By JAMIE ARNOLD
EBCI LEGAL ASSISTANCE OFFICE ATTORNEY
I had seen her around. A few times in the grocery store or maybe at the library. Never more than acquaintances, usually just a nod and a friendly hello as we passed each other in the aisle. Always well dressed, nothing expensive looking, but clean and thoughtful. Very polite and friendly, but a bit reserved.
But now here she was, sitting across my desk from me. Tissue in her hand and eyes red from crying. The words came slow at first, perhaps from embarrassment, but mostly from fear. Every few sentences she would remind me, or perhaps herself, about how smart he was, and that everyone always believed him. She constantly repeated “you just don’t know, he’s so convincing to everyone.”
As she talked, the words began to flow. As the gates opened, the story unfolded before me. She assured me that there were good times, times when he could be very loving and caring. Just last weekend they spent a wonderful day at the lake, laughing and enjoying time with friends. Until they got home that evening, and the beers began to get to him.
It almost always began with something relatively minor. A random argument or remark would set him off. Perhaps some perceived event from earlier in the day, or maybe something she did or wore. Once it was because she mentioned that she ran into an old male high school classmate at the gas station that day.
If she was lucky, he would just yell and berate her until passing out on the couch. If it was a bad day though, he might grab her arm or hit her in the back of the head. He struck her in the face once. Although he didn’t black her eye, she still took a day off work for the red mark to go down enough for makeup to cover it.
Last night he trapped her in the bathroom. He stood in the door and wouldn’t let her leave the room while he ranted. She threatened to call the police, so he ripped the phone out of her hand and threw it down the hall.
“I know he loves us, and he works hard at a good job to provide for us.” We discussed whether their friends or family knew about his dark side. Although she believed that his mother probably suspected something, she still always took his side.
She didn’t like it, but she had gotten used to it. Until now. Now she wanted out. She wanted out, but simply didn’t know how. Where would she go? How could she pay bills on her own? What would their friends say?
She happened to notice a flyer in the library about a local domestic violence shelter. On impulse she called the number, just to check it out she thought. The lady on the other end confidently assured her that it would be discrete and confidential. She hung up the phone and immediately drove to the shelter. That’s exactly what it became to her- a shelter. A shelter from the years of abuse and disparagement. Not only did they listen to her story, they also helped her seek resources such as housing, financial assistance, and counseling.
Because of her fear about how he would react, they assisted her with paperwork to get a protective order from the court. The thought of a court room scared her almost as much as he did. The shelter referred her to my office. We provide free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. I assured her that she would not be alone in the Court room. A team of advocates and lawyers would accompany her to the court and work on her behalf.
This story is completely fictional and not about any actual client. However, it is based on the real stories that I have heard time and time again from survivors of domestic violence. Fortunately there is real help available. The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program at the Ernestine Walkingstick Shelter is dedicated to assisting and advocating for those in need of help. Additionally, the staff and lawyers at the Legal Assistance Office are here to assist those survivors who want to make a choice in their lives.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a violent relationship, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The Ernestine Walkingstick Shelter can be reached 24 hours a day at (828) 359-6830. Help your community break the cycle. Help your family break the cycle.