When one thinks of a “victim” of domestic violence, they typically associate the term with someone who is defenseless, weak, ignorant, and uncomplex. They may imagine a woman from an unfortunate background that did not know how to leave or simply tolerated the abuse instead of protecting herself and her children. They may assume she could have easily left the situation earlier, if only she had “tried” hard enough. What the public does not imagine is the twisted reality of domestic abuse and the toxic obstacles these “victims” have to go through every single moment, during and after the abuse, in order to escape. Take, for instance, the story of Sara.
Sara grew up in a happy household with great examples of healthy relationship dynamics in the home. Her parents have been married for over 52 years, and always treat each other with respect and love. When asked to describe her earlier self, Sara would say she was always “happy and trusting.” With a good heart, she always had a handful of close friends who she could always confide in. Through one of these friends, she met her abuser. They met when she was 26 and got married soon after. From first impression, Sara would describe her abuser as a charming and friendly guy who cared highly about his appearance. He would spoil her with designer purses and fancy cars to the point where it almost felt like a dream. However, things quickly began to change.
Looking back, the first signs of abuse were his possessiveness and verbal assaults. He always wanted to know where she was and would often control what she was allowed to wear. If she was non-compliant, she would be insulted, accused of infidelity, or guilt tripped for not doing as he asked. While juggling the ever-growing toxic relationship, Sara had given birth to two of her five children, and was steadily growing in her career. As her success became bigger and bigger, her then husband quickly started to express jealousy. He began showing up to her work, delaying progress, and threatening her coworkers until she would eventually be fired. This was the beginning of the financial abuse.
After sabotaging a number of her projects and jobs, the abuser convinced her it would be better for the children if she stayed home. Once she was home, he became even more controlling. He isolated her from friends and family, dictated what she was able to purchase by only giving her cash. For example, he would provide little to no money for groceries for her and the kids, because she “did not contribute any monetary value to the family.” He then forced her to purchase groceries with food stamps. He would repeatedly punch and kick Sara. He even went so far as to put a gun to her head and tell the kids to say their goodbyes. The abuse continued on throughout their ten years of marriage. Eventually, Sara became pregnant for the fourth time. This pregnancy, along with her other four children, became the driving force of Sara's determination to leave.
The last physically abusive attack Sara experienced was particularly cruel. After realizing she had ordered the wrong bread for his sub, the abuser decided to launch himself at her. Sara faced repetitive beatings on her head, AND punches to her pregnant abdomen, as well as was severely shaken. With the damage done to her body, she knew she had to leave, and seek medical attention for the baby. Fearing for her life, she stayed awake throughout the night, and got in contact Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, who directed her on the safest course of action and to the help of SafeHomes. In order to escape, she waited up until her abuser left to go hunting the next morning, quickly grabbed the kids, and hopped in the car with only the clothes on their backs. She reunited with her family and was able to get assistance at the hospital for her expected baby. After an hour and a half, the doctors were able to locate a heartbeat, and Sara was able to return to her parents’ place and continue her journey to freedom. Sara completed all necessary paperwork and filed for divorce. Her abuser was soon locked up; however, it was not a simple fix for Sara and her family.
Upon hearing about his warrants, Sara's abuser hired one of his friends to go and rob the house, which she then had possession of due to the divorce settlement. With very little in her name, Sara had to fight tooth and nail to hold on to whatever was left in her name and salvage her credit. In addition to all of this going on, a new obstacle would soon hit, when Sara's house caught on fire and was completely destroyed. Suddenly, she was left with nothing tangible and barely enough to get by even with the insurance money. As resilient as ever Sara did not let this situation define her. Finding inspiration through the positive outlook of her young children, Sara applied herself and researched every grant available for someone in her situation. With the help of SafeHomes, she was able to apply for and receive a grant of $10,000 towards a new home, and other medical bills.
Today, Sara does not let her abuse define her. She now strives to empower others to move forward. She uses her own experience to support SafeHomes and help to perfect how others are treated upon entry, leads the reorganization of paperwork for better understanding, and promotes education about grants and other financial resources available.
Beyond work, she is raising her five beautiful children as an independent mom and ensures their mental and physical safety every day. Sara remains the same positive girl that she was before and during the abuse. When asked what she wishes people took away from her story, she enthusiastically exclaimed that she does not want a pity party, but instead wants people to educate themselves on the issue of abuse and how common it actually is.
Sara's account exemplifies that people who escape domestic violence are more than victims; they are survivors. People like Sara go against familiarity, successfully get away from their attacker, and face the unknown dangers once they get out. These actions take gut, wit, and most importantly perseverance. By labeling survivors as victims, the public takes away the human nature and strength behind their stories. Instead, SafeHomes urges you to educate yourself, lift up survivor’s stories, and celebrate these triumphs.
If you or someone you know is experiencing similar signs of abuse as Sara did, please call our 24 Hour Crisis Hotline 706-736-2499.