Escaping domestic violence isn’t as simple as just walking away.
On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good.
Mallorie's story, shared by Heartland Family Service of Omaha, shows the fear and anguish that traps so many in the cycle.
Mallorie met her first boyfriend when she was just a teenager. Once they started spending all of their time together, she discovered he was not the person he claimed to be. Her first red flag came when he lied about his age. When confronted, he hid the truth with another lie.
“I was young and didn’t know any better,” Mallorie says. “That should have been my first clue to leave.” But she stayed and soon found herself pregnant with their first child, a daughter. And fearful of her boyfriend.
The first time he hit her, Mallorie left. She refused to speak to him for days, but he coaxed her into coming back. And the abuse worsened.
Like so many cases of domestic violence, the abuse started out as verbal but turned physical. On one occasion, the boyfriend held down Mallorie and pulled her arm out of its socket, and then refused to take her to the hospital. On several other instances, Mallorie was left severely beaten and called the police.
Mallorie’s fear of what her boyfriend would do next led to extreme anxiety and panic attacks. “The way he treated me would trigger the panic attacks, and then he would videotape me having them,” Mallorie says. “He would tell me I was crazy and that he was going to use the evidence to let Child Protective Services take the kids away.”
Her turning point came six months after their second child was born. One night, the boyfriend called Mallorie a cruel name and daughter Avery, now 7, pinched him on the cheek and said, “Don’t call Mommy a name.” “He just swatted Avery to the ground like she was a fly,” Mallorie recalls. “Then, he flung our son onto the bed. That’s when I’d had enough.”
Mallorie’s family intervened, and Mallorie and the children found refuge at Heartland Family Service's Safe Haven emergency shelter.
One in three women like Mallorie will be victims of domestic violence or sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And one in seven men will be the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in his life, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, putting a spotlight on the problem afflicting many people.
“Mallorie’s story illustrates how difficult it can be for victims to leave their abusers,” says Heather Tomczak, director of community impact at the United Way of the Midlands. “The goal always is to help victims first get to safety and then to help them rebuild their lives.”
Domestic violence occurs in different types of relationships.
“It (domestic violence) is happening in any type of intimate partner relationship, whether it’s dating, whether it’s marriage, whether it’s two women, whether it’s two men,” says Elizabeth Power of the Women’s Center for Advancement.
Power added: “Domestic violence is a very sticky, complicated idea that people have a hard time grasping sometimes.”
Fear may be the greatest factor that prevents victims from leaving an abusive environment. Studies show that a woman’s risk of being killed increases when she attempts to leave her abuser, either immediately after leaving him or when a court order is issued.
Why victims remain in abusive relationships isn’t an easy answer, Tomczak says. “It’s not our place to judge why victims don’t leave, just to try to understand and be ready to help.”
United Way of the Midlands supports programs that help victims access safety and shelter and provides counseling and legal services. The Shelter, for example, provides domestic violence services and is operated by Catholic Charities of the Omaha Archdiocese. Phoenix House is a domestic violence and sexual assault program operated by Catholic Charities of the Des Moines Diocese in Council Bluffs.
UWM also supports a Heartland Family Service program that attends to the basic needs of victims of domestic abuse and a Women’s Center for Advancement program that assists victims as they leave abusive environments.
“It’s important for our community to have programs that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Tomczak says.
She encouraged anyone in need of domestic violence or sexual assault services to call the Women’s Center for Advancement 24/7 Hotline at 402-345-7273, the Catholic Charities 24/7 Hotline at 402-558-5700, the Heartland Family Service 24/7 Hotline at 800-523-3666 or the Catholic Charities Des Moines 24/7 Hotline at 712-328-0266.