Think of four women you know. Maybe a cousin, one of your high school classmates, a coworker, and perhaps your next door neighbor. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), chances are one of those four women has been (or will be) a victim of domestic violence.
One in four women. That’s a sobering statistic, considering that you’re less likely to develop arthritis (1 in 7) or come down with the flu this year (1 in 5).
Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is a time when our nation puts a spotlight on the issues of domestic violence and celebrates those who have survived it.
Well-Being Hawaii sat down with a victim of domestic violence to talk about how she got out of an abusive relationship, and how she has coped with it. We’re not revealing her identity, and in this story we call her Ruby.
When Ruby’s boyfriend first hit her, they had been together for about three years and their daughter was a toddler. She said he always had a bad temper, but he was getting increasingly frustrated about keeping a job. He was also getting into drugs, although she didn’t realize this at the time.
He hadn’t come home for a long time. Then I asked him where he had been and he said it was none of my business. I said I was just asking. He said, “Why?” and started getting mad. My voice started getting a little loud, too. Then suddenly I felt him grab my head and he dragged me down and punched me in the face. And he kicked me. I was shaking because no man had ever hit me. I was so scared, so scared.
She took her daughter and went to a nearby restaurant. She didn’t tell anyone what happened.
I was crying and shaking and I had a bleeding nose. I looked at my daughter and felt so sad. I thought, oh my God, what do I do? Don’t say anything? Just let it go? And so I let it go and things were OK. He didn’t apologize. It was like nothing. He never said, “I’ll never do it again.”
Around friends and family, Ruby acted like everything was fine. But inside, she said, she was ashamed and scared. She started trying to change her own behavior in hopes that her boyfriend wouldn’t get mad. But the abuse continued.
I remember we were driving somewhere, and he just snapped. We were in the car and I was driving. I just said something and he got really mad. He hit me right there, punched me. He used to do so much things. Like when I was driving, he would take the wheel and pull it. At home, he would knock all the things from a table. And he would also just disappear sometimes. So I went through a lot with him, physically and verbally.
Ruby said that in the first few years of their relationship, her boyfriend did show signs of a bad temper and a controlling nature.
He would just get so mad at things I’d say. He wouldn’t listen to me, like he knew everything and like I was some dumb person. Actually, one time when we started going together, I went out with my friends and he was waiting for me. I was having so much fun, I forgot. He came inside and threw my bag at me, and he walked away. I thought wow, he’s so mean. I guess that was a sign already. But you know me at the time, I didn’t know.
Ruby said she stayed with her boyfriend because she thought he would change — that they were just going through a rough patch in their relationship.
I didn’t really blame myself. I just thought that something was wrong with him. He had a bad temper. The drugs, the frustration, his job, everything. It was him. But I told myself it’s going to get better. I was ashamed. He’ll change. I don’t want to embarrass my family. My daughter needs a daddy. I was scared and alone and money was low. And I felt ugly then.
I didn’t confide in anyone, only in the end. My family liked him. They didn’t know what was happening. When they found out he was abusing me, they said I should have told them. But I was so shame.
I didn’t seek professional help because I was ashamed. I didn’t know at the time if that was OK. Like they’ll think I’m crazy. Like I couldn’t fix it myself. And I was so young, I didn’t even know.
Several years went by. Year after year, Ruby thought things would get better. They never did.
Instead, they got worse. They had been living with Ruby’s parents, but were kicked out. So they moved in with other relatives. Ruby said her boyfriend’s drug addiction was spiraling, and he was trying to recruit her to start selling.
Things finally hit bottom one night, when her boyfriend was late coming home.
The last time it happened, it was really bad. He didn’t come home, but our daughter was with him, so I was worried. I called around, but no one knew where he was. Finally they came home. So of course I asked him where he was. He got mad again, and he got this big flashlight. First, he punched me in the face and he was going to whack me with the flashlight. But I got this feeling, like I wanted to stand up and say something and not take this from him. I told him, “Go ahead, hit me! Go ahead!” He kind of backed up and I was screaming. My daughter was only 6. I ran up the stairs and called the cops.
So the cops came down, and I was shaking so much. The cops arrested him and told me to make up my mind if I want to take him back. But they would have to keep him for a few days. I didn’t know what to do. I called my mom and my sister. My sister came down, crying for me. My mom was like she didn’t really care, and said something like, “Good for you.” My sister yelled at her, saying, “What’s wrong with you?”
When her boyfriend was released from jail a few days later, Ruby was still torn — she wasn’t ready to end things. It was her boyfriend who said they shouldn’t be together anymore.
She gathered the courage to tell a few coworkers about what she was going through. One of them took her aside and said, “You know, I’ve been through that. You think now you want to go back with him, but you know, six years you stayed with him. Next year, he does it to you again. You wasted six years being with him, and he hits you again? No.”
I realized she was right, and so I moved on. I still felt when I saw him that I wanted to go back. I felt sorry for him and sometimes he’d give me a guilt trip. But I told myself to move on, you’re still young, get yourself together, meet new people, make friends. That helped me so much to move on with my life. So I did and I’m here now. I met (and married) a wonderful man. He’s not even close to what my daughter’s dad was. He takes care of me and works hard. He treats me really good.
Ruby said she stayed in touch with her daughter’s father, and he eventually stopped doing drugs. They can talk to each other now, and he’s helped raise their daughter.
Ruby told me surviving domestic violence has made her stronger. And she has some advice and words of support for anyone who is going through an abusive situation.
So now when I hear about people getting abused, I feel that’s wrong. Maybe you nag a lot, or you don’t do this right, but nobody deserves to get hit. The problem is not you, it’s the person who’s abusing you. When I hear about people getting hit, I get so mad. They should move on. You should never be hit or have to live with the fear of being hit. You may end up in the hospital or end up dead.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there's help. For resources in Hawaii, visit the Domestic Violence Action Center. Nationwide assistance is available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).