“At first, I was afraid to talk, even in the police department,” said “Nancy,” a local resident recounting the beginning of the end of a nightmarish two-year relationship with an abusive partner.
According to Nancy, her abuser forced her to tell law enforcement that there was no abuse, after the victim’s coworkers – suspecting domestic violence in the relationship – called the police. She said she did as she was told out of fear, “and it was still a blood bath that night.”
Still reeling from being the victim of a controlling, manipulative partner, Nancy offered this week to share her tale with readers of The Inyo Register in the hopes that “if my story helps just one person, it’s worth it.”
She wants victims to know they are not alone and there is help available.
The woman said she was slowly empowered and found her own strength to carry on, thanks in no small part to support from Wild Iris. She was willing to talk, but anonymously; Nancy is not her real name. Likewise, her abuser’s real name will not be used either. The perpetrator will be named “Tim.”
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and local advocacy group Wild Iris is spearheading efforts locally to shine a light on this dark subject. Domestic violence is the single biggest cause of injuries and death for American women.
The stagnant economy is being blamed for an increase in domestic violence, locally and nationwide. Wild Iris, which operates the only domestic violence shelter and 24-hour hot-line for victims in the Eastern Sierra, is reporting that there are more people than ever seeking help from domestic violence. But domestic violence is more than a knee jerk reaction to bad times; it is about control.
The cycle of violence
Domestic violence is not only about physical abuse but also mental games and manipulation – all a part of the cycle of violence. Misti Clark-Holt, domestic violence coordinator for Wild Iris who accompanied Nancy for the interview, helped to define terms that Nancy has come to know secondhand.
The cycle of violence in domestic abuse is a vicious circle of lashing out and regret – a binge and purge cycle of abuse and then feeling sorry and guilty that leads to more abuse.
An abusive act in the cycle of violence leads to guilt and excuses by the abuser which usually leads to a loving “honeymoon phase.” This is followed by paranoia and need for control by the abuser in the phase of well-being that leads to the abuser setting the victim up for abuse with accusations and guilt, which is followed by more abuse. Then the cycle starts again.
Nancy’s first cycle started two years ago when she moved to the Owens Valley to be closer to family and to heal from a prior “challenging relationship.”
She was not in town long before she met Tim, whom she called Prince Charming. “He was the most wonderful man. He said he couldn’t believe what I’d been through and that he’d love me the way I was supposed to be loved. He said he’d be there for me.”
Nancy’s family was abusive as well, and she decided to move in with Tim after only a month together. She said it was not long after that Tim started preventing her from seeing her friends or family, threatening violence against her and her family.
She said she left him many times and would go back, in the beginning, because she felt guilty: “Maybe I’m not loving him enough?”
Later, she said she would go back out of fear for her life.
She said she was physically beaten, had loaded guns pointed at her head and Tim kept a menacing hunting knife on the wall of the house, “just as a reminder.”
Tim, a hunter and outdoorsman, told Nancy that we would kill her and bury her in the desert where no one would ever find her. Tim was fiercely jealous, Nancy said. She said Tim would allow her to go out with friends, even encourage it, but when she returned after an outing, she was intensely interrogated. She said Tim would ask her what she did that night, and demand exact details as to whom she talked to and what transpired, whom she sat next to and why. Then two weeks later, Tim would ask her about the same night. “‘If you didn’t do anything wrong then you shouldn’t have anything to hide,’ he would tell me, always thinking I was cheating on him,” Nancy recalled.
She said after time, the physical abuse eased but the threats grew more grave and every time she gave in to his pleads for love, the cycle of abuse – mental and verbal – would begin again.
Nancy said she is now sure that she would be killed if she and Tim were ever to reconcile.
Tim is now incarcerated, thanks in part to Nancy’s co-workers’ initial call to the police, and for encouraging her to seek assistance from Wild Iris.
Most people’s first reaction after hearing stories such as Nancy’s are that the victim probably should have simply left the relationship.
But it is not nearly that simple, or easy.
Clark-Holt explained that Tim, like many domestic violence perpetrators, started manipulating his victim from the very beginning of the relationship in very small, seemingly insignificant ways.
He was very loving and warm in the beginning, Nancy said.
She said that, in hindsight, she recognizes the warning signs of a domestic violence perpetrator in Tim. The signs include jealousy and a rapidly growing obsession with a partner that turns to increasingly controlling behavior. Tim also abused Nancy’s animals, threatening to kill them, or himself.
While spinning in the cycle of violence, there were days when Tim would send dozens of text messages to Nancy threatening to commit suicide and blaming her. She said it wouldn’t stop until she apologized for making him feel that way.
“He was very good at blaming and making me feel guilty.”
Nancy said that Tim would take her to secluded areas to abuse her. “He would take me to these beautiful places – peaceful and quiet. But he took me there because he knew no one would hear me call out for help.”
Threats of suicide and going to secluded areas are also key warning signs of a potential abuser. Clark-Holt said some of these signs may be part of some people’s personalities and should not be taken as a threat, but when somebody such as Tim exhibits many of these traits in the early stages of a relationship, warning flags should start waving.
When asked how mind games and mental manipulation can be proven in a court of law, Nancy was quick to respond, to the grinning excitement of Clark-Holt who said she was so proud of Nancy for knowing the information so readily.
“Save texts, voicemails, letters,” Nancy said. “Save all the proof that you can.”
Nancy said she’s learned that there is hope for victims. She said that while Wild Iris has been very supportive, it has also not been judgmental. Rather, Wild Iris has allowed her to find her own strength within herself to first admit she was being abused, and then face the fear that is Tim.
Nancy said that Wild Iris attends court cases with her, as just the sight of Tim makes Nancy uncomfortable.
“I know it was my own strength,” Nancy said, “but I don’t think I could have done it without Wild Iris. Before, I was a bird without wings, but after meeting with the ladies (at Wild Iris) I knew I could make it.”
She added that it has taken her a long time to come to terms with the fact that she did nothing wrong, and the fact that people cannot change another person. “There’s room for compromise in a relationship, but someone shouldn’t have to change,” she said.
Nancy said she will continue to seek non-judgmental assistance from Wild Iris, as are many locals.
The Bishop City Council is joining Wild Iris in its efforts by proclaiming October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the proclamation, “the Council Members continue to consider the safety and health of their residents of the utmost importance.”
Clark-Holt said that from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, 2010, Wild Iris in Inyo County received 362 domestic violence hot-line calls, performed 235 partner abuse counseling sessions, supplied 79 bed nights to victims and assisted in securing more than 60 restraining orders.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the cost of intimate-partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion a year, mostly for medical and mental health costs.
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Wild Iris is asking the public to “Can the Violence” or recycle aluminum cans this month and donate the proceeds to the organization to help its efforts to serve victims and children of domestic violence.
For more information about Wild Iris, to donate, or to seek help, go to www.wild-iris.org , or call the Bishop office at (760) 873-6601, the Mammoth Lakes office at (760) 934-2491, the Lone Pine office at (760) 876-4740, the Coleville/Walker office at (530) 495-1500 or the 24-Hour toll-free Crisis Hotline at (877) 873-7384.