It’s a sobering statistic, but for many of us, that’s all it is: just a statistic. I was that way before I learned that nightmares can become real for anybody.
According to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in 12 men will be abused by their intimate partners at some point in their lifetimes. According to Sheltering Wings, a shelter for domestic violence victims, domestic abuse costs Indiana taxpayers $30,000 per family. According to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there were 79 deaths due to domestic violence from July 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, the last year statistics were available.
According to Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, about 8 million people are involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships. Women are 10 times more likely than men to be assaulted by a partner or a spouse. About two-thirds of men who kill their wives have been drinking. Almost 25 percent have been using drugs. Only a mere 12 percent, like my ex, have a history of mental illness.
4/15/07, Day 1, 9:43 p.m.
I’m sitting in the overflow room at a Salvation Army shelter, reflecting on the past few weeks and wondering how my life has come to this. The honeymoon phase is over — my fiancé is now my ex; I’m working through verbal, financial, physical, emotional and sexual abuse; he’s threatened to kill me and told me how he’ll do it. I’m on the run.
here’s a certain degree of irony. I used to volunteer for and alongside the Salvation Army. Now I’m receiving services from them.
I’m angry at myself — how could this have happened? I have a college education — how could I be a victim of domestic abuse? If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone — a disconcerting thought. A staff member tries to comfort me by saying I’ve shown my intelligence by asking for help, but the questions still gnaw at me.
In my defense, I was severely ill with psychotic depression. My judgment was impaired. I was often delusional. He was always there, always advocating for me, always making sure I received the treatment I needed.
Then, in spite of a court order, he went off his medication, claiming, “Medication can’t do nothing Jesus can’t do.”
4/16/07, Day 2, 8:03 a.m.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I dreamed he tried to sodomize me as I ran from him. I tried to fight him off, but he was just too big. I started screaming, then woke up in a sweat. “This is a safe place,” I remind myself.
I am confused. Should I file a protective order, or will that just provoke him? How do I know I’m not the problem? Why do I still love him?
There are more questions than answers.
4/16/07, Day 2, 8:19 p.m.
I attended high school at Heritage Christian, where I showed great aptitude in my Bible class. In college I was a religion minor — more Bible classes. The sad thing about the Bible is that its emphasis on women’s rights, laborers’ rights, justice for the poor and liberation of the oppressed often gets lost in translation.
For example, Malachi 2:16 reads, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not lose faith.” This passage has been used to keep women like me in abusive relationships. However, the word for “himself” can also be translated as “his wife.” In fact, the entire passage is addressing men who break their marriage vows, by violence or infidelity.
My ex gave me a plaque with a Bible verse on it, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. For some reason, I replaced the word “love” with his name (please try this). “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I realized it was time to rethink the relationship when I started snickering.
4/17/07, Day 3, 10:41 a.m.
The shelter is actually a step up from the Indianapolis Housing Agency building where I was living. It’s not infested with bedbugs, there’s no drug activity, there’s no prostitution and security is tight. Most important, I feel safe. There’s time to reflect and learn from my mistakes.
One of my ex’s favorite things to do was make prank phone calls, especially to group homes run by Midtown Community Mental Health Center, a division of Wishard Health Services. One woman was so shaken by one of his calls that she was involuntarily admitted to Wishard’s psychiatric ward, which amused him but horrified me. When I told him it wasn’t funny, he replied, “She deserves it.” It was a clear sign of an emotional abuser.
He also loved to sneak into my bathroom, pull back the shower curtain, yell, “Peek-a boo!” and photograph me — which he kept doing in spite of my requests he quit. He enjoyed grabbing and twisting my breasts. He referred to me as “my bitch,” “my whore” and various body parts as “mine.” He wanted an open relationship, stating, “If I bring a girl home, no questions asked.” He was convinced I was bisexual and would cheat on him with another woman. He insisted I “like” things such as lesbian porn, anal play and voyeurism. They were signs of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
He also bragged about people who came to early ends and implied he had a hand in several murders. He told me how to commit the perfect murder in our apartment complex. He threatened to “put [me] in the morgue” and to have his friends “crack [my] skull.” This time I recognized the danger I was in and ran.
4/17/07, Day 3, 9:31 p.m.
Misery breeds all kinds of evil.
There is some racial tension here. Conflict occurs often, especially between the mothers and their children. All of us, me included, are under a lot of stress, and we’re taking it out on each other and ourselves. Staff is swamped and resources are strained. It’s not a pleasant situation, but I’ve been in worse.
The stress and reality of the past week are catching up with me. One thing I’ve noticed is that the loss of a relationship, even an abusive one, has a period of grieving similar to that of death. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. I feel like I’ve moved from denial to anger. There’s something about seeing what I’ve been through in writing that forces me to realize the sheer hell of it.
I spend a lot of time praying and reading my Bible. My Christian faith and the support of Midtown staff are a great deal of comfort to me. I just hope they’re enough.
4/18/07, Day 4, 2:42 p.m.
Jesus once asked a disabled man, “Do you want to get well?” It sounds like an odd question. Now I think I know what it means; I am amazed at the number of people who don’t seem to want help. Last night there was a domestic abuse support group — only five people attended. There was also a self-defense class — same five people, only one of whom wanted to learn self-defense. I wonder how many of the other residents will end up back with their abuser — or another abuser.
4/18/07, Day 4, 8:31 p.m.
I met with my case manager, Lisa, today. She told me that the average domestic abuse survivor receives 17 interventions before leaving for good.
I remember how I didn’t know I was being abused until I saw a sign on my social worker’s door — “Taking my money is abuse. Stop it.” — and asked her about it. This was literally the day after my ex “borrowed” $100 from me to go meet his Internet girlfriend in Marion, Ill. My social worker replied that she was wondering how long it was going to be before we had that talk — she’d noticed signs of emotional abuse long ago. “My professional recommendation” — she’d never used that phrase with me — “is that you end this relationship.” I couldn’t have done it without her.
I still wonder if I did the right thing by coming here — I feel like I’m just taking up a bed that could be used by someone in a worse situation than mine. Lisa told me emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse, that I did the right thing, and not to worry about bed space. Under the law and the Salvation Army’s ideology, they can’t turn any domestic abuse victim away.
4/20/07, Day 6
I went to the City-County Building today to file a petition for a protective order. In order to do this, I had to go to Court 21, which is located in the East Wing of the fifth floor.
“Has he harmed you or put you in fear of your life?” asks the woman behind the desk. I answer yes, and she hands me some paperwork. I start to fill it out in my “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” style. Suddenly, an intake officer walks by, asks how I’m doing and glances at my paperwork. She tells me that intake staff can help me write it. I accept the offer.
She tells me to call back on Monday to find out if there will be a hearing — I hope not. I leave, hoping they’ll grant the order.
4/21/07, Day 7, 6:36 p.m.
When I was in Court 21, I heard the receptionist say, “Why do you keep going back?” a derivative of “Why doesn’t she just leave?” According to FOCUS ministries, this is a “blame the victim” mentality. What we should be asking is “What’s wrong with that man?” or “Why hasn’t the violence stopped?”
But to answer the first two questions, there are many reasons: confusion, fear, self-blame, shame and embarrassment, a need to protect the abuser, dissociation from the pain, denial of reality, fear for children and/or pets, lack of support and false hope. In my case, it was confusion (my ex is the most romantic man I know), self-blame (I was convinced I was the violent and manipulative one) and denial of reality (I didn’t believe I was being abused). It was only when I saw the sign on my social worker’s door that I realized something was wrong.
4/23/07, Day 9, 12:01 p.m.
The judge denied my request for a protective order. No reason given. According to the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office, the most common reasons are: the parties do not fit the legal definition of “family or household member” (which must be a great consolation to cohabitants and those in same-sex relationships); the parties do not meet Indiana residency or employment requirements; the allegations do not meet the definition of “domestic or family violence,” “stalking” or “sex offense”; vague allegations; hearsay; failure to provide the accused person’s correct date of birth or Social Security number.
Once again I’ve turned to my faith for comfort. I remember when I was working with some missionaries in Haiti, how one of them, Jeanne DeTellis, told me about her “stubborn hope.” She is Rh-negative, while her husband is Rh-positive. This is treatable today, but without proper medical treatment it can threaten the life of an unborn child. Said treatment did not exist at the time and out of eight children, she lost four. Shortly after giving birth to yet another stillborn baby — literally after the nurse told her this child was dead — she began to sing a hymn of praise. She acknowledged that her situation was painful, and she praised God for his ability to ease that pain.
I’m not a spiritual giant like that. I will yell, scream, swear and get angry — but then I’ll feel a sense of peace. I guess it’s the calm within the eye of the storm.
Besides, Jesus didn’t have much luck with the legal system, either.
4/25/07, Day 11, 10:57 p.m.
It’s outrageous — I have few rights in this system. It feels like my ex has more rights than I do. I can’t get a protective order. I can’t relocate without consequences — IHA wants to charge me a month’s rent for breaking the lease since I can’t prove the abuse happened. And I can’t have him IDed (put on immediate detention for mental health reasons), which really angers me.
I’ve been at Midtown for about a year, and they’ve IDed me twice — the first time for wanting to hurt myself, the second time for saying, “I want to get a gun and shoot every motherfucker that ever messed with me!” The second time I had no means or intention to carry out my threat — I simply lost my temper in front of the wrong person — but it was enough to get a police escort to Wishard for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. My ex threatened to kill a specific person, said how he’d do it, has the means to do it and has a history of violence — facts well known to Midtown staff — and one of their social workers said, “There’s nothing I can do.” The only answer I can get is, “We’re working to handle the situation. We can’t tell you what we’re doing because of confidentiality, but we’ll take care of it.” Of course, none of them can testify for me about the abuse because it’d violate his rights.
I used to believe “The system works if you make it work.” Now the cold, cruel reality has hit — it won’t work for me.
4/26/07, Day 12, 4:42 p.m.
I may be out of here soon. I was approved by an apartment complex owned by a faith-based organization. I filled out the paperwork today, passed the credit and background checks, and should be able to move in tomorrow. It’s almost too good to be true.
I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I want to help the other residents here — many of them are still trapped in the cycle of abuse. Some of the women here will return to their abusers. Others will find another relationship, most likely to another abuser. Many of the kids here are likely to continue the cycle — the boys as abusers, the girls as victims. It’s heartbreaking.
On the other hand, I’m in the same boa