Story and slideshow by CHELSEA EBELING
Baffled, afflicted, and despondent, Khloe James sat hugging her knees to her chest with tears streaming down her face in the corner of her room, paralyzed by shock.
“This didn’t just happen … not to me … I’m not that girl … this didn’t just happen,” she repeatedly told herself.
But it did happen, and she was that girl. James, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity, fell victim to domestic violence that night in 2007 when her on-again, off-again boyfriend of two years raped her while he was high on methamphetamine.
“He was always very possessive, controlling and manipulative, even pulling a gun out once, but he never actually got physical until that night,” James said.
She suffered in silence for the next year, not telling anyone what had happened. “I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them because he was my boyfriend,” James said. She even continued dating him until he went to jail for unrelated charges in 2008.
“When he finally went to jail I looked at it as my escape. He wouldn’t be able to stalk me, call me and convince me to get back together with him,” James said.
This story is frighteningly common. One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and most of those cases are never reported to the police, according to statistics by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Many victims know what is happening is wrong, but for various reasons still stay with the perpetrator. “It’s easy for somebody outside of the situation to say what should be done, but you never know what you’d really do until it happens to you,” said Asha Parekh, the director of the Family Justice Center in Salt Lake City.
For Chelsea Waters, that statement was all too true. Mistreatment was her reality for four years while dating her then-boyfriend. “We had a really quick-paced relationship,” Waters said. “Things got serious one month in.”
Their passion quickly turned from romance to violence. “We got in arguments a lot, even about the littlest things,” Waters said. “He called me every name in the book.”
Those small arguments turned physical after a month of dating when Waters’ boyfriend tackled her to the ground and repeatedly slapped her during a disagreement. After realizing what he had done, Waters’ boyfriend came to her crying and apologized for his actions, and swore he’d never do it again. But within hours she was attacked for a second time. “After that door was open it was never closed,” Waters said about the abuse.
Subsequently, arguments were no longer disagreements but full-blown attacks. “Things were bad, but I stayed because I loved him and saw the best in him,” Waters said. “He was extremely affectionate, you know, bringing me flowers for no reason … I forgave him quickly.”
But it was that forgiving nature that got her into more trouble. Three years into their relationship, and shortly after their son was born, Waters’ boyfriend asked to borrow her car keys to go somewhere with his friend while they were in the middle of moving. Her refusal led to one of the worst altercations of the relationship.
“I was very calm and told him he could take the car after we were done packing,” Waters said. But her boyfriend didn’t like that answer and told her to come inside with him while they left his friend outside. With his hands behind his back, Waters’ boyfriend asked once again if he could borrow the car. When she told him no for the second time, her boyfriend pulled out a roll of duct tape he had been concealing and told her that he was going to kill her.
He taped her hands together then punched her repeatedly in the face, pushed her, kicked her in the stomach and pounded her head against the floor. “I knew his friend was right outside the door and I kept screaming thinking he would come in and help me, but he never did,” Waters said.
What made things worse is that their son was just a few feet away from where Waters was beaten. “Looking up and seeing my son crying in front of me was my breaking point,” Waters said. She had been beaten before, but not like this. She didn’t want her son to live this way and she certainly didn’t want him to witness her death.
Waters might have been killed that day, had her mother not come over to check on things. Her mom called the police and her boyfriend was arrested shortly after the call was made. Waters was taken to the hospital and treated for a fractured jaw, a serious concussion, a fractured eyebrow and cheekbone, broken ribs, and a broken nose. She was also blinded in one eye for three days after the attack due to an eye contusion.
Despite her injuries, Waters went back to her boyfriend and even spoke on his behalf during the court case in an effort to get the charges of abuse dropped. It wasn’t until a few months later when she met someone new that she finally left him.
“Meeting someone that treated me good was the only thing that got me to finally leave,” Waters said.
The Family Justice Center website notes, “For an abused woman, leaving the relationship is never a single act. It is always a continuous process.” It’s not always a matter of making a decision; often it has to do with safety and finances.
Whatever the reasons for staying may be, the time has to be right and support is crucial. “It takes a lot of time and patience until someone finally is ready to leave,” Parekh said. The best thing to do is to let the victim know that they are loved, supported, that they deserve better and it’s not their fault.
The struggle isn’t over once women decide to get out of the relationship either. Sometimes that’s the hardest and possibly the most dangerous part. “The danger can increase when a victim decides to leave the relationship because the abuser may feel like he is losing control over her. They may take drastic measures to maintain that control,” Parekh said.
In order to minimize danger, it is recommended that abused women contact resources to set up an exit plan. The Family Justice Center has staff members who can help create a safety plan and get victims in touch with counselors, law enforcement, lawyers, career counselors, and other personnel who can help with the transition.
James and Waters are the few lucky ones who were able to get out of an abusive relationship without getting help. Waters says she is finally getting closer to “normal” and can actually talk about what happened. “I have to work on it every day, but … I’m healing,” Waters said.
In hindsight James contributes getting out of that relationship as the start of her happiness and hopes her story might help influence other potential victims to be cautious about who they’re dating. “Leaving that relationship was by far the best decision I’ve ever made,” James said. “I wish I had known there were people out there who could’ve helped me and told me I’m not the only one this has happened to.”
For more help:
The first step in fighting back against domestic violence is to know what it actually is. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines it as “the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another.”
Knowing the signs of an abusive person could potentially save your life or the life of someone you love. The YWCA lists 14 signs of domestic abuse.