“I didn’t even brush my hair. I never laughed. I thought I was disgusting, because I was told I was disgusting.”
Domestic abuse has many forms, sometimes manifesting as physical violence and other times being more subtle and difficult to distinguish. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic keeping many people at home, domestic violence is on the rise globally, and Texas cities have not been immune to the trend.
In light of the current climate regarding domestic violence, a woman from the Wharton County area decided to share her story of surviving domestic abuse with the Leader-News.
Her name has been changed to “Sara” in this story for her privacy and safety.
Sara left her partner 15 years ago, but she says the memories of his abuse are still raw in her mind. Her partner was never physically abusive, but he would verbally berate her, telling her she was worthless and that she would never be able to care for their daughter without him.
“It’s still fresh,” Sara said. “It’s not easy to get over it, and it’s not easy to say, ‘it’s in the past.’ It’s there (in my mind) as if it was happening right now.”
Sara felt if she stayed in the relationship any longer, the arguments could have escalated to violence.
“I just remember him saying, ‘I feel like beating the crap out of you right now,’” she said.
Her family wasn’t supportive when she confided in them about her partner’s verbal abuse.
The idea of leaving her partner made Sara feel like she was starting over completely alone. Gathering the courage to leave was an ongoing process. Sara would buy items for her daughter and herself at garage sales and hide them in her home, waiting for the day she would leave. She knew this was risky, since her partner could easily find them, Sara said, but she had no other option.
“I was so scared,” Sara said. “I signed (apartment) leases, and then I would back out, because I was so scared. Then, (my partner) would tell me, ‘you’ll never be able to support your kids. Your kids are going to lack so much, and you’re going to ruin their lives.’”
Even after Sara worked up the courage to leave the relationship, she doubted herself. Because her partner was the main financial provider for the family, Sara had few belongings once she left. The only item of furniture she was able to bring to her new apartment was a bed for her daughter.
“I tried to make a picnic on the floor for my baby to make it fun so she wouldn’t realize we didn’t have a table,” Sara said, her voice breaking with emotion for the first time during the interview.
Years after leaving, Sara and her daughter are infinitely better, she said. They both regularly attend counseling to deal with the trauma of their ordeal.
“Now, we’re doing much better,” Sara said. “The beginning is rough, but at least you wake up and go to sleep not feeling like you let anybody down.”
Sara loves her child, but looking back, she wishes she would have left the abusive relationship for the sake of her own mental health. She felt she would have left sooner if she had allowed her own needs to be enough motivation.
“I think (my) kid inspired me to leave, but I wish I would have been enough,” Sara said. “In my head, I was nothing back then. In my head, I was dirt … If you’re not taken care of, then your kids won’t be taken care of.”
One third of Texas women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and in 2012, Texas accounted for more than 10 percent of U.S. domestic violence homicides.
“Because of the virus, many domestic violence victims feel they’re safest inside their homes, but that may or may not be the case,” according to a September press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The number one thing Sara wants those experiencing domestic abuse to learn from her story, is to leave the unhealthy relationship as soon as safely possible.
“So what if y’all have history?” Sara said. “So what if they’re the father or mother of your kids? So what if your family will be upset? So what if you don’t have anything? You’ll have yourself. Your mental health is more important than the life people think you should live.”
The Wharton County Crisis Center and local police department were invaluable resources throughout Sara’s ordeal, she said. She hopes others can find the courage to report abuse if they’re experiencing it.
“You have to report everything,” Sara said. “Nothing is an accident. If they do it once, they will do it again.”
The Crisis Center honored Domestic Violence awareness month throughout October, sharing survivors’ stories, like Sara’s, and resources for survivors of abuse. For more information, visit the Crisis Center’s website at Crisiscnt.com.
Crime tips can be reported to the Wharton County Sheriff’s Office at 979-532-1550 or to West Wharton County Crime Stoppers at 979-543-8477.
Help for domestic abuse victims is available through the Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-451-9235 or through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ call center at 1-800-252-5400.
Months into the pandemic, preliminary statistics on domestic violence murders show increases in cities across the country, according to NBC News.