Abused, not broken: Untold stories of domestic violence

While domestic violence occurs across boundaries of race, class, and gender, Black women are disproportionately affected. African-American women only make up about 13 percent of U.S. women, but comprise about half of female homicide victims — the majority of whom were killed by current or former boyfriends or husbands.

According to Justice Bureau statistics, African-American women are victimized by domestic violence at rates about 35 percent higher than white women.

“Black women are really impacted around violence as a whole, where we’re talking about domestic violence, trafficking, or sexual violence,” said Tiffany Turner-Allen, program director at UJIMA, the National Center on Violence in the Black Community. “The numbers skew very high.”

For years, the enduring of domestic abuse was a secret many Black women chose not to share. But now, with social media and more and more people destigmatizing the shame, Black women are getting bolder in sharing their stories – in hopes that it will help others.

In observance of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Defender talked with women who have endured domestic violence. From high school dropouts to professional women who are pillars of their community, these women share why they stayed….and how they found the courage to leave.

Leslie: “I stayed in the abusive relationship because I was afraid and I didn’t know what to do – as I look back on it I am not sure why I was afraid because he had already become hateful and violent. He threatened to kill himself and me and my family if I left. Eventually, I decided death would be better – if he killed me, oh well. And, honestly the world would be better without him if he killed himself. I relocated, lost my scholarship, had to start over. I saw years later that he had been arrested for assaulting someone else. I should have killed him when I had the chance.

Tiffany: “Unless you’ve been in an abusive situation, you have NO IDEA how hard it really is to get out. Trying to escape, actually, is the most dangerous time in the ‘relationship’. An abuser doesn’t just hurt you physically. They actually prey on the seemingly weak, those with low self esteem, those with an already troubled past, etc. (because they are in fact weak). They will then blow her head up with all kinds of nice things, words, actions, etc to gain her trust. During this time, they could already be inflicting emotional, psychological and/or verbal abuse…nothing physical yet. When the physical abuse starts, it minimal at first and is almost always followed by “heartfelt” apologies and gifts. When they start escalating the physical abuse, they almost always throw in threats of further harm of children and/or close family members if the secret is revealed. So the woman won’t tell because 1. she’s embarrassed 2. she’s afraid of what he’ll do to her and 3. she’s afraid that he’ll make good on the extra threats of family harm. Once he knows she won’t tell, he continues with the pattern of beating and making up. If you’ve ever heard of “Stockholm’s Syndrome”, you can liken these situations to that because she is being held against her will but psyches herself into believing that this situation is loving, and during the “good times” that he loves her and vice versa. I am speaking from experience. I got away though.That thing is real. God has seen me through some really tough times. FYI…a mobile device, even when deactivated (no mobile service) can still reach 911. Just dial and push the phone out of the way and let them hear your situation if you can’t speak. It could mean the difference between life and death.”

Rebecca: “I experienced verbal and mental abuse in the beginning. He was controlling and didn’t want me to have a life outside of him. I stayed because I loved him, he was my fiancé and I thought he would change. We started going to counseling together. That didn’t work. I left when the abuse became physical. I knew that I loved myself more and I deserved better.”

Nakki: “I left because I didn’t want my daughter to think that it’s okay for someone to claim to love you and subsequently hurt you.”

Lecia: “When I started dating this guy, people would tell me he is not for you. He alienated me from my family. My kids hated him. He cheated and had three babies on me. Yet, I stayed. I can’t tell you why honestly. I could only go to work and home. He did not want my kids’ father in their lives. For almost 10 years I put up with this. He fired a gun beside my head. I have war wounds – internally and externally. His mother even urged me to get out of the relationship. The last straw came one day when I was late returning from the beauty shop. He was mad because I didn’t answer my phone and we started fighting. My daughter called 911, but both of us went to jail. I decided that day was it.”

Bernice: “I wasn’t physically abused, but emotionally and verbally. I looked at myself one morning and didn’t recognize myself. I just started to cry. I was overweight. I wore my hair like he wanted, made the decisions he wanted me to, dressed like he wanted, while being told I was unattractive and worthless. He told me I wasn’t a good mother to our four kids…Meanwhile, I didn’t just bring home the bacon, I was out there slaughtering the hogs and making Gordon Ramsay-like meals with premium bacon. He was living in my home, barely paying any bills but relegated me to a worthless add-on to his harem of hoochies…My last straw was this summer. My mother lost her battle but gained her crown in heaven. I was absolutely broken. The night of the funeral, he pulled me away from my family and friends to ask me about the insurance money…So, as I say goodbye to him and hello to freedom (and child support), I’m finally happy.”

Kelly: “I have been married for 25 years (still married) and most of the relationship has been emotionally and verbally abusive on his part. I am in the process of finally walking away as my children are grown, but I have always longed to have a loving, caring husband and it just didn’t happen for me. I have been called so many things – fat, cow, stupid and anything else you can think of. I have also been financially abused: he withheld money from me (even though I have always made my own) and saves all of his money while I had to help my children. I spent many nights in the bathroom crying or seeing an ugly, fat person in the mirror. It is a thing that takes you through so many emotions, it becomes psychological. I am still standing, but just getting the strength to move on. Wish me luck!”

Dawn: “I was in a 20-year marriage with a very abusive and angry man. We met when I was 25 and a struggling single parent. He came into the relationship doing all the right things and providing security. After a year we moved in together and the abuse started but by this time we had combined our families and were raising five children. The more mature and successful I became the more frequent and violent the abuse became. After every accomplishment I achieved…I would get severely beaten. I stayed for the children, the material possessions, fear that I couldn’t make it on my own. In 2013 after almost being disfigured and/or killed, I left the relationship, walked away from everything and moved 500 miles away. Through it all GOD …spared my life and continued to provide for me!”

Ricquia: “I thought I was in love. I was 17 and he showed me all of the attention that I didn’t get at home. I stayed for six years because I thought he loved me. He threw me through a glass window for locking the door too fast after he left. That was the final straw for me. I left because I refused to allow our two sons to see a man treat a woman that way. I refused to raise them to become him. I left for my children. The best decision I could’ve ever made.”

Dail: “I was physically abused on the regular. I hear people say all the time that they would do this or that but the truth is you don’t know what you would do unless you live it. I stayed because I had two toddlers, and thought I was dependent on him financially. So I stayed because I thought I was trapped in this situation. Finally after crying myself to sleep one night I woke up, and I mean I woke up. I tapped into resources I never knew were available to me and made that move with my children. It was not easy being a single parent. I struggled (I did everything in my power to show them we were fine), worked two jobs, walked to work, and did what I had to do. Today they are 38 and 41. They do not remember the struggles and are well-balanced, good children that I am proud of.”

Kim: “I was 21 and had just lost my first love and father of my child to a car-jacking. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally and him being nearly 10 years my senior, knew it. He is a classic predator! He treated me and my child with so much love that first year I fell head over heels! The physical abuse was the last to manifest. First, it was a mental. Second, it was emotional and last, physical. I stayed because he had a hard-luck story about his childhood and I thought that I could be the one to show him what real loyalty and love looks like. I left him several times but always went back for one reason or another…didn’t have enough money, who would want me with a kid (something he drilled into my head on a regular basis), who would love me like he did, etc…I stayed for six long and lonely years until I prayed to God for enough strength to leave him for good.”

Nerissa: “I stayed because I thought as a Christian, I could pray my way through it and it would get better. I left when I realized no amount of prayer was going to change him and that he did not feed my soul. I was giving my children the worst lesson on what love looked and felt like.”

Abbie: “I had low self-esteem. He was powerful. I got new shoes after each incident, make-up sex was off the chain. I was terrified. I felt sorry for him. He came from an abusive family. His ex warned me and I wanted to prove her wrong. I wanted a father/family for a child I adopted. He made good money. He was my soulmate. I could go on forever on why I stayed. It lasted five years and I couldn’t take it anymore. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my adopted son asked me why I stayed.”