There was a time in my life that even thinking the sentence “I am a survivor of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE” would cause me deep pain and embarrassment. I was so deeply ashamed that I had gotten myself into “that situation”. I remember the moment that his mother looked at me and said, “Well you need to take your part in this too.” I was dumbfounded, I was sure that they would be horrified at the actions of their son. I remember actually questioning myself and thinking maybe I should hold fault, after all I wasn’t perfect. I could be moody; maybe I was “nagging” too much. I was the one who got pregnant…I was the one who stayed home to take care of the kids while he worked, so I had created the burden on him…I wasn’t the perfect cook…I could let the house get dirty…the laundry pile up…I didn’t always have the time to iron his clothes.
It took years for me to finally see that it was not my fault in any way, that my lack of some ill-perceived perfection was not the cause of his abuse. This shame should not belong to me. Then a series of extreme events steeled my determination to do something to change this. It was the morning of October 8, 2016. My husband, youngest son, and several family friends were in Kansas CIty for a fun weekend following my youngest son’s 15th birthday. I woke up that Sunday morning and was alerted to yet another mug shot of my ex husband. This was what we considered a “normal” event at this point. He had been arrested numerous times at this point for assaulting women. We had what you would call a “protocol” that we would follow.
Step 1. Go to the jail site to see if he was still being held there. If he was, we could breathe a sigh of relief until his family would inevitably bail him out. The longer that he was held meant the longer that everyone was safe.
Step 2. Go online and see if his charges were listed yet so we had a full understanding as to what we were dealing with.
Step 3. Check on the victim and see if there was anything that she needed.
Step 4. Prepare for the inevitable downfall and contact our attorney.
I vaguely remember saying no over and over again as I began to read the news reports. It was on every station, “Man arrested for shooting another man 5 times and beating a woman in a parking lot”, “Victim critical after shooting in a parking lot”. What was happening? This could not be real…Panic set in. Where are the children? Where were they? Did they know? I hate to admit it, but there was a moment that the thought crossed...did he do something to them too? Are they still alive? My hands shake even now as I remember that feeling and the relief when I finally heard their voices and knew that they were all safe. I was so mad… how could this happen? I should have pushed harder for people to listen, I should have been stronger when I had gone through this so many years ago. I had said on numerous occasions that he was going to shoot someone; I had honestly just assumed that it was going to be me. I had not mentally prepared myself for this development. How would my kids live with this? This pain and shame would now shift onto them because of a biological link. I imagined them as grown men having to explain to a future wife’s family why their biological dad would not be in attendance to their wedding. I imagined my future grandchildren asking about who their “real” grandfather is and why they had never met him.
A few months later the news was once again telling the story of a girl and her brutal murder in January at the hand of her fiancé. Then another, the murder of a woman and her unborn daughter at the hand of that child’s father. I saw the comments that people made about these victims in response to these tragedies and I saw the shame all over again. I saw the shame in the faces of my sons because of what their father had done. I saw comments people made asking these victims to “take their part” and I decided that enough was enough. I decided to speak openly, honestly, and often about what I had survived. I decided to push back and to challenge those who ask for victims to take their part. I wanted to protect any other victim from ever feeling what I felt, what so many who have shared their stories with me have felt. I was blessed with survival and I have to do something to change this so no one else has to feel like this, so my children will have something good that they can point to in response to this nightmare.
Now I can look back at that woman who felt all of that and smile with confidence in the woman that I have become. I am still not perfect, I am still moody, I am still the worst at ironing, my laundry still piles up, I’m only a slightly better cook and now I know that there is no way in the world that I could ever hold any blame for what he chose to do to me. He chose to do something horrible on his own; he is the only one that should hold any shame. I want others who have suffered at the hands of those that they loved to know this too. My story of abuse is no more or less horrific than anyone else who has experienced the nightmare of domestic violence. I never want to share my story and have someone think that their story is not as bad, or that what they have experienced is not as dangerous. It doesn’t matter how many times he hit me, how many times he put his hands around my throat to strangle me, how many times he pushed me, how often he terrorized me, stalked me, or called me names. What makes domestic violence traumatic, or painful, or devastating is not simply the number of broken bones or bruises sustained by the person but the continued psychological and re-victimization that survivors must endure from so many directions.
I went through my experience alone in some respects, I had friends and family for support but no one who understood fully what was happening to me. I remember thinking over and over "they just don't get it" people would say things thinking it was helpful but they didn't "get it". I couldn't just move on, I couldn't just get over it, it wasn't that simple. I needed to know that I was normal, that all the feelings were normal. I want all who experience this to know this, I am here for you. I will continue to speak as often as I'm given the chance with the hope that you will hear me and know you're not alone . So that the people who may be reading this story right now, who are experiencing abuse know they are not alone. I'm here and I will be here any time you need me, one time or a hundred times. I don't care if about the way you look, your education level, where you live, or the size of your bank account. I'm here and you will not be alone no matter what. I get it.
Follow up words from Janice:
As a survivor myself, I have become acutely aware of the statistics and outcomes regarding what it takes to leave an abuser and the unusually high numbers that we see here in Greene county as compared to all other counties in Missouri. I have seen and experienced first hand the public's preconceived and incorrect assumptions regarding those who are the victims of domestic abuse. Statistically 1 in 3 women are the victims of domestic abuse. Not 1 in 3 drug users, not 1 in 3 uneducated, not 1 in 3 poor but, 1 in 3 period. Victims of domestic abuse are not bound to one economic category, it happens at all income levels. It happens with those with addiction issues and those who are completely sober. So my idea is to do something that will show that the victims are around us all of the time, that you can not identify an abuser simple by the way they look or the job that they hold. That we must stop victim blaming and turn the spotlight in the abusers and ask them the hard questions. Instead of asking victims why they stayed (which I see so many people say in response to these stories and hear from every victim that has survived), we need to ask abusers why they are abusing.