My first personal experience with a victim of domestic abuse and violence was in my early twenties.
I met a stunning woman who worked at my office and we became friends. Betty (not her real name) had long, glossy dark hair, porcelain skin, dark blue eyes and a slender figure. One beautiful spring day I expressed admiration at how lovely she was. She made a strange grimace and said, “I didn’t always look like this.” I chuckled, “What, a little gilding on the lily?” She grew pensive and I suddenly realized this was hard for her. I quickly assured her I didn’t mean to pry. She said, “No, you are a friend,” and she told me her story.
She married a man who was ten years older. Although she had no idea at the time that this was not the usual way to express love, he spent the next five years of their marriage isolating and tearing her down through emotional abuse. By the time they had a child, the abuse had become physical, but she was afraid to leave. He said he would kill her if she ever left, and she believed him.
One night when her son was four, the physical abuse was aimed at him and she finally fought back. She never had before. She said, “It was like it was what he was waiting for.”
He beat her until she was nearly unconscious. Neighbors called and when the police came and saw the pitiful wreck he had left of her on the floor, they arrested her husband and called an ambulance for her. Their son was a few feet away, screaming and crying as he hid behind the couch.
Her husband had fractured her jaw, both orbital sockets, broken several of her ribs, her collarbone, two bones in her arm and had punched her in the mouth, dislodging her upper teeth. Her sight was forever compromised and the months of surgery to restore functionality were eclipsed by the years of surgeries she needed to recover her appearance.
He served three years of a ten-year sentence and then began trying to find her.
She changed her name and occupation, and avoided photography of any kind…just in case.
Betty told me this story, mostly with her head down, as if she was afraid to see some kind of condemnation.
Most don’t understand how fear of the unknown (loss of security, income, even access to a car) is more frightening than abuse. Fear of the known… “He will kill me and my children if I leave,” is even worse. Women who have not experienced violence or abuse often think it is because they are smarter, stronger, more informed and that this shields them. They don’t understand why a woman would stay with her abuser. They also don’t realize that abusive relationship patterns surface as early as high school.
I assure you, it can happen to anyone. It can happen to me, you, your sister. mother, daughter, even your son…anyone.
Kali’ is a philanthropist and member of several Austin, Texas nonprofit boards. She recently joined the Texas Advocacy Project Board of Directors and is involved in providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence, teen dating violence and sexual assault. One in four women in America will experience abuse from an intimate partner in their lifetime.