In all the years I’ve worked as a journalist, I’ve covered Domestic Violence Awareness Month many times. But this year, it takes on an entirely new meaning for me.
As I considered writing this column, I asked myself how honest I really wanted to be. Families usually keep quiet about these things. But there’s a stigma attached to domestic violence, and because of this, I chose to be as painfully honest as possible. That’s what awareness is, after all — shedding light on darkness.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with huge blue eyes and long dark hair. She was unusually beautiful —everybody said so — but she was also very smart, funny, outgoing, kind and confident. In high school, she was cheerleader, star basketball player, on the student council, in the National Honor Society and homecoming queen. After graduation, she went on to college, got married and had a child of her own.
From the outside looking in, the girl appeared to have it all.
Not long ago, the girl and her husband divorced and she immediately met and fell in love with another man. He was very outgoing, friendly and generous. Best of all, he was crazy about the girl, showering her with gifts and promises for the future.
From the outside looking in, the couple appeared to be blissfully happy.
But then, about two months into their relationship, her mother got the midnight call that all parents dread. The couple had gotten into an argument that ended very badly. The guy bruised her arms, choked her and ripped her clothes. She called 911 and he went to jail. Her family, shocked by the turn of events, rallied around her.
But the next day, the guy was released and the girl went back to him.
In the course of a year, the family received more midnight calls from the girl. Each time, she crouched in the bathroom scared for her life. Each time, she left him but then, several days later, returned to the relationship.
The last time it happened, the girl called her mother at 3 a.m. She was hiding in some bushes several doors down from the house the couple shared. He had hidden her car keys shortly after he punched her in the face and threatened to kill them both. After he fell asleep, she called 911 and left the house. The guy took another ride to jail.
The next day, the girl settled in to live with her brother, vowing that she was finally done with the relationship. The family, shaken again to its very core, breathed a sigh of relief. But they were also cautious. They had been there before.
Several weeks later, the girl went back to her abuser.
Unfortunately, I am the mother in this story, and the girl is my daughter. Most days, I am in shock. I cannot believe she, of all people — the beautiful, funny, confident girl — has become a victim of domestic violence. This has damaged not only my girl but also our entire family. As with any crime, the effects of the abuse are multi-fathomed. We ask ourselves who we should fear most, with whom should we be most angry — he for abusing her or her for staying with him? As her mother, I can do nothing at this point except love and pray for her. But I refuse to be embarrassed that my daughter is a victim. I will not sit in silent shame, and neither should you. Obviously, it can happen to the best of us.
If you or someone you love is a victim of domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or go to www.thehotline.org.
Contact Kristi Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548