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Survivor Story: A Torch in My Hand, Facing My Darkness

Written by: BTSADV Survivor

“A Torch in My Hand, Facing My Darkness”

Every time I close my eyes, I say a prayer and am just thankful to be here. Though there are times that I get panic attacks, my brain gets foggy, and I break out in sweats, and there were times that I cried and cried and then later suppressed it all.

A young multicultural girl brought up on her religious faith, on morals and values, I thought, “How did I get here? Not once, but twice.” And if I delve into it deeper, while still in this process and lifelong journey of healing, there are probably more than two abusers in my life. But with these two, I endured the most suffering, I guess, because it involved my daughter and my beloved dog. How could this happen to me?

I graduated high school, won runner-up homecoming queen and most likely to debate in high school. I was pretty popular, danced ballet and jazz from the age of three, and I was the first African-American Sephardic Jew to be a member of the United Synagogue Youth in the area. In high school, I sang in the choir, and I was accepted to a university in Florida. My plan was to move there and start my new life.

All of that changed when my grandmother, who lived with me, got sick.  One day while at the local mall, my grandmother called me explaining that she had pain in her head, neck, and shoulder. She said she couldn’t lie down because of the pressure. I immediately said to her, “You are having a stroke…”  Then she said, “But there is pain going down my arm.” I then said, “Oh no, you are having a heart attack!”

I hurried home and called my dad for help; we whisked her away to the hospital. They immediately told us she was having both a stroke and heart attack. The doctor was able to stabilize her and told us it was because of us acting so quickly that she was still alive. She lost her memory, movement on the right side, and her speech.

My dear ‘mommom’ was in so much pain. How could I leave her? We had just returned from the Bahamas, my gift from her. It was weeks before my high school graduation and off to college, and then this happened. So, I turned down college. I stayed home and helped my mom take care of her and get herself back every day. She ended up regaining her speech and some of her memory and was able to walk again using a cane, so I thought, “Well, now I can go and live life.” I tried to go back to community college but blew it away by partying and meeting this guy.

It was a Sunday night that my cousin and I would meet my abuser. He was handsome, dressed in a suit, had a charm about him. I gave him my number at the end of the night. Two weeks later he called me to go on a date, and I met him. It was so far from home, I thought.  But, that was the fun part. It was different, he was four years older, had his own place and business, and he was so charming and daring!

He made me feel like he could take care of me. He made me feel like we were Bonnie and Clyde with his boisterous and flamboyant attitude. I thought, “Wow. I am no longer sheltered at home. I am going to settle down and be a great girlfriend and, someday, a wife.” Then, as time went on, I would see the signs of cheating. He would come home late, and sometimes he would have porn on while he passed out on the couch. I left a few times, but he would say the right things to bring me back. I thought, “Okay, love is blind. Love is work. Love is going to hurt sometimes, but you gotta be the one to make him change.”

I went on to attend a vocational school, graduating with honors as a computerized medical office assistant. I worked as his receptionist, and things seemed better. We got pregnant, and I almost lost the baby. His brother hated me and tried to convince me to get an abortion. I remember that night. He ended up going out and didn’t come home. I was in my red nightgown, and I asked him where he was. He told me it was none of my business and that I didn’t need to know.

The argument escalated, and when I said I was leaving, I turned my back for a second. The next thing I knew, I was pushed up against the wall, hitting the back of my head against it. I was always known to be a strong fighter, and I remember grabbing a butter knife and saying I would call the cops if he ever touched me again. He laughed at me. Then he said, “Who is the one holding the knife?” I was 24 and pregnant. Scared of going back home, scared of being looked at as a failure, and afraid to have a baby and raise it all alone. So, I stayed.

After having my daughter, things got worse. Food was thrown at me, and we shouted at each other. Then, eventually, not having me as his receptionist led me to be broke. I started modeling and would take the baby with me. I barely got paid, but it was my outlet, and I enjoyed doing it. He wouldn’t give me gas money or help me pursue this avenue at all.

So, I decided to work at night for UPS part-time. He was to care for our daughter. I came home one night, and he had porn on the TV with the baby sleeping in the carrier while he was passed out. I went ballistic. I didn’t know what he did or didn’t do. He swore to me that he would stop, that he didn’t want to lose his daughter, and that he would be the family man he never had growing up.

He shared his story again of not having his mother for many years and getting kicked out of his father’s house at the age of 16. I fell for it. I believed it over and over again, to the point where I was the reason for them getting back into each other’s lives again but being the victim of more emotional abuse for doing so by his other family members.

Time went on, and I still stayed in this toxic relationship. I was convinced it was my fault just as much as his. I thought it was just anger issues we both had. I would cook for him morning, afternoon and night and bring it to his job. My grandmother would send me money, and he would take some of it. I think she always knew something was wrong and just waited for me to ask for help to get out.

I remember him coming home in the late hours of the night so enraged, and it didn’t help that our dog, a pitbull-American terrier had peed on the floor. He spanked him often for doing so, but this particular night, he picked him up and threw him against the wall – as he did to me. But this time, the impact was so hard, he put our dog through the wall. I still cry telling this piece of my story. I ran in the other room and saw my dog’s look of fear and a high pitch cry came out. I dropped to my knees. He went upstairs, and I just held my dog. Thankfully he didn’t die… yet.

Time went by, and I was house-sitting for my mom. I came home to panties on my bed, the Tiffany ring given to me by his mother was stolen, and my watch was stolen. I confronted him. He told me who the girl was and said he could do what he wanted. He told me, “My boy killed his boy,” and then said that I was nothing. I asked him who he was talking about and he said “Jesus.” I remember hyperventilating and having an attack. I reached for my asthma inhaler, and he grabbed it. I was on the floor in our bedroom, and he just stared at me. I tried grabbing for his leg, trying to reach for the phone, and he wouldn’t help me. I crawled downstairs; his boy was over that night. 911 was called. I remember the cops who were familiar with him tell me to get out. “But what about my daughter?” I said. I went back.

This last time, I went to house-sit at my moms and take care of my grandmother who was living with her at the time. He was angry I left for the whole weekend. I remember him telling me that he would rather have a judge tell him when to see his daughter than to hear it from me. That stemmed from me complaining before I left that he would work and come home late and our daughter would stay up for him. Well, when I returned Sunday evening from my mom’s, I made dinner as usual. HHe, my daughter, and I all sat around the table, as usual, for her sake, or so I thought and pretended to be a family.

I called for our dog, but he didn’t come. My daughter called, and still, the dog didn’t come. I thought that he must have been outside. At this point, his brother and his girlfriend were staying with us. They heard us calling for the dog. I even went out looking and to no avail was he found. The girlfriend pulled me aside, stuttering her words saying that my dog was at the shelter. I went to my ex and said, “You saw me and your daughter call for the dog, and you watched me look for him. Why did you not say anything?” He said, “He got out of the gate, and now he is at the shelter.” Something was burning in my gut. The story didn’t seem right.

By this time, I was working part-time during the day to pay for healthcare and food. I called the shelter and told them I would be there in the morning to get my dog. The lady sound bewildered and as though she didn’t know what was going on. I explained that my dog got out and was picked up by them. I described the dog, and she immediately cut me off saying, “I’m sorry.”

I told her there was no need to apologize and that I would be getting my dog. She then said to me that the owner dropped off the dog because he was in a fight. I asked her what she was talking about. I said, “I’m coming now to get him.” She repeated, “I’m sorry; he lost the fight, ma’am. If only you called sooner.” I told her that he would be fine and that I would take him to the animal hospital. Mind you, I was told an entirely different story.

She kept saying she was sorry, and I yelled, “I am coming to get him!” She said, “Ma’am, your dog has been euthanized.” I said, “What does that mean? I will get him to a hospital.” She said, “We put him to sleep; I’m so sorry. The owner said he got into a fight and dropped him off here. We didn’t know you were co-owner. You can come down and identify the body and bury him, or we can bury him.”

I informed my boss. She let me go, and I identified my dog. He was still warm. He lay there on the table, and all I could think was, “Mommy couldn’t save you.” He needed me. On days when I called out to my maker, on the days I cried, he would crawl up beside me and lick my tears. He gave me comfort, and I wasn’t there to save him. My daughter and I buried him, and I couldn’t keep up the maintenance fee for the dog park. I should have just let the shelter dispose of him after all. But, I did bury him in a casket with his favorite toy, his blanket, and a picture with him and his daddy, the one that hurt him and all of us.

To this day, I don’t know what happened. You had to lock the gate for him to get out. Someone either left the gate open, or they let him out and allowed him to fight the dogs two doors down. I went to the neighbor who owned the dogs. They said the little dog, which was owned by my ex’s brother, got loose, and his two rottweilers came after the dog. My dog was loose and fought for the little dog and lost the fight. We still don’t know who left the latch open on the gate. This piece of my story is one of the hardest to tell. I had to pause from writing to let it out and come back to it again.

I eventually left months later.  But the story didn’t end there. After I left, there was one more person that would be affected, and that was my beautiful daughter. A new horrific chapter began.

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What is a Protective Order?

By Rebecca Lynn

Ending an abusive relationship is statistically one of the most dangerous times for a survivor. Making sense of the legal system and understanding how to protect yourself after leaving is complicated and unpredictable. Domestic violence advocates, like those at BTS, can help you with community resources, tips to stay safe, and legal options that are available to you. While each state is different in process, length of orders, and eligibility qualifications, each one offers protective orders or restraining orders to those that are in imminent danger.  

What exactly is a protective order?

According to Legal Dictionary a protective order/ restraining order is a court order issued to prohibit an individual from causing harm or fear to another person by ordering the abuser to have no contact with or to stay away from the victim. There are two courts that grant protective orders: the civil court and the criminal court. When an abuser has been involved in a domestic violence dispute that involves criminal charges, the state takes over the case and a prosecutor decides whether to pursue legal actions against the abuser, regardless of your intentions of pressing charges or not. In criminal cases, the victim is limited in their involvement and the outcome of the case. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for a victim to be subpoenaed and required to testify against the abuser. However, in civil court, you are able to ask the court for protection from the abuser and have more control over the outcome of the order.

There are three types of orders that are available to victims, each one with their own purpose, duration, and rules.

  • Emergency Protective Order: This order is known as an emergency protective order, and is filed in the criminal court. An EPO can be requested by the survivor but is frequently requested by a police officer who was at the scene or a prosecutor who is filing charges against the abuser. If domestic violence was committed that resulted in a serious injury or the use of a weapon, the magistrate is expected to issue an EPO, regardless of who or if anyone requests it. EPO’s commonly last 31-61 days and can extend to 91 days if a deadly weapon was involved.
  • Temporary Ex-Parte Protective Order: Ex parte orders can be issued through civil court, which requires you to fill out an application that is reviewed by a judge. If the judge determines there is a need, an ex-parte is immediately granted, In most states, this is done without the abuser appearing in court and is served after the order is in effect. The temporary order typically lasts 20 days and is only extended if the abuser is unable to be served.
  • Final (Permanent) Protective Order: A final protective order, or restraining order, typically doesn’t live up to its name–it commonly is not final or permanent. This order is also requested through the civil court by the survivor and requires a little more preparation and participation than the emergency and ex-parte PO’s. Each order is unique to the case and the needs of the victim. The length of a PO can range from one to five years, with the average lasting two years.  In some cases, the order can be granted for a longer period of time or extended if there is evidence that the survivor is still in danger. In most states, the abuser can file a motion that the order is discontinued after one year and if evidence shows the victim is no longer in danger, the order can be dropped before the expiration date.

According to Findlaw.com, final orders are for victims that are needing longer protection. Protective orders provide the victim with provisions that can help keep them safe. Depending on the state you live in, and the needs of the victim,  these provisions can include;

  • No Contact: Prohibits the abuser from contacting the victim in any way, including by phone, text, social media, postal mail, email, in person, or through third party.
  • Peaceful Contact: Allows limited communication for specific purposes, mainly regarding children and visitations.
  • Stay Away: The abuser must stay a specified distance away from the victim, this includes their home, in public, schools, and other places that the victim frequently visits.
  • Move Out: This evicts the abuser from the family home, regardless of if their name is on the lease or mortgage.
  • No Firearms: Orders the abuser to surrender all firearms, and prohibits them from buying more during the duration of the protective order.
  • Counseling:  Refers the abuser to anger management, substance abuse, or other counseling.

Many states also include temporary modifications to child custody and child support. Stay away provisions can be added for children, family members, and even pets.

Where do I start?

Victim advocates play a big part during this process. They can help you research your specific states eligibility requirements and steps to obtain a PO, as well as offer much needed support throughout the process. You can find information on distinct laws and provisions for your state here.

You will most likely need to apply for your protective order at the courthouse in the county where the abuse took place; however, some domestic violence agencies are able to assist with this process. You will be given an application that must be completed and signed under oath before it is able to go in front of the judge. It is crucial to be as specific as possible when filling out the application, as well as provide any type of evidence that you have that will support your request. If you are applying for a temporary order, the judge will only need to review the application and issue the order.

If you want a protective order that will last longer, a court hearing will be scheduled and the abuser will be served to inform them of the allegations and the date of the hearing.  It is possible that the county attorney can assist and represent you in presenting your case in court. The defendant has the option to hire an attorney to represent them as well. On occasions, if both the abuser and victim agree to the protective order provisions, then a court appearance may be waived. However, if a decision cannot be agreed upon, both abuser and the victim will go in front of a judge.  

One of the biggest deterrents to obtaining a protective order is the possibility of facing the abuser in court. Support is crucial during this step, whether it is family, a friend, or a volunteer advocate, having someone there with you is valuable. In situations where domestic violence is a concern, it is doubtful that you will have to talk to your abuser, let alone be in the same room, until the hearing. To ease the tension, you can focus on someone else in the room, avoiding eye contact with your abuser is perfectly acceptable. You can also wear a necklace, hold a smooth rock, or any other “comfort object” to help calm your nerves. Some victims find it beneficial to visit the courtroom before the hearing date to get an idea of where they will be in comparison to their abuser and get familiarized with the process of the hearing.

How does this piece of paper protect me?

A protective order is not a protective bubble or an iron-clad guarantee that you will be safe from your abuser. A PO is a court-ordered tool that makes it a crime for your abuser to violate any part of the protective order. If the abuser does go against the order and it is reported, they will most likely be charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or contempt of court, depending on the violation. Consequences also include fines, mandatory arrest, and jail time.

However, a protective order does not take the place of being vigilant of your surroundings, having a safety plan, and protecting yourself in public, and online. A PO’s success relies significantly on the victim’s willingness to report violations, keep good records, and make sure that the order remains up to date with current information. Researching protective orders, processes, and guidelines for your particular state is very important before applying for one. Knowledge is key, and no decision should be made without knowing all the facts.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Survivor Story: Family Court Forced Me to Co-Parent with My Abuser

Written by: BTSADV Survivor

I started dating him when I was a freshman in high school and got pregnant a year later. Things started changing slowly—a shove here, a push there, sometimes with my daughter in my arms. He would pin me against the wall with his forearm on my neck, yelling and cursing at me. I would wake up to him trying to force himself on me; when I would tell him no, he’d say it was his right. When I fought it, he would explode in anger.

Everyone thought we were the perfect couple. I got used to smiling and pretending nothing was wrong so my daughter and family wouldn’t know. One day, he showed his true colors in front of a group of his friends. He grabbed me by my hair while screaming at me. None of them stopped him. Instead, they all walked out of our apartment as if to give him space.

I reported the abuse only once. He was not arrested, and all I got was a restraining order since there were no visible bruises—there were never any. I stupidly removed that same order to give him yet another chance.

It’s been about ten years since I left him, but he never truly left. The family court forced me to co-parent, and I have had to see him almost weekly ever since. My daughter will be 18 in three years.

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