[TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of verbal, emotional, physical abuse & economic abuse]
I fell down the rabbit hole of domestic violence, or was deceived down the hole. It doesn’t matter how I got there; it matters that I was there. I am still there, although divorced.
This is what I want you to know …
The divorce created a way out, some space, and a little relief (if I make it through this). It did not stop my former husband’s insane need to control us. When I filed for a divorce, the abuse escalated, and remains escalated—stalking, daily torment/torture, threats, child abuse, physical abuse, financial terrorism, and continuing problems with the IRS. So much for “it gets better.”
It took tremendous courage for me to leave. After hurting me, my former husband would suck his teeth, “You want to leave,” he said, “Go ahead. I will take everything from you—the kids, the house. I’ll bankrupt you. I know judges. No one will believe you.”
I thought he was bluffing. As it turned out, he did bankrupt me. And he did know judges. Some of them yelled and screamed at me in court.
It was hard to explain to people asking, “Why did you stay?” “Why didn’t you leave sooner?” Why? Why? I knew he would make it impossible and never stop.
Although we have “left,” and “he is gone,” I have wanted to point out to many: Do you see the flotsam and jetsam around us? Do you know we are on the verge of homelessness? Do you know we are officially bankrupt? Do you know the family court system has mandated a parenting plan that legally tethers him to us despite ongoing abuse?
Before I was stuck at the bottom of the rabbit hole, numerous professionals told me I was “lucky.” Supposedly, there are many services for domestic violence victims. In reality, there are few shelters. For every 20 families needing shelter, in my area, there is one bed. The limited services available are designated for those already connected to the welfare system. There were zero services for middle income, educated and employed people such as myself. At the same time, I needed a savvy, committed attorney, mortgage assistance, childcare and practical help.
Sometimes it felt as if my abuser was the one who designed and ran domestic violence victim services. They listened and promised help before I never heard from them again. A court appointed advocate provided me with commiseration while my abuser received free criminal defense attorneys and endless representation. Without an attorney, the outcome never goes well for victims.
Victim services also offered support groups where I heard I must have had a “bad childhood.” Some said I would never again be a victim If I: detached (from the abuser), acted more assertive, met with my advocate, got therapy, and attended the support group. If only I would x, y, z, then my abusive husband would change. Was it really my fault? It defied basic human rules—one cannot control another.
Know there is a hierarchy of victims. At the top are those who have been assaulted with a deadly weapon in front of witnesses. Neighbors, family, friends, the police and kind judges rush to rescue her and lock away the bad guy. At the bottom are victims of interpersonal violence. If someone you have a relationship with attacks, assaults, and harasses you, courts dismiss it as a relationship gone wrong. In my experience, family court doesn’t recognize domestic violence and child abuse. They tend to perceive allegations of it as lies to gain custody of the children. The court system is geared toward a belief that a bad parent is better than no parent.
Numerous “attorneys” and DV advocates said it was necessary to convince the courts of the abuse. It was beyond humiliating and shaming to publicly tell intimate details of the abuse my children and I endured including when my former husband forced me to have sex with him. I would tell my story, shaking and crying, to a complacent judge as my abuser sat with his attorneys, grinning and laughing. The courts sent a loud message: “You probably asked for it, encouraged it, et cetera.”
It was horrifying to be victimized by the court. My former husband put on charming appearances. I told my story over and over before judges ruled that I was “not credible” without looking at all the facts. I would leave court, and my former husband would become more arrogant and entitled. He would stalk and harm me, and I would call the police. Sometimes, they said I was “very credible.” They could not understand why family court labeled me as “not credible.” Or police lectured me to return to court and “make it stop.”
The system is so messed up that it re-victimizes you. The moment you become a victim, you are branded—“not credible.” Adding to the fallout—the police are happy CPS (Child Protective Services) is involved, thinking CPS is doing something … CPS is happy police are involved, thinking they are doing something … Then everyone is shocked that “nothing has happened” … These are the realities that victims face.
Most days I try to be numb; it’s my preferred method of existence. Thinking about it all makes me despair so much that it’s hard to get out of bed. I hope and pray to make it until my children grow up. Our days are spent surviving. We face homelessness and ongoing financial abuse as the courts do little to hold my former husband accountable.
I feel we are cursed, forsaken, and invisible. No one pays much attention to the continuing abuse. That in some ways has been more devastating than the abuse. He hurts us; we cry for help, and there is nothing but silence in return.
This story is part of our Stop the Silence, Start the Healing initiative. Each month we feature the story of one person who has never had the chance to tell her story, without fear, in a safe space. We honor these women who are speaking up.
Do you think you may be on the receiving end of abuse? Please visit our resource page for more information on what it is.