The question that always arises when it comes to domestic abuse is why doesn’t the victim just leave? The reality is for the victim, it’s never that easy.
Statistics show it takes women an average of seven tries before they can successfully leave an abusive relationship and fear is often the driving force for why women stay and come back to domestic violence situations.
For Jane, the fear of something happening to her or her children if she left was threat enough to stay, until one day her abuser tried to kill her along with himself.
For three years, Jane, whose name has been changed by the Nevada Appeal to protect her identity, stood the abuse from her ex-husband before she realized she couldn’t live the life of his victim anymore.
So one day, after he had been gone for two weeks, Jane realized she needed to get her family away from him.
“He was gone with his daughter for about two weeks and those two weeks of peace I realized this isn’t worth it anymore to see the fear on my kids’ faces because I knew when he came back I knew I was going to get it,” Jane said. “I had made up my mind at that time that I was done; that was the break that I needed.”
So she packed three suitcases filled with her kids’ clothes and blankets and waited until they woke up to leave.
“One morning I decided that was the morning and I was going to wait for my kids to get up and we were going to get a hold of advocates and we were going to be gone. I was going to leave,” Jane said.
But, he came home before she had the chance to leave.
In a domestic violence relationship, an abuser goes through a cycle of abuse, starting with a honeymoon phase where the abuser is apologetic and kind before frustrations build and the abuser explodes and the abuse continues again.
When Jane’s husband came home and saw Jane’s suitcases packed, he began apologizing and telling Jane she was all he had and she couldn’t leave him. According to Jane, he confronted her outside of their apartment and when Jane turned to go back inside he had doused himself in gasoline.
“I heard him say ‘Jane, look I’m sorry’ and I turned around and he clearly had already poured the gasoline on himself and he lit his lighter and he just went up in flames,” Jane said. “He went up to the grass area and it took me a while to register what I just saw and I walked out to the front of the building and I still couldn’t believe what I saw, it felt like a dream.”
She said while she was standing there, he tried to grab her hand and pull her into the flames with him.
Many abusive relationships will escalate to the point of violence, and sometimes murder. The dangerous part about these relationships is they often don’t start out violently — often the relationship starts with some warning signs and then escalates as the relationship goes on.
For Jane, when she first met John, who’s name also was changed, he was her protector and she thought he was helping her escape a bad situation.
Jane had met John 21 years ago when a mutual friend introduced them. Jane needed a temporary place to stay and John had an apartment he said she could use until she found another place to stay.
“I felt safe with him, even though there was no relationship, I felt safe, I knew I was protected,” Jane said.
Within a few months, Jane and John had started a relationship and Jane was pregnant. It was during the pregnancy the abuse started.
“The abuse went from anywhere from just a slap — which I have a messed up jaw because of it today — because I would say or look at him in a way that he didn’t appreciate to strangulation while I was pregnant to sexual assault to being dragged down the road by the vehicle,” Jane said.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it can take a victim up to seven times to leave an abusive relationship because it may be more dangerous for her to leave than to stay.
“There are all types of factors for a victim to stay in an abusive relationship,” said Camika Crawford, chief communications officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Sometimes when with an abusive partner, leaving can be the most dangerous time because that is when the abuser is losing control.”
Jane said she would be beaten for things like not keeping the house clean when he got home, speaking without being spoken to and even if the mashed potatoes had lumps in them.
In order to keep her obedient, John would threaten to take her kids and sell them in Mexico, or threaten to kill her while her children watched.
“He liked to play a lot of mind games, mostly using my kids against me,” Jane said. “A lot of people don’t understand that it’s the psychological hold, it’s the threat of losing your children, it’s the threat of being murdered, it’s those threats that keep those people and issues with their abusers because after a while it’s all you think about what they want to do to you and your children.”
Jane said she tried to leave her ex-husband nearly 10 times, successfully leaving three times, but always went back because she was fearful.
“We don’t ask what type of person continues to abuse instead of asking why the victim goes back,” Crawford said. “Sometimes it is safer for a victim to stay, there isn’t a single picture of what domestic violence looks like. Sometimes it is safer to be in that relationship for the moment until a safety plan can be developed.”
For Jane, the threat of violence to herself and her children was what kept her with John for three years.
“I left my ex many times,” Jane said. “I always went back because for me, believing that my children are safe and that he isn’t hurting them, the fear of what he could do because he had the means to do it was stronger and more of a motive for me to go back than to take my chances (leaving).”
She was with her ex for almost a year and a half when she got pregnant again with her third child. The third child is when John essentially forced Jane to marry him. According to Jane, John’s mother told here she would go to hell and her child would be illegitimate and not accepted by society without the marriage. His parents also threatened to take her children and attempt to get the state to declare her an unfit mother unless Jane went through with the marriage.
“So I married, him, but I didn’t want to,” Jane said. “It took everything I had to yell out, ‘no this isn’t what I want are you stupid?’ But I knew if I did that, there was going to be hell to pay because where was I going to go if I said no? I had no place to go; his parents were watching my kids, where was I going to go? How was I going to get my kids back? So I married him, married him the very next day after he got out of jail for domestic violence against me.”
Jane said she endured this abuse for years, with the violence escalating to the point of John setting himself on fire that day. Jane was able to step outside of his grasp, but she felt he was trying kill the both of them.
Jane was able to get away from John and get back to the apartment where she locked herself and her kids in a bedroom.
“My first instinct was if he dies right now it’s over, no one will blame me for not helping him,” Jane said. “I knew that if he put himself out, I knew I was going to be in for it so I went into their room and I had them all together and I started piling things up against the door and I slept in front of the door. Just in case he was able to put it out and he was.”
His daughter woke up and was able to help put him out and take him to the hospital. Jane said he had third degree burns across 75 percent of his body, and it gave her the opportunity to finally leave for the last time and go to the Advocates shelter.
“I didn’t have a vehicle, no job, didn’t know how I was going to live from one day to the next,” Jane said. “The government assistance we had for housing I lost because of it, I don’t know how I made it as far as I did, to be honest, if it wasn’t my determination to not be a victim my whole life.”
It has been 19 years since Jane left John and she completely changed her life. She has since graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with her bachelor’s in social work with minors in psychology and substance treatment.
“My family and I have come a very long way,” Jane said. “I have had the opportunity to talk to women in the advocacy center’s women’s group and I tell them this is just the beginning. The hardest thing to do is to make the decision to leave and go through with it, everything past this is going to be easy compared to that.
“Bad things happen all the time to everyone and it isn’t to minimize the issue at all but horrible things happen to everybody and if you are a victim to these horrible things and you just lay there and say ‘OK, I am done, I am a victim, I will always be a victim,’ then you are never going to meet any goals and you are never going to become anybody, you are just going to rot,” Jane said. “And I was determined that I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Jane said her and her three boys went through years of counseling and anger management to try to deal with the abuse they all experienced. Though at the time, Jane didn’t think her kids were getting abused, through counseling it was revealed they were victims as well.
“For me, I was very protective over my children even though I felt like I had no way out. I knew that they were witnessing what was going on with me, but I truly believed they were safe, that he didn’t focus his anger toward them,” Jane said. “But the unfortunate reality was that all those times that he would assault me and take my kids, he abused my kids. It took them three years after I left for that to come out in counseling.
“It is easier to place blame or judge in that situation when you have never been in that situation. Abusers are very manipulative, they are very cunning and they are passionate about what they do, whether it is going through that honeymoon phase or it is them beating the hell out of you.”
She said the effects of witnessing domestic violence has taken a large toll on her sons and they suffered post traumatic stress disorder and learning disabilities because of the incidents. However her and her family still are learning to work past being victims of domestic violence.
“It was hard to rebuild that, you really have to teach your children that behavior isn’t OK and there are other ways to show your anger through words and not through violence physically,” Jane said.
Though it has been 19 years, Jane still fears he’s coming back one day to harm her family. John wasn’t arrested and has since moved out of state.
“There isn’t really closure, we have just moved on and moved from being a victim to a survivor because there is no going back,” Jane said. “Even though I don’t believe he would come back my fear is that he would.”
She now works as a social worker and focuses on helping victims of domestic violence she encounters. She said the main advice she gives is to just leave, because the likelihood is even if a victim stays there’s a great chance of the abuser still reverting to violence.
“I get people who come into my job who are in domestic violence situations and I will tell them, if he has told you he is going to kill you, he is going to kill you,” Jane said. “That will be the end result, no matter how many times he says that he is sorry no matter how many times you have his child, if he says he is going to kill you he will and if he is going to kill you, he’s going to take anyone out who gets in his way because they are wired differently. It’s not because they love you, it’s not because they are teaching you a lesson it’s not a love thing, it’s power and control.”