Survivor Story: She Endured Abuse as an Immigrant

Submitted by: *Isabel, Survivor

Victims and survivors of domestic violence face a long list of challenges and barriers when reporting abuse to authorities. Particularly vulnerable are immigrants who may face language and cultural barriers, threats of having their children removed from the home, and risk of being reported to immigration authorities in addition to financial and other constraints that hinder them from safely leaving their abuser.

Survivor Isabel shares with us her story of abuse and how she ultimately left. Read her story to find out where she is now, and the message she wants to share with others who may face similar circumstances.

Isabel was married to her abuser for three years but only lived with him for two. The abuse began about three months after she relocated to be with him. When it started, he would become jealous of her family and friends back home when they called to talk to her. At first, Isabel endured verbal abuse. Over time, he started to push and slap her and broke her phones so she would not be able to contact any of her loved ones. The only time Isabel was able to call her mom was if she called from her husband’s phone with him next to her monitoring her calls.

As time went on, the abuse continued to escalate.

Her husband threw away any clothes of Isabel’s that he decided he did not like, and he would not let her go outside alone. He pulled her hair and slammed her into walls until she screamed for help. He threw her on the floor, got on top of her, and strangled her until she passed out. Thankfully, the neighbors would run over and yell that the cops were coming so he would stop.

He would always say, “If you say something, I will beat the f*** out of you.” Isabel was so afraid that she would lie to the cops and say they were just arguing and apologize for them coming. The neighbors were never fooled; they would see her bruises. She could not take pictures as evidence because he had broken her phone and never replaced it.

Isabel felt like a prisoner both in her marriage and her own home.

Her husband always cried after he hurt her, and he regularly came home the next day with gifts for Isabel. For about a week after each attack, he would be kind to her. After their first year they moved out of the apartment because the neighbors complained that the police had to be called so often. One day he got so mad at Isabel for being on her laptop, he grabbed it away from her. After he accused her of looking online for ways to leave him, he threw it against the wall and broke it.

Isabel tried to run outside, but he grabbed her and pulled her back in. He yelled at her, all the while slapping her, and when she was able to get away, she ran and locked herself in the bathroom. Isabel begged him to calm down, but he broke the door open and punched her in the face. She managed to turn her head away fast enough that she only got a black eye. Her nose bled profusely, and she screamed. He grabbed a towel, put it over her mouth, and told her to shut up.

Once he calmed down, he told Isabel to shower and get cleaned up so he could take her to the hospital. He instructed her to make up a story about being assaulted at the convenience store by a stranger. When they went on base, she told them the story; no one believed her. They had to wait for two hours. Isabel had a concussion and fractured nose they could not do anything about because it was too swollen. As they sat in the hospital room with the door wide open the whole time, she could see and hear the staff come by looking at her and saying things like, “She is so stupid to stay. Why is she protecting him? Why can’t she just tell the cops so she can leave?”

Isabel felt like she was worthless and often asked herself how she let herself get into that situation.

Before her husband, Isabel said that she would never have allowed a man to raise his hand at her. Yet, there she was protecting her abuser because she was terrified of him. He took her home and was nice for a few weeks. After his last incident, he came home with a phone for her. The next day, Isabel immediately took pictures of her bruises while he was at work. She sent them to a friend in law enforcement and told him, “I know you’re a cop but please don’t say or do anything. If I turn up missing… or dead… you know what to do.” She would send him pictures and tell him about her attacks so he would be her voice if that day ever happened.

Isabel asked her abuser for a divorce a few days later, a choice she now thinks was a mistake. He punched her so hard that she fell to the ground, and he continued beating her. She lost consciousness and woke up having a seizure. It took her a few minutes to regain her senses because she could not see or hear. He panicked, started crying, and begged her not to leave him. Isabel was so scared she told him she would stay. 

That night, Isabel laid in bed, hurting while he and his friends started drinking. He came back inside and started telling her how ugly and worthless she was and how she did not make a good wife because she could not “take a few punches.” He continued yelling at Isabel about how he should bring other women home.

Isabel started crying and told him to leave her alone. He was so drunk and angry that he got on top of her and kept trying to pull her clothes off. She tried to fight him off but was still weak from earlier. He held her down and raped her. She felt like she was paralyzed. Isabel screamed, but he continued to hold her down and hit her. He would laugh and say, “I’m your husband, so you give me sex when I want. This is not rape…” After he finished, Isabel sat in the tub for several hours.

After several months of this, she was so anxious and scared that he would kill her in her sleep that she no longer slept when he was home. Isabel finally got the courage to contact her brother, and he told her that he was going home for Christmas if she wanted a ride home. She told him that she was being abused, so he asked his boss to let him leave for vacation early to pick her up.

Isabel started to pack her clothes in bins and told her husband that she was spring cleaning; he did not care. Thanksgiving was coming up, and her husband was supposed to go to work the next day, so she planned to leave while he was out. Suddenly, he came into the kitchen angry that the turkey was still frozen, and, once again, started arguing with her.

Isabel decided that it was time for her to leave.

Isabel called her dad and told him, “Don’t ask me why, but I need you to come to California right now. I need to divorce this man, and I need to get out of here now.” Her dad got silent and said, “We are actually on our way now. I am an hour away. Hang tight, and we will be there. Go outside if anything happens.” Isabel told her ex-husband that her parents were coming for her and if he did anything to her, they would call the cops. After he left, she continued to pack the rest of her belongings.

He came back and sat in the living room, staring at her. She grabbed a knife, had 911 ready to call on her phone, and asked him not to do anything stupid. About fifteen minutes later her parents arrived. Isabel pointed out her belongings to them, and they quickly carried everything outside without saying a word to him. She took her wedding ring off and told him that she would send the divorce papers.

Once they got to a hotel, Isabel showered and felt much better, like she was alive. She did not tell her parents anything that night. They just told her to call her supervisor and let him know that she was okay and was going home. Isabel assumes that he went to her parents’ house and told them that the neighbors often called the cops when they heard her screaming. Her brother had also called the supervisor and told him what was happening. Her supervisor immediately told her parents to get her and save her life. He offered to pay for the hotel and gas, but her parents did not accept.

Her parents were thankful to the person who told them what Isabel had been going through, and she credits him with saving her life.

After Isabel came home, she had to change her number because her husband repeatedly contacted her threatening suicide if she did not go back to him. She had to contact his supervisors and get another restraining order on him. He did not want to give her the divorce for over a year because he wanted to keep the money he received for being married and living off base.

It took her a long time to get back to herself because Isabel lost herself through the abuse. He broke her in ways she did not think were possible. The thing that kept her going was the support from her parents, brother, and her work family. She now has a second chance at living life and believes that God saved her from dying. The reason why, she feels, is that she is here to help others.

Before getting married, Isabel had been working on getting her immigration paperwork, but the day she got married, she had to start the process over. He knew that would happen, but he did not want to wait for the paperwork to go through before they were married. He wanted to get everything finalized faster because, as he told Isabel, he loved her and was eager to get married. His plan was not to help her, however. He wanted to have power over Isabel, so he never put any of her paperwork through. He held that over her head and would threaten her with deportation. Isabel was the only one at risk because her family had their paperwork in process.

She returned home and connected with a local women’s shelter. They told her about a similar case and informed her about the Violence Against Women Act. The Act contained provisions for victims of domestic violence and also helped women who were being intimidated and threatened by their spouses for their immigration status and other issues. It took Isabel two years to build her case because of the amount of paperwork involved, but fortunately, she qualified for assistance under VAWA.

Isabel worked for two years to get citizenship after leaving her abusive husband.

Isabel has not shared much publicly regarding her road to citizenship under the Violence Against Women Act because she is still afraid of him trying to hurt her for disclosing the abuse she suffered. Despite this, she feels that it is finally time to tell her story! Because of the risk for immigrants, not many want to talk about their experiences. It is important to Isabel because it has happened to so many people. She has also thought about using her story to write a book aimed at helping other men and women being abused. Isabel was blessed to free herself from her abuser before she lost her life, but too many others were not so fortunate. 

“Do not give up. You are strong, and you are warriors. Things can get better with help. Be strong and fight for your life. I am living proof that life can change. It will not be easy, but it is worth giving your life a new start. Keep faith by your side and keep fighting for a new life.

“Women’s shelters have connections to resources and services, and they will keep you safe and guide you through a new chapter as you rebuild your life. Domestic violence is not only physical but emotional and verbal as well. Say, “No more!” and stop the vicious cycle. Love should never hurt.

“An abuser will never change no matter how much you believe you can change them. But you can change and get out of the abusive relationship. Being a survivor is not shameful. Do not be ashamed of your scars. With time you will see that those scars made you a stronger person, and with your scars, you can help someone else by telling your story.

“I’m a firm believer that God kept me alive for a reason, and that is to help others who are or have experienced domestic violence. I hope my story can help at least one person.”

*Name has been changed to protect the survivor’s identity

**Article originally published as part of Stephanie DeFranco’s Woman Warrior blog series and has been used with survivor’s permission

***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.

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