Two Tales of Abuse: The Hidden Scars of Domestic Violence

Oct. 30, 2006 — As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, two women share their experiences, hoping their personal stories will help someone faced with a similar situation. The names and some of the dates have been changed, but the stories are real.
These two women, Victoria and Amber, both residents of St. Croix, have survived different forms of domestic violence. Although they survived where many women have died at the hands of their attackers, they carry a burden unseen by many.
Victoria's Story
Child abuse ranks among the most heinous of domestic-violence acts. Although the children victimized by it may have no physical signs of abuse, the secrecy and intense feelings of shame may affect their lives forever. Victoria was a victim of child abuse. This odious period of her life left her with permanent, yet hidden, scars.
She was a very young girl when it first happened — between the ages of four and nine when a relative sexually abused her. Victoria recalled how he forced her to submit to oral sex and to perform it on him. When she resisted, he would push her head down and force her to do what he wanted. As a child, she could not avoid his unwanted advances.
"If he did not catch me in the day, he caught me in the night," she said. Her childhood was fraught with fear and shame.
If you were to see her today, walking the streets of St. Croix, going to work or the grocery store, you would think she was just a normal person. But, by her own admission, she is not normal. "I have scars," she said. These scars prevent her from sustaining relationships with the opposite sex. Dressed in an over-sized T-shirt and loose khaki pants, she doubts her femininity and shies away from everyday compliments.
"Feminine clothing brings unwanted attraction to me," Victoria said. "Compliments trigger my anger."
Victoria just turned 40 this year, but the events of her past that have shaped and affected her life are never far from her mind. She finds that certain events, words or even smells trigger a rage inside of her: "I can't turn it off; I've tried, but I can't."
Some years later, a relative noticed there was something wrong between Victoria and her abuser. "The secret came out," Victoria said — but it still stayed within the family. "Everything was kept quiet," she said. "You try to live like a normal person, but you're not." Later Victoria learned she was not the only victim of her attacker: "They told me there were others." Still later, family members told Victoria that the relative had "gotten counseling."
"They told me he was cured, and I should forgive him."
Victoria has tried to forgive her attacker, she said. "We were in a room together, several years later. I felt a rush of hatred coming over me. I had to get out. I can't forgive him. He robbed me of something."
Some studies suggest the victims of child abuse grow up to be promiscuous or drug abusers. Victoria had no such problems; instead, the effects of her childhood trauma manifested in a different way. She finished high school and graduated from college. She was 25 before she had her first real boyfriend. It was then she came to realize how her childhood abuse had left her emotionally drained.
"I was a late bloomer, a loner," she said. "I had no feelings for boys."
She tried to talk about her abuse with her boyfriend, but after awhile he did not want to hear about it anymore. He thought she was using her past experiences to avoid being intimate with him. "He said I was frigid. We eventually broke up."
Years later, Victoria married and had a son, but her husband proved to be controlling and dominating. She found herself dealing with another form of abuse. Her husband, she said, was physically violent, controlling with the finances and restricted her contact with her friends and family.
Self-doubt overtook her: "I realized that I was not a whole person, and that no man in his right mind would want me."
Today Victoria struggles to maintain a normal life; she has a good job, but relies on antidepressant drugs to get her through the day. She also attends support groups with local agencies. She said it is hard for her to understand why an adult would sexually abuse a child. "Let the children grow up," she said. "They are innocent."
Amber's Story
Amber is a career-orientated professional woman. There is nothing about her to suggest the turbulence she has experienced in life. As the mother of a 24-year-old daughter who has a 10-month-old son, Amber worries that domestic violence might be a generational problem that consumes her family.
"My mom was the victim of domestic violence back in the '60s," Amber said. "Back then divorce was taboo. I think my father grew up in a battered home, too; he was a very angry person." Amber said she remembers that, as a child, her mother would call the police in the middle of the night after a beating from her father. "No one would help; they said it was a family matter." Amber said not even the church would sympathize with her mother. When her mother finally divorced, the church excommunicated her.
As she matured, Amber found herself mirroring her mother's abusive life.
"Every relationship I got involved in was my mother's relationship," she said describing a life filled with violence and fear. Her first relationship was at 15 with a boy her same age. They had physical fights where he would eventually overpower her. "But I fought back," Amber said. "For every blow he gave me, I gave him one back."
Somehow she thought retaliating was an indicator that she was different than her mother.
The day she conceived her daughter, Amber said, she did not want to have sex but her boyfriend forced her. "I was beaten into submission. When it was over, I knew I was pregnant." Amber severed the relationship with the father and put the baby up for adoption. Now, decades later, she is searching for the boy she gave up.
It took Amber four years to have another relationship, but again she made the wrong choice. That relationship was characterized by more physical abuse and infidelity.
Sometime later Amber met her future husband, and they were married in less than a year. She said they had a lot in common — mainly drinking and partying. And when they drank, they fought. "We used to go to work with matching black eyes," she said. "People would look at us and shake their heads."
One day they were fighting over who would go to the store to buy a bottle of bourbon, Amber said. "He picked up a table and broke it over my head." Then he began choking her. "If I had not gone limp, I think he would have killed me — I had fingerprints on my throat." She left to buy the bourbon, but when she got home she suffered more abuse. "He sodomized me," she said. "It was the most brutal thing I ever experienced in my whole life. I was 21, with a three-month-old daughter."
It took Amber three years to leave her husband. She said she always held out the hope that things would get better. "I thought I could fix it," she said. "I did not want to be like my mother." Every time she left, she would go back. Amber said her husband lost several jobs and they eventually had to move to a motel room. "Anytime I tried to leave he promised to 'dot my eyes'" — his euphemism for punching her in the face.
Amber finally summoned the courage to leave for good. Her mother had remarried to a gentle, caring man, and she called him to get her and her daughter. Eventually she married a man introduced to her by her stepfather. After dating for seven years, they married and have been together happily for 17 years. "He's never hit me," she said with a smile. "We have a very caring relatio
nship; we celebrate the little things every day."
With her life finally on track, Amber now worries about her daughter and her grandson. At 21, Amber's daughter is in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend is controlling and has hit her while she was pregnant.
"It's a nasty cycle, and if children grow up with it, they will do it."
Both Victoria and Amber suffer from self-esteem issues. Although their stories are different, much is the same. The women say they were isolated from their families and friends. Both agree that it's hard to understand how the domestic violence affects you until it's too late, and even if you look normal on the outside, you can have scars inside.
They urge anyone who is experiencing any form of domestic violence to tell someone and get help.
"It's something I would not wish on anyone," Amber said. "You are fooling yourself if you think it is going to go away."
If you need help or know someone who needs help, call The Family Resource Center on St. Thomas at 776-3966.
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