Updated: December 1, 2013 7:27AM
The physical abuse began when she started dating her now ex-husband.
He kicked her during an argument. She didn’t think too much about it. She was 24 and in love. It happened only once. Apology accepted. Let’s get married. The year was 1978.
On their honeymoon, he got drunk, became enraged about something forgettable and hit her again.
“I told him I was going to file for an annulment when we got back, and he said he would never do it again,” recalled Patti M. of Merrillville.
It’s a common mantra for abusers: I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.
It did, of course, when Patti was eight months pregnant with their son. He hit her on the side of her head in front of her 3-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
“The abuse never stopped after that,” she told me. “It continued for six years, sometimes fearing for my life.”
Neighbors heard her screams. Police were called. But no reports filed.
“He would always threaten me with more physical abuse,” Patti said. “Sometimes we only had one car and he would disable the battery or hide the keys.”
“Back then, police did not take domestic abuse seriously and there were no shelters at the time. Or if there were I did not know of any.”
Patti never knew for sure the reason why he beat her — drinking, anger problems, job issues, who knows. It still continued wherever they lived, from Crown Point to Hobart to Portage.
“It was a vicious cycle of domestic abuse,” Patti said in hindsight.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in this country — more than car crashes, muggings and rapes combined. A woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds, most often by her partner or a member of her own family.
Up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence each year. And at least three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day.
Such startling statistics aren’t so startling to us anymore. Domestic violence is so pervasive in our society that we barely blink about behind-closed-doors abuse. We’d rather politely ignore it, conveniently forget about it, or pretend that our badly beaten neighbor actually did fall down those stairs without being pushed by her boyfriend.
Typically, I’m skeptical about public safety campaigns to raise awareness about such violent issues. Do they really reach those victims who need help, guidance or courage?
October, however, is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Patti (whose last name I am not disclosing) wants to share her story with other women who may be in similar situations today.
“I left him several times and he always talked me into coming back, saying he would never do it again,” she continued. “I was only working part-time and did not finish college so I did not know if I could make it on my own.”
That is a familiar refrain from women who are being victimized.
So is this one: “I did not want to put the kids through a divorce and I did not want to go through one myself, but I knew I had to get out,” Patti said.
“He broke my finger once, busted my eardrum a few times, and also mentally abused me as well. Plus, he was also horrible to my daughter.”
One day in 1984, her abusive husband went out of town to look for yet another job. Patti bolted and filed for divorce.
“I have never regretted my decision,” she said.
But that’s not the end of Patti’s story of victimhood, which reflects more statistics showing how women often find other abusive relationships and other kinds of abuse.
Patti stayed single for many years, working, raising her children and attempting to finish college, with support from her father and brother. In 1990, a new man came into her life when her father was dying. She was alone, vulnerable and needed support.
“I overlooked the red flags,” she said, knowing now what she didn’t know then.
She married him a week before his military deployment during Operation Desert Storm.
“He, too, was abusive with me, mentally,” she recalled. “He never hit me, but he physically abused my son for the entire 10 years of our marriage.”
She finally found the courage to divorce him, too.
“I have finally learned my lesson,” she said. “I date, but I am very particular and picky with the men I choose now. I’m a much better and happier woman for leaving both situations.”
Domestic Violence Awareness Month evolved from the first Day of Unity observed in October 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The intent was to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children.
In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed.
That same year, the first national toll-free hotline began: (800) 799-SAFE.
It’s a phone number that many women (and yes, some men, too) should call for help and for hope. Don’t tolerate the abuse. Don’t rationalize the apologies. Don’t take my advice, take Patti’s.
“My advice is to get out the first time he hits you,” Patti insists. “Don’t stay like I did.”
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.