Vickroy: Out of darkness, abuse victim has new life, hope
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy October 28, 2013 9:34PM
A domestic violence victim, who wished not to be identified, stands outside on an overcast day, Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013, in Oak Lawn. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Dealing with domestic abuse
It takes everybody to help a victim escape an abusive situation, said Vickie Smith, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
If you see a couple in which one person is making all of the decisions, in which one person is not afforded the same privileges or not allowed to interact with friends or family members, if one person says things like, “my husband (wife) won’t let me,” that’s a person who likely needs help.
Smith recommends putting that individual in contact with a domestic violence hotline.
“Don’t cut off communication, be a friend,” she said. “And if you see something, call police.”
The Illinois Domestic Violence Helpline is (877) 863-6338. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is (800) 799-7233.
For more information on the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, visit www.ilcadv.org/
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:44AM
He strangled her, raped her, threw her once into a plate-glass window.
He alienated her from her family, kept her name off the bank accounts and criticized almost everything she did.
As horrific as all that was, Jill Smith (not her real name) said that wasn’t the worst of it, that’s not what made her leave her abusive husband. It was when she realized that he was molesting their children.
“They were exhibiting odd behaviors in the bathtub,” Jill said. “Then I just started asking questions, and they told me outright what he’d done.”
Child abuse and domestic violence, Jill said, go hand in hand.
The day Jill finally said “enough” marked the beginning of a new chapter, a long journey out of the hell she had endured for years. Along the way, she battled non-believers, from judges to members of her family.
Yet, today, she stands, if not victorious, at least stronger, safer, more determined. She’s looking forward as much as still watching her back. This southwest suburban single mother has a career, a safe home for her children, an advanced degree. She has friends, healthy relationships. She has plans. She has a future.
She is among the lucky ones.
Last year, 80 women, children and men died from domestic violence, according to the Illinois Domestic Violence Homicide Report released this month by the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Most homicide victims were girlfriends or wives of the abuser.
The coalition began tracking the incidence of domestic violence three years ago to increase public awareness and understanding that it is often deadly, Vickie Smith, executive director of the coalition, said.
“We have to start believing people when they talk about abuse,” Smith said. “Sometimes stories are made up, but most of them, 99 percent of them, are not. We have got to train attorneys and judges to understand how domestic violence works.”
She hopes the database that the coalition is building will help open minds. In addition to compiling statistics, she said, the group wants to eventually be able to report on how each individual case proceeded through the legal system.
“Domestic violence is about power and control. It’s not about violence,” Smith said, adding that 30 to 60 percent of adult abuse cases include child abuse. “But children won’t tell until they feel safe.”
Technology enables abusers to be more controlling. It’s not unusual for an abuser to call or text a partner repeatedly, to keep track of their whereabouts, to prevent other places, including work or a friend’s home, from becoming safe places.
Smith said domestic abuse is a learned behavior that can be exasperated by the roles society gives to men and women.
“We may think we’ve made progress, but men and women continue to have really different places in society,” she said.
Because the abuse so often goes on behind closed doors, much of the abuser’s actions fly under the radar.
“To the outside world, the abuser often looks like a wonderful person or a good provider,” Smith said.
Sometimes even a victim’s parents won’t believe. Jill’s parents believe today but weren’t always in her corner.
“I was kind of a wild kid,” Jill said. “They wanted to believe that my husband helped calm me down, helped control me. They wanted to believe he was good for me.”
She understands because for a long time, she thought she deserved the abuse. Her husband would tell her it was all her fault — if she could just do this or that, he wouldn’t have to resort to such extreme measures.
Over time, Jill came to realize that her husband wanted to kill her. He said as much on several occasions. Once, he tried to run her over with the car. Another time, he tried to strangle her. Each time, he’d laugh and say something like, “Aw, did you think I was going to kill you?”
Jill escaped on determination and prayer. With no money, no credit and no job, she had no means of supporting her kids by herself. But she did have a friend. And that friend, a woman she had met through her church, made all the difference.
That friend welcomed her and her children with open arms. That friend, a nurse at a nearby hospital, put Jill in contact with the resources she needed to start over.
Jill had her children examined, physically and emotionally. She filed a police report. She filed for a divorce. And even though the judge granted her ex-husband visitation, which continues to this day, Jill said, “I did everything in my power to help them heal.”
Now, almost a decade later, her children are still in counseling. So is Jill. But now she is no longer silent. She reaches out to others, sharing her story and lending support to those who find themselves in similar situations.
It’s not all rosy. Her younger kids still struggle, emotionally and academically.
“Did you know there’s a study that shows that kids who’ve been abused have a really hard time learning math?” she said.
They also have a hard time dealing with their past. Sometimes, her daughter will say to her, “why couldn’t we just have a normal family? Why couldn’t my dad be a part of my life?”
Each time, Jill reminds her of the things that her father did, of the problems he has, the reality.
“She just wants to be like everyone else, with a happy family,” Jill said. “Don’t we all?”