I met Benny when I was 15 and he was 16. He was very good looking and many girls wanted to be his girlfriend. He never had many friends who were guys and he wasn't into sports. At first, he was really nice to me and always invited me over to his house after school. He really liked cars and had a place set up in his Dad's garage where he worked on a broken down car that his Uncle had given him. Most afternoons after school, I would get into trouble with my Mom because Benny made me stay with him while he worked on his car. When I told him that I had to leave, he told me that I wanted to rush home because I didn't care about him and that there were lots of girls who would want to hang around him.
After a few months, he didn't want me to do anything with my friends. He was possessive and jealous and would make fun of anyone who was my friend. He made me feel guilty if I even talked to someone at school, even when he wasn't around, which wasn't very often. He told me that he didn't like what I wore and told me what I should wear to school. He was always moody, but after a while it made me feel really uncomfortable. He forced me to have sex with him in his Dad's garage. I told him that I loved him, but that it didn't seem like he loved me. I was afraid I would get pregnant and told him that I wanted to wait. He slapped me and said never to say anything like that again. He told me that he would decide if I would get pregnant or not. I told him that wasn't the way it worked and he slapped me again, harder and twisted my arm behind my back. I was afraid to tell my Mom or anyone what happened, but I stopped going over to his house after school.
After almost every class, he would stand outside the doorway and grab my arm when I came out and whisper in my ear that I better listen to him or something bad was going to happen to me. I didn't know what to do and I tried to avoid him, but it seemed like he was always there waiting for me or watching me. He sent me text messages all day and all night long. Sometimes he pleaded with me not to break up with him. Sometimes he would send me threats or text me, "I know what you're doing right now."
One day a teacher saw him grab me and I guess I looked pretty shook up. She waited until he walked away and then motioned for me to come into her classroom. We walked into the back where she had a little office and she closed the door. I didn't even know her very well, but I started to cry. I couldn't help it. I said that nothing was wrong, but she just waited for me to stop crying and didn't ask me any questions. I said I had to go and I got up to leave. That's when she said words that I remembered ever since: "You don't deserve to be treated like that." I knew she was right, but I just couldn't see it before she said those words out loud.
It took me about two weeks before I had the courage to go back to talk to her again, this time after school when no one else was around. She said that I didn't have to be with Benny if I didn't want to and I said I knew that, but I didn't know how to get out. He said he was going to really hurt me. She explained to me some things called dating violence. She talked about some things that my Mom and I might want to think about. I knew I had to tell my Mom. When I did, she helped me understand what was going on. I threw away my cell phone and didn't get another one until after I had changed schools. I had to get away from Benny, and I'm glad I did. I don't ever want to have to worry about leaving class and having someone waiting for me. I am 17 now and will graduate from high school this year. I know now how different my life would have been right now if I had stayed around Benny.
These stories are representative of survivors served in Florida's domestic violence centers in the past and do not depict a specific individual.
A couple of my friends encouraged me to sign-up for this Internet dating service. I started talking to Brian and we became chat buddies. I felt like I could tell him anything and he said the same thing about me. All I really wanted was a friendly voice to talk to. I decided it wouldn't be anything more serious than that. Around the holidays, I agreed to meet him face to face. He lived about two hours away from me, so we picked a town halfway in between and agreed to meet at a popular restaurant. We had a very pleasant dinner. He ordered for me and we both drank ice tea. He told me that he didn't drink alcohol and I liked that about him. After that, it became a routine that we would meet there every two weeks.
During one dinner, he said that he had grown to care for me a great deal and that he wanted more from the relationship. He was a real gentleman in how he approached the subject and suggested that we spend some time together in a hotel room he had reserved near the restaurant. I also thought this was the appropriate next step and we spent a wonderful night together.
Things moved quickly after that and in the next few months, he said that he really wanted to get married and that he thought we should fly off to Las Vegas together. I was surprised, but at the same time really glad that he wanted us to be husband and wife rather than living together.
We didn't fly to Vegas, but we did have a small wedding in the town where he lived with only a couple of his relatives and my best friend as my matron of honor. I wanted more of my friends to come and had asked my sister to fly out from the west coast, but Brian said that weddings should be small and intimate. We moved into his home and for a while I commuted back and forth to my job.
Brian began to complain about not seeing me enough, that I wasn't home to cook and was too tired to be his wife. One evening, when a rain storm caused me to arrive home late, he flew into a rage and accused me of having an affair. He took a pewter picture frame of my Mother and Father and threw it across the room where it shattered into pieces. Then, he stormed out the door and he didn't return until late the next night. The next day, he bought me a bouquet of my favorite flowers and apologized for his behavior. He said that he just loved me so much, that he was worried about me and didn't know why he had acted like that. He was very sweet when he said he was sorry.
But, that was not the end. He stopped bringing flowers, and then he stopped apologizing. Then, one Sunday when I was supposed to meet my girlfriend whom I had not seen in months, he threw me across the kitchen and I fell into the pantry door. He shouted at me. I couldn't even understand what he was saying. He kept yelling louder and louder. Then he raised his fist and slammed it into my jaw. I was stunned. I couldn't move, but not because of the incredible pain that I felt, but because of the shock that this was happening to me. I scrambled away from him and he didn't follow. I locked myself in our bedroom and cried. After that day, he would hit me every time he got angry, and that was often.
The only time I felt safe was when I was at work. While at work, I came across articles on domestic violence on the internet and read them. I began to see that I wasn't the only one to whom this was happening. I found information about a domestic violence center although I didn't think I needed to go to live in a shelter. One day I just picked up the telephone and called them. They told me that what I said was confidential and they would not share my information with anyone else.
I really want our marriage to work out. Brian has been treating me better for a while, but he hasn't stopped hitting me. I continue to talk with people at the domestic violence center and I sometimes attend their group and talk to other women who are going through some of the same things I am.
For seven years, I was afraid to go to sleep at night and for seven years there were barely any nights that I got a full night's sleep. My husband worked long hours with a lot of overtime. I rarely saw him in the daytime, but the times he was around, things were OK. But at night, he would terrorize me, waking me up after I fell asleep, yelling at me, calling me names and threatening to hurt me. I asked him what was going on. I asked him what I had done to cause him to act this way. I didn't understand his behavior. During the first year of our marriage, these episodes were very infrequent and I could not figure out any reason for him to act like that towards me. He wasn't drinking or on drugs that I could tell. I kept asking him what was wrong.
After we had our first child, the nights became worse. I was a wreck and between my husband and the baby, I wasn't getting any sleep. I was unable to go back to work at the end of my maternity leave and I lost my job. My husband got worse after that. He told me that I was worthless and asked what good was I if I couldn't even hold down a job. Some nights I would go to sleep and he would punch me in the neck or head to wake me. Once he held a pillow over my head until I couldn't breathe. I think I lost consciousness. Another time, he tried to choke me. When I locked the bedroom door to keep him out, he broke the door lock and the next day, he took the door completely off its hinges. I felt like I was losing my mind and I knew it was from the lack of sleep. I started going to my Mother's house with the baby to sleep in the daytime while he was at work. When he found out, he smashed my head into the wall so hard it left a mark in the wall.
One morning, I was trying to make coffee and I saw something on TV. It was an interview with a woman who worked at a local domestic violence center. The things she was saying all began to make sense. Some of the things she described sounded like me. There was a toll-free number on the bottom of the screen. I didn't call the number that day, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to find out about the program I had heard about on TV.
Now, I get a good night's sleep because I did make the call to the toll-free domestic violence hotline. Over several months, they provided me with resources and a friendly voice when I needed to talk. I began to understand that my husband's behavior was not a result of something that I did. I learned it wasn't my fault. I attended a support group and learned that there are other women who were going through things that were familiar to me. When I was strong enough, the staff from the Center helped me with a plan for my safety. I wanted to make a decision to leave, but I was having a hard time. I loved him, but I had to get away. I started worrying about whether he was going to hurt the baby. Every time I changed my mind about whether to go or stay, my Advocate at the domestic violence center was a friendly voice. I could talk with her and she would always listen. I felt like I could tell her what was going on and she didn't judge me. She always told me she was there for me, no matter what I decided. When I made the decision to leave, she supported me.
Occasionally, I still wake up in the middle of the night, but it's not because someone has punched me awake. I can now go back to sleep knowing that for the first time in a long time, I am safe.
Emil and I had been living together two years when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Emil had always been an angry and moody person, but when the doctor explained how our lives would change as a result of my illness, his moods darkened intensely. He criticized everything I did and eventually told me that he wanted to separate. He said that he loved me, but that he couldn't care for an invalid. I tried to explain what the doctor's had said that my condition may not progress for years and that I wasn't anywhere near being an invalid. He moved out anyway.
Even though he moved out, he came by the apartment several times a week and demanded that we make love. Afterwards he would call me names, tell me that I was not a good lover and that no other man would ever want to have anything to do with me. He made fun of my condition and called me 'crippled.' He told me that I shouldn't go outside because people talked about me behind my back. Since I don't drive, I had been dependent upon him to take me in his car. After my diagnosis, he stopped taking me anywhere. He even refused to take me to get my prescriptions or go to the grocery store. He said he didn't want to be seen with me. His cruelty hurt and I begged him not to come over anymore. He didn't listen and came and went whenever he wanted.
Daily, he seemed to create new derogatory names for me. If anyone called while he was there he would pick up the phone and slam it down. I missed two appointments at the disability office because he refused to drive me and wouldn't let me make an appointment for the bus service to pick me up. I was on a special diet, but he would bring over the foods he wanted to eat and say that he 'forgot' to get the food I asked him to buy. If I refused to give into him when he wanted sex, he would pin me down on the bed and force me. Afterwards, he would laugh at me. One day he spit in my face and shoved me with his foot so that I fell off the bed onto the floor. He came and went from the apartment more frequently and at more random times. I never knew when he was going to show up. I was nervous and jumpy, afraid that at any moment he was going to come through the door.
The day of a doctor's visit, it took me over two hours to get to the office by myself, transferring on the bus and waiting in the hot sun. I felt weak and exhausted when I got there. The nurse rushed me into one of the examining rooms and brought me some juice. While I waited for the doctor, I went to the ladies room where I found a poster with a toll free number printed on tear-off tags. The poster said: 'Live life free of fear and violence.' I had not thought about whether what was happening to me was domestic violence. Then, I read the questions on the poster: Does your partner call you names? Constantly criticize you? Try to control you? Make you feel afraid? My surprised answer to all these questions was yes. I then began to think about how Emil treated me and that it had a name. It was called domestic violence.
My two sons, my mother and I moved into a wonderful home last month. There were many times that I didn't think it would be possible. I had given up any hope of my life being any different. My abuser, the father of my younger son, controlled everything I did and everything my children did. He would come home on Friday after drinking with his friends and start in on me, first yelling, then punching me until I cried. Every weekend I suffered two days of terror and fear. I knew about a domestic abuse shelter but I didn't want to take my kids away from their home. I didn't want them living in a shelter. The thought was scary. Every weekend, I would tell myself that this would be the last weekend I would go through this. I couldn't take anymore. Then, I thought that if I left, I didn't have very much money. I'd probably end up sleeping in my car. If I did that, the State would take my children away from me. I felt like I had no choice but to stay. I felt like there was nothing I could do to get the violence to stop.
One Monday morning, the school called. The Assistant Principal wanted me to come down and meet with him and the guidance counselor that day. I was at my job and explained that I couldn't get off just to come down there. He said that I didn't have any choice. I explained to my boss that I had a family emergency, but she said that I had had too many emergencies lately - missing work or coming in late. She said if I left, I didn't need to come back. I didn't want to lose my job, but I had to go see about my son.
When I got to the school, the guidance counselor asked me questions about my son's behavior saying that he has become very withdrawn from his classmates and seems depressed and sad all the time.
When my son and I got home from school that afternoon, I had to tell my husband that I had been fired from my job and he went into a rage. He swung at me and when I fell, I could see him reach onto the top shelf of the bookcase where he kept his pistol. My son saw it too and jumped onto his Dad's back. I don't clearly remember the rest, except for the sound of the gun when it went off. There was a bunch of shouting and punching and then I heard my son yell "run," and he yanked me up off the floor. We took off for the back door and didn't look back.
The days after that were a blur of police interviews, examinations by a doctor and nurses and hospital visits from concerned relatives. I can't explain everything that happened. I do know that because of that day, I never went back to that house. The nurse helped me contact the domestic abuse center and my sons and I went there as soon as I was released from the hospital. Since the gun shot wound didn't kill me, I vowed that he would never get another chance. We stayed in the shelter for over a month while both my wound and my emotions healed. I knew I was going to have to make decisions about what my next steps in life would be.
My advocate told me about something called transitional housing, where I could stay for up to 18 months. When I started back working, I would pay a small amount of rent and hopefully save a little money. The transitional housing was in a small apartment complex that didn't look any different from any other complexes nearby. We made arrangements and about a week later we moved into the transitional housing apartment. I still went to the weekly support groups at the domestic abuse shelter and met some women who weren't living in shelter. All of us came to the group to talk about what was going on in our lives. Some of the women had left their abusers and some were still living with them. I looked forward to the groups and felt like almost everyone was my friend.
The 18 months went by really fast, but I got a lot of things done and even saved some money. The Center taught a budgeting class that I took twice because I felt like I learned so much. Speakers would come in and talk about the importance of having good credit and programs that helped people buy a home. I found out that with the help of one of the programs in the County, I might be able to finally reach my dream and buy my own home. I started looking for a place that I could afford. Since my Mother is not getting around like she used to, I asked her if she wanted to share a place with us. I fell in love with a little house on a quiet street and when we all moved in, my dream came true.