I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering if I should own this story or if I’ve said too much, but I think it’s time we have a very open and honest discussion about domestic violence and rape. The repercussions of shame and silence are far too great not to speak up. When we hear stories about domestic abuse, they seem to always be stories of victory—of those who survived some abuse in their past. Why don’t we hear about it in the present tense? Why don’t we talk about it as an ongoing issue rather than a thing to be ‘left’ and ‘moved on’ from? I don’t think that’s very realistic for many victims.
We’re okay saying “I was abused and survived,” but we’re not yet brave enough to say “It’s still a problem for me right now.” That’s why I decided to publish this as me, not a pseudonym as I originally planned to do, and why I’ve decided to talk about some things I’m still dealing with right now, not just what happened in my past. This wasn’t easy to write, but I hope it helps some victims out there know they’re not alone, or better understand what they’re going through, and I hope it helps those who haven’t experienced abuse to be more mindful of how they talk and think about it.
Growing up, there were two things we just didn’t discuss: domestic violence and sex. So when those two worlds collided, I found myself trapped at the center of them, without a voice, too ashamed to tell anyone, and unable to see a way out.
“Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth” (Heb 12:6).
Even though I was in my mid-twenties when it started, I was gullible as hell. I had the street smarts of a five-year-old. I knew nothing about alcohol, nothing about drugs, and even though I had just lost my virginity, I still knew absolutely nothing about sex. Consent was not a word in my vocabulary— neither was “no.”
I had just finished Bible college had grown weary of all the rules. I was “slipping into sin.” I went to the movies, wore pants, shaved above the knee, and exposed my collarbone in public— you know the routine.
And you know what happens next. I was a sermon example waiting to happen. No hurricanes or mass shootings for me, though, just a car accident. There I was, stranded in a small town, laid up with crutches, bored, horny, and trying to get the hang of this whole sex thing, so I met up with this guy via mutual friends. Wrong place at the right time, I guess.
We did the deed. A while later I had gone over to watch movies. I was still in pain from my injuries, so I asked if he had any Tylenol. He disappeared for a moment, then brought back a pill and a glass of water. I took it. After a few minutes I started to feel numb. My head went a little foggy, like I was floating in the air, and then I noticed I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I couldn’t move anything. I was freaked out. He said it was dark in the kitchen, so he must have “accidentally” gotten one of his mother’s prescription anxiety pills, and I was dumb enough to believe him. Who would do something like that on purpose?
[I now have my own prescription anxiety medication, but it doesn’t do anything like that. I still don’t know what he gave me.]
He apologized for the “mix-up,” then laughed and said, “Feels good, doesn’t it?” I certainly didn’t feel any more pain. Hell, I hardly felt anything at all. I was awake, but I couldn’t move my body. I don’t remember how long it lasted, just that all I could do was lie there on the floor in the living room and wait for it to pass. While I was unable to move, or feel, or talk, he climbed on top of me, and we had sex again.
Or did we? Looking back I wonder: was that sex, or was that rape?
Let me backtrack to this concept of consent for a moment. In my world, there was no such thing as non-consensual sex. You either asked for it verbally, with your body language, your clothing, or you were somewhere you shouldn’t be in the first place.
If you consent once, you’ve consented forever, right? I mean, how is he supposed to know if I don’t want to anymore? If someone had told me that just because I’m sleeping in the same room with a penis, that doesn’t make me obligated to have sex with it—or that I could actually say yes one time, no the next time, and yes another time—I would have thought they had lost their marbles. Men have uncontrollable, biological needs. I knew that much.
Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t love the guy. I hardly knew him, really, but that didn’t matter. There was only one option in those situations. I was terrified enough of both the real and existential repercussions of my sin to get married without even telling my own mother I was pregnant. I was dumb enough to think I could make it work. God only protects you when you obey Him, and any marriage is successful with Him in it.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
We got along just fine at first. He was nice, kind, doting, funny, seemed responsible. His family was great. I knew he’d had a rough life, but everyone has a past. I felt sorry for him. I thought I could save him. I never dreamed he could hurt anyone.
[Funny tidbit: The first conversation we ever had was when he’d said something blasphemous, and I felt compelled to help him find God. By the time we got married, he had convinced me it worked. He even went to church with me. I felt so betrayed when I caught him letting our toddler watch the evolution special on the Discovery Channel and then— gasp— made fun of my Kent Hovind lectures. That was about the time he admitted outright that he manipulated me into marrying him and that the pill situation wasn’t an accident after all.]
His behavior slowly changed. He complained that my cooking was too fancy, called it “magazine food,” and wouldn’t eat it. But, hey, we were used to different things. He complained that being on top of me was like “riding waves” because of my growing belly, and it grossed him out. He was just being honest. Preacher told us girls to keep our appearance just as it was on our wedding day. Anything less was somehow cheating our husbands out of what they paid for… er… married. He called me his “cum dumpster,” but it was just a joke… LOL… A few months in, I caught him sexting on PlentyOfFish. Nothing really happened. He was just lonely because I wasn’t “meeting his needs.”
Aside from being hugely pregnant, I frankly didn’t like sex. I didn’t hate it…I just didn’t like it. I thought I would eventually, perhaps after the baby was born, so I soldiered on and waited for it to get better. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I still did my wifely duties, but tried to avoid the situation more often than not. It was uncomfortable, messy, sometimes painful and humiliating. He was kind enough to appease my discomfort by letting me give him oral on occasion instead of penetrating me. Such a thoughtful, selfless husband I had.
Sex isn’t supposed to be fun. If it is, you’re a freak.
The fact is, I didn’t know what a healthy sexual relationship looked like. I had sneaked enough porn and romance novels to have an idea though. The men are aggressive, the women either don’t want it or pretend not to want it, it’s over in about 4:57 minutes, it’s supposed to be painful and sometimes bloody, but if you just grin and bear it long enough, you’ll eventually start to like it.
Only one girl in my youth group had been sexually active. I remember hearing that you just have to do it a “whole bunch of times” to get all broken in, and then it will start to feel good.
I’d heard all my life about the drudgery of marital “duties.” At morning devotionals we were taught that sometimes you’re not going to want to do “things” with your husband, but you must always be available “when he calls.” “The wife has no authority over her own body but yields it to her husband…” [I Cor 7:4] My own mother always pointed out that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” [I Peter 3:6]
I’m not sure how “when he calls” translates into when he pins you down on the bed and forces himself on you, but somehow, I honestly never drew that distinction.
And how the hell are we supposed to know what to expect when the most adult word you can use to describe sexual acts is “things”?
The problem with fundamentalist Christian culture isn’t that it doesn’t teach rape is wrong, but that it doesn’t know what rape actually is.
In my mind, if it wasn’t violent or you didn’t cry for help, that wasn’t rape, that was fornication. If it was violent and you did cry out, it was still only rape if you didn’t happen to belong to your assailant (Deut. 22:23-24).
Rape was a one-time thing, a life and death situation, not something that happens with people who love you, and certainly not from your own husband. Marital rape? No such thing!
I didn’t say no for a long time, but I didn’t want it, either. I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good. A few times he held me down and tried to put things in me that weren’t part of his anatomy. Sometimes I was asleep when he started. I told him over and over I couldn’t stand that, but he did it any way.
I let him abuse me to keep him from abusing me. How’s that for irony?
The less I “met his needs,” the more angry he became, and the more afraid of him I became. He wasn’t the person I had married. He would take his anger toward me out on our child, but I was always there to intervene. I micro-managed everyone’s emotions, and it was exhausting. I had to keep my child happy and quiet so he didn’t upset my husband, and I let my husband do what he wanted to me to keep his anger manageable.
It got worse when I stopped trying, but I still wasn’t being abused like those women on TV were. Sure he screamed and cursed, called names, spied on me, stalked my church, broke my phone with his teeth, ripped phone cords out of the wall, messed with my car engine, locked me out of the house with the kid inside until I agreed to his terms, threatened my family, followed me to another town and made a big scene screaming he wouldn’t leave until I went with him, hacked into my Facebook account and messaged people pretending to be me, threw things, broke things, punched holes in the walls, and so on. I was a hostage in my own home— but he never hit me.
As far as I knew, jealousy, anger, and aggression were fairly normal male behavior. I was my mother, after all. Emotional abuse was outside the scope of my understanding, and I didn’t think sexual abuse existed inside a marriage. As long as he only hurt me in that way, I wasn’t really being abused.
Abuse is progressive.
The sheriff who responded to my 911 call a year later told me something that really should be common knowledge. She said each time an abuser snaps, it’s always worse than the time before, and that every woman who is killed by her spouse didn’t believe it would happen to her. This contradicted everything I had ever known. People are supposed to be able to change, and as the “keeper of the home,” I am supposed to have the power to make that happen.
I can make him better.
It’s my fault he got angry.
Children need their fathers.
Kids with single parents go to hell.
I tried. I really, really tried, but eventually, even the thought of him near me made me cringe. I told him I hated sex. I even suggested a prostitute if it would just make him leave me alone. I didn’t care what he did. I didn’t care about anything anymore. I was dead inside.
Turns out abusers don’t like rejection.
One day, despite all my ignorance and naivety, I finally recognized it as abuse. I will never forget that afternoon upstairs when the one-year old was napping and I was still pregnant with the second one, that he came in and then left me feeling like the dirty rag that the preacher always said I was. I did resist. I did say no, but he was bigger than me and stronger than me. He said something like, “Just be still, it will just take a minute.” Then he finished and went back downstairs. After almost three years of marriage, I finally realized I had been raped.
Maybe because I fought back that time. It’s not rape unless you fight back, right?
But still, he didn’t hit me.
As long as I had no bruises, everyone else thought we were fine. He’d threaten (and actually start to) watch porn in front of the kids if I didn’t have sex with him, so I did. I began complaining about some of these things, but people thought I was just being a “helicopter mom.”
“He’s their father,” they would say. “He’d never really do anything to hurt his own children.” (Why do people think this?!)
One day he finally did it. He lost his temper, grabbed me by the throat, and threw me up against the wall. I was hosting a kid’s party that day and guests were already arriving. I was in shock. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just calmly brushed myself off and went to welcome my guests. No one knew. I looked fine. I was really good at that.
I made him go to counseling with me, but all he got out of it was that I should have sex more. I told him I wouldn’t stay, but where would I go? I had used my life savings to buy our house, and aside from that, I had been pregnant, breastfeeding, or both the entirety of our marriage. I had a two-year-old and an infant, no real education, no work experience, no childcare, no money, and no idea how to even get those things. My mother preached about the sins of divorce and the power of prayer. Sarah called her husband “lord,” she’d remind me again. Supposedly, my step-father “calmed down” over the years, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
My grandmother listed things I could just “go get” from government assistance. People think if you’re a poor single mother, all you have to do is walk into a welfare office and you get free food, free housing, free childcare, free money, a Ferrari, and an iPhone. Yes, there are programs out there, but getting assistance is not that simple, nor is it available to everyone.
I started looking for a job, sewing things, baking things, and selling everything we owned—down to the microwave—just to keep from being homeless. Meanwhile, I just had to deal with it. If I angered him, he’d threaten to take the kids from me or worse. I sacrificed my body and my dignity to protect us from his wrath—and it worked. I could handle it. It would just be for a little while longer, and then I’d be free and could forget all about it. He was nobody, and his words and actions meant nothing. God would never give me more than I could handle. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I truly believed this.
[Spoiler alert: Staying in an unhealthy situation does not make you stronger.]
I let him rape me to survive.
Eventually I found a job, put the kids in daycare, and filed for divorce. By this point, I was determined to make it on my own no matter what the cost.
I was working part-time at a grocery store and about 75% of my income went to childcare just so I could go to work. I was on the waiting list for child care assistance for over a year. I had gotten three foreclosure notices. The utilities had been cut off God knows how many times. My car was breaking down. The kids were getting sick constantly. I got little sympathy because mothers are just biologically supposed to be able to handle that stuff. I was using cloth diapers and wipes because I couldn’t afford to buy them. My food stamps were cut significantly when I started working, so the running joke was that I was still breastfeeding my kids because I couldn’t afford to buy groceries. It wasn’t without some merit.
My ex worked for cash or not at all to keep from paying child support; he was going to “starve me out.” He went months at a time without speaking to the kids. He used their well-being as a pawn in his sick games. He wouldn’t even buy them a pack of socks when I didn’t have a penny to my name because they were not his “responsibility” unless he was living with us. He picked them up from school and didn’t tell me. He threatened to have our four-year-old kicked out of his school by refusing to allow them use of his address if I didn’t do what he wanted. He actually followed through with that. He stalked me at work and tried to get me in trouble with my boss. His girlfriend got a job where I worked, and then started telling our co-workers that I abused and neglected the kids. (She got suspended.) He threatened my babysitters. All the while, he kept saying everything would be fine if I just took him back. He would stop ignoring the kids and stop harassing me, and he would be nice and take care of us, and everything would be sunshine and rainbows— if I would just love him again. It was all up to me.
I gave him sex for money, and I’m not ashamed to say so anymore.
I surrendered my body to get him to pay the light bill. I surrendered my body to keep him from losing his temper in front of the kids… to keep him from breaking my only means of transportation… to stop him from making a scene and humiliating me publicly… to make him leave me alone and let me sleep… so he would give me my phone back or turn the internet back on.
I let him angrily rape me so he would stop stalking and threatening the teenager whom he accused me of emotionally cheating on him with after he moved out. When he texted me a picture of this kid’s truck with the phrase, “This is the before,” and threatened to break his knee caps, I was afraid of what he would do if I didn’t make him feel better somehow. So I surrendered while he threw me over the chair in the living room and pounded me as hard as he could from behind, saying that this was my “punishment.” That even when we were divorced, I would still be his wife in God’s eyes. I’d always belong to him.
I was embarrassed and afraid and just wanted him to stop acting like a crazy person. I didn’t care what he did to me as long as he left everyone else alone. He would calm down eventually once he got over the break-up. I just had to wait it out.
Almost 3/4ths of domestic violence murders happen after the victim leaves, not before.
He’d said he would kill me or himself or both of us if I ever left him, but I never really took that seriously. Not until the day he brought a gun home. He thought he was being funny pointing it at me and pulling the trigger in front of the kids. He was just joking, it wasn’t loaded—lighten up.
When I went to file charges, the detective argued it was a waste of time. It was “he said, she said.” Nothing would come of it, so I shouldn’t bother.
I tried to go to the women and children’s shelter, but they told me to come back when I actually had some bruises to show them. Apparently, I didn’t look like the stereotypical battered wife. Should I have roughed myself up a bit first, used bad manners or something? Is there a pamphlet somewhere that tells domestic violence victims what we’re supposed to look like so people will take us seriously?
A few nights later, he almost killed us all. He came in while I was sleeping with the kids on either side and tried to force himself on me again. When I told him I didn’t want to be anywhere near him, he lost it, punched a few holes in the wall and went to get his gun. I had to lock the kids and myself in the bedroom and call 911 while he tried to bang the door down, clicking his pistol, and screaming that he was going to blow his brains out in front of the kids so they knew it was my fault that daddy killed himself, because mommy didn’t love him anymore.
To be completely honest, I wished he would. I wished he would just die already. There, I said it.
But he apologized.
When he tried to sue me for joint custody later on because he thought it would mean I had to pay him child support instead if I had a job and he didn’t, my lawyer told me the “family violence/deadly conduct” charges the state had filed after my 911 call were inadmissible since it was before the divorce was final. And how could I complain anyway? I shouldn’t have had them in that situation to begin with (My lawyer also told me I was attractive, then asked if I had any nude photos online anywhere, you know, just in case it comes up in court). I fired that lawyer, but he’s now a family court judge.
I’ve encountered counselors, judges, and CPS workers who assume allegations of child abuse are just retaliation, that I’m being overprotective, or that it’s perfectly fine now for him to take the kids alone since he apologized. After he beat our four-year-old to the point of hallucinations, he admitted to it in court, and they actually increased his visitation. Even though every single thing I’ve mentioned in this post, and infinitely more, is documented with messages, photos, journal entries, medical records, arrest records, and so forth, he still has parental rights. How can we blame victims for not recognizing abuse when our entire society can’t recognize it?
Every time I see an article about domestic abuse, I see the same generic image, a broken woman wearing economy sized sun-glass or cowering in the corner from a man’s balled up fist. Domestic violence is far more complex than just battery and bruises, and victims aren’t all shriveled-up, wimpy house wives. We had a family photo shoot scheduled the day after my ex called my son a faggot and ‘spanked’ him so much that he hallucinated about it three times that week. This is what victims of domestic violence look like. Almost no one I turned to for help in all this took me seriously. I was the bad guy for complaining.
Why do we stay?
Our culture is a breeding ground for domestic violence. It has been since its inception and still is today. Rather than hear about why people abuse, we hear, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Women have been blamed by society and victimized by the legal system for centuries. My sociology textbook talks about “learned helplessness,” and lists reasons that are almost entirely victim-centric. How about mentioning “systemic helplessness?” Instead of describing the problem as “fear of the threat of retaliation,” how about describing the problem as danger? Instead of finding fault with the oft “unfounded” emotions of the victim, let’s talk about why our culture perpetuates this problem, and why, even when women are taking steps to better their situation, they often have no realistic choice?
You can’t ask a woman to choose between protecting herself or protecting her children and then blame her for choosing the latter.
How would that night have played out when I called 911 if I’d just let him have his way with me? Would I still have had to explain to my son’s preschool teacher why he had an anxiety attack when she mentioned the police coming to school one day? How much sooner would something like that have happened had I not let him use my body to pacify his emotions? Would I even still be here to write about it? Sometimes there isn’t a safe option either way; there’s only the path of least resistance. I did what I had to do to survive.
The hard truth is, once children are in the picture, leaving doesn’t end anything, it merely changes the dynamic.
I can be the stereotypical survivor, tell you how I got away, how I’m making it on my own now, paid my house off, got my GED and am going to a real school, winning scholarships and awards, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, my kids are getting awards at their school—doing all the survivor things. I can put on my makeup and smile for the camera pretending everything is fine now, but the truth is it’s not because we live in a society that systemically values the traditional family unit over the safety and well-being of victims.
I still have to deal with this asshole. He just got out of prison… again… and the first thing he says to me is a joke about dating me. He picks on me about my hair, he likes it, jokes about coming to hang out at my house with me, then tells me to calm down and lighten up when I don’t laugh. He’s already cost me over $8k in a frivolous lawsuit. I lost my job during all that and had a mental breakdown that I’m still recovering from. It’s a miracle I’m even still here.
Now that he’s hitting on me again, letting himself in my house and calling me rude and mean for not coming downstairs to ‘say hi,’ I realize that I’m still scared of him. I’m still afraid that if I don’t passively let him cross those boundaries, laugh off his ‘jokes,’ or tell him what he wants to hear, that he’ll get mad and turn on us again just because he can. When I realized I was still doing this, I spoke up. I told him to stop the flirting, stop trying to bait me into confrontations, and stop letting himself into my house.
Surprise! He says he’s suing me again. I can’t even afford to leave my lawyer a voicemail by this point, but there’s nothing I can do to stop him from using the family court system to harass us with. He has the legal right to do so, he’s a good actor, and as long as that’s the only power he has over me, he’s never going to stop. In the court system, just like any other aspect of commercialized society, you get what you pay for.
Why do girls fall for guys like that in the first place?
Well gee… I must have just hated myself and secretly wanted to be abused.
No. I married someone “like that” because I didn’t know he was “like that” when I married him. And judging by the number of close friends and family who were shocked and in disbelief when he almost killed us all, it’s safe to say no one else knew he was “like that” either.
So stop blaming women for getting into those situations in the first place!
Yes, I made plenty of bad choices. But no, it was not my fault for not knowing what I didn’t know, or for trying to do the right thing when I did know. I’ve learned so much since then, but I still don’t have it all figured out. No one does.
If I knew then what I know now…
Well, aside from not knowing how to use birth control, I didn’t know what rape was and I didn’t know that just putting up with it would have the long term effects on me that it has.
Rape isn’t just forced sex: it’s any sex without consent, it’s sex when you can’t consent, coerced sex, manipulated or blackmailed sex, sex with threats, or sex when you don’t have a choice.
Domestic violence isn’t a personal problem, it’s a social problem. Nothing is going to change until we stop focusing on the victims and start focusing on the perpetrators, the culture that creates them, and the systems that keep it in place.
I don’t blame myself for everything that happened, but I don’t entirely blame him either. In the end, he was just as much a product of his environment as was I.
Lastly, to everyone who says, “The only way to have a successful marriage is with God.” Guess what? My marriage was built entirely on God, and I’m lucky to have gotten out alive.
[Featured Image: Adobe Stock]