Survivor Story: Her Abuser Uses Custody of Their Son to Control and Manipulate Her

Submitted by: *Ashley, survivor

Leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence. The risks of leaving include many retaliatory behaviors such as assaults, hostage and kidnapping situations, stalking, and fatality. These risks extend far beyond the members of the household and include the victim, children, pets, their friends and family, neighbors, and law enforcement officers responding to emergency calls for assistance.

Because of these risks, advocates advise not informing the abuser when planning to leave. Even in cases where that has been no physical abuse, the act of leaving strips the control from the abuser, creating a volatile situation.

After enduring several years in an abusive marriage, Ashley told her abuser that she was going to leave. He retaliated against her by assaulting her and later used their son to maintain control over her. Learn more about the circumstances that led up to Ashley leaving, the hardships she has faced to regain access to her son, and where she is now.

In 2012, Ashley was convinced that she had found the love of her life. For her, it was love at first sight, and it felt perfect. He was everything she ever wanted and more. However, after a few months, he started to change. Over time, he went from wanting to get married one day and build a family to constantly manipulating Ashley and making it appear as though she was crazy. Through it all, she still tried to make it work.

Ashley took him back time and time again. Each time he would find a new way to make her seem like she was the one with issues, and then he would reel her back in by begging her to come back and saying he was sorry. After a year of this, she decided that she still wanted to marry him.

Not long after the wedding, he stopped paying attention to her. He spent most of his time at his mother’s house, and when he was around, he was on his phone. While he was at home with Ashley, his behaviors were anything but loving or healthy. He stopped showering and no longer slept in the same bed as Ashley. It left her feeling like they were not married at all.

After making it through a difficult pregnancy, Ashley’s husband left her to take care of their son alone.

In November 2013, their son was conceived. Ashley was able to pinpoint the exact time, place, and date because they did not usually spend any time together. Looking back, she believes he planned it because he knew that Ashley was ready to leave. Shortly after finding out she was pregnant, she started bleeding, and they rushed to the hospital. He then went to work and left her at the hospital alone. Ashley’s mom went to the hospital to sit with her so she would not be alone waiting to hear whether or not she was miscarrying. Fortunately, her baby was okay.

During her pregnancy, Ashley was so sick that she lost 20 pounds and relied on her mom to help her because her husband was nowhere to be found. On the infrequent occasions he was home, he was sleeping, and he would leave when he woke up. Ashley and her son almost died during childbirth, and her husband seemed more concerned with going back to work. After making it through labor, their son was in the NICU, and Ashley was given high doses of iron to help her recover from the high volume of blood she lost while giving birth to their son.

For the first year of their son’s life, Ashley was his sole caregiver. She breastfed, changed all his diapers, and took care of him without any help from her husband. He was only around to take pictures to share on social media and make himself look like an attentive father.

After a temporary separation, Ashley took her husband back in, thinking he would change, and the abuse continued to escalate.

The stress Ashley experienced contributed to them splitting up six months after their son’s first birthday. Ashley sacrificed everything to feed her two children and lost 60 pounds in the process. Her ex refused to pay child support and did not visit his child. After a while, she took him back, thinking that after time had passed, he would have changed. He did change, but not for the better.

Over the next three years, he abused Ashley in every way possible. She was not allowed to know how much money he had. He constantly turned her against friends and family because they were trying to end their relationship. He started making everyone around her think she was crazier than before. He poked holes in condoms and beat her, causing a miscarriage. He would force himself on her when she was sleeping, and he even hit her and smashed her phone.

When Ashley stopped responding to his behaviors, he escalated the abuse. To avoid him as much as possible and minimize some of the assaults, she started sleeping all the time. He hid money from her and spent it on alcohol, often neglecting to set aside any for food for the family. By then, Ashley thought that either she was going to end her own life – or he would – but she no longer felt that she would make it out alive.

When Ashley reached a point where she could no longer handle the abuse, she informed her husband that she wanted to leave. He responded by assaulting her and leaving with their son after a friend called the police.

The day came when Ashley had enough, and after talking with an old friend from high school, they promised they would help her leave. They brought her food when he was at work and maintained constant contact in case they needed to call the police. Later, when Ashley decided she could no longer handle living with the abuse, she told her husband that she was leaving as soon as she found somewhere to go. She also told him that he needed to leave her alone until she was able to leave.

After their conversation, he went out drinking and came home drunk. He started throwing around Ashley’s belongings, some of them at her. When she laughed at him for how he was acting, he pushed her and hit her across the face. The commotion of the assault woke up their son, who witnessed Ashley on the floor holding her face. His father stood over her, hand positioned as though he was ready to strike her again.

Instead of hitting Ashley again, he went into the room with their son. She took the opportunity to get out of the house, where she found the police waiting in response to a call they received from her friend. After calling out to Ashley’s husband, who refused to come out willingly, the officers entered the house to talk to him. Because their son was there with him, instead of doing anything in front of the child, the officers asked Ashley’s mother-in-law to come to pick him up. When she came to pick him up, they also took the child with them.

Ashley was not allowed to see her son until two months later. She was too scared to reach out to her husband and mother-in-law, and they refused to let her mom watch him to keep Ashley from seeing him. They told the judge that she abandoned her son and was not a good person. He had pictures of injuries he sustained when Ashley had tried to fight him off during assaults. Her husband had planned to discredit her and make me look bad if she left so he could still have power over her by keeping her away from her son.

“Now, nearly a year after leaving, he continues to use our son to hurt me. Despite expecting me to tell him everything, he refuses to share information with me about our son. He manipulates things I do against me to make me look like I am a bad parent – even though he has made choices that resulted in him not being able to watch our son alone.

“I learned to fight back and stay alive. In his eyes, that makes me bad, but all his behavior seems to be excused as acceptable to him and his family. I only get to see my son for one day during the week and every other weekend as retribution for leaving my abuser. But I am still alive to fight another day. I rebuild my life so I can get my son back and prevent him from getting hurt as well.”

*Name(s) have been changed – and in some cases omitted – to protect the identity of the survivor and others affected by the abuse.

**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, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page. For crisis services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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