Why Jana Kramer Didn't Speak About Abuse for 10 Years: 'I Was Afraid People Would Judge Me'

Jana Kramer is speaking out about being a victim of domestic abuse in hopes that other women in her position will realize they're not alone

LBD Wines and LBD Wines Spokesperson Jana Kramer Host Mentoring Session with Dress for Success Client in Chicago
Photo: Jeff Schear/Getty

Jana Kramer is speaking out about surviving domestic violence in hopes that other women in her position realize they’re not alone.

The singer and actress discussed why she waited nearly a decade to share her secret: her first husband, Michael Gambino, abused her so badly it landed him in prison for attempted murder.

“I was afraid to tell my story,” Kramer told PEOPLE Saturday at the Windy City Smokeout Festival in Chicago. “There were about 10 years that I didn’t speak about it because I was afraid people would judge me, or they would try to turn it around. That’s how a lot of women are in abusive relationships feel — that it’s their fault.”

RELATED VIDEO: Jana Kramer: I Thought My Abusive Relationship Was ‘My Fault’

The former Dancing with the Stars competitor, 33, said that since speaking out about the terrifying ordeal she endured, other victims have opened up to her with their own experiences.

“There are so many women who’ve said, ‘Thank you for coming out and talking about your story, you’re a survivor,’ and they share their stories. Which, some people say, ‘This is my first time sharing,’ or ‘You’re giving a voice to something that shouldn’t be held inside, because that’s not going to help you grow in the future,’ ” she explained. “Whether it’s one or 20 people, it’s just really nice that I’ve given people the opportunity to share their voice. To be around to share it is a cool thing.”

LBD Wines and LBD Wines Spokesperson Jana Kramer Host Mentoring Session with Dress for Success Client in Chicago
Jeff Schear/Getty

Kramer teamed up with Little Black Dress Wines — in collaboration with Dress for Success — to host the not-for-profit organization’s client, Keisha Wilson, backstage at her Chicago tour stop. In addition to connecting with a fan who has overcome similar hardships, Kramer and LBD Wines will also participate in fundraising and awareness efforts through a PSA, auction, engagement with Dress for Success clients and social media outreach encouraging followers to donate $20 to the non-profit’s Open Door Project.

“Once I found out the organizations LBD has partnered with, I was really excited about the opportunities I could have with them, not just posting wine pictures on Instagram … it’s so much more than that. And Dress for Success is all about empowering women, especially women that need clothes to be able to go to find jobs and again to lift women up, I think that’s such a powerful statement,” Kramer said.

“When I got to meet Keisha, I had a personal connection with her too because she’s also a survivor of domestic violence, so I got to hear her story and the confidence that she now has. Knowing she had Dress for Success to help her find that strength is really, really powerful. And she looked beautiful! She’s really happy and in a great place. It’s really great to see women help other women.”

RELATED GALLERY: A Day in the Life with Jana Kramer: Raising Awareness of Domestic Violence with Safe Horizon

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Next up for the “I Got the Boy” singer? New music in just a few short weeks.

“I have a new single coming out in August and I’m so excited,” Kramer told PEOPLE. “I’ve written a handful, but the song that’s being released is by Nicolle Galyon and Shane McAnally. It’s one of those songs where you’re like, ‘Wow, I’ve been through it but I still love to love.’ I’m far from done with country music … I always sang country music, I’ll always sing country music but I’m going to do it in my way.”

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