State University-Dominguez Hills.
"The question everyone wants an answer to is 'Why don't we just leave?'" she said of abusive relationships. "It's very difficult to explain to someone the psychological phenomenon. I wanted to find a way to help people understand why victims stay, sometimes until their death."
One of the issues she's focusing on now is social media and how "violence as a language" feeds into domestic abuse. She said obvious signs of abuse — busted lips, broken bones — are easy to recognize.
"I think people are less aware of the seeds they plant that lead to those more grotesque forms of violence. And I wanted to start and center my lectures around judgment and the idea of people thinking they have the right to share their opinions on everything all the time," she said, adding social media can be harmful in that way.
"We have millions of people shouting angry things into the ether and they're not thinking about the seeds they're planting and the cracks they're creating in other people's armor. That violent language creates cracks in people's esteem, allowing aggressors and abusers to sneak in."
She said she hopes her views will help people "be kinder to each other."
Steffans said she endured the backlash of music artists and others she wrote about in her first book, but she still doesn't understand all the outrage. After all, she said, she was just telling her story.
"When rappers talk about their life, the drug use, the women they run through, it's all good. When I do it, there's a problem. I'm telling the exact same story," she said.
Those stories are now helping her transition to another career. Several of her books have been optioned for film and television.
Ten years later, she said, she's in a healthy, happy relationship and finally comfortable in her skin: "My destiny has nothing to do with anybody else's ideas of me. If God has a plan for me, what man can ruin that? No one is strong enough. That's what I want people to understand."