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Domestic violence survivor shares story

WORTHINGTON -- Another heated argument that started over nothing. Another round of yelling and hitting. Another session of name calling and threats. But this fight ended when he pulled out a gun and held it to her head.

Luckily for Joan, her husband's actions seemed to shock him as much as it shocked her. The gun went off accidentally, but the bullet plowed into the floor and no one was hurt.

"The gun left the house the next day," she said.

The pistol might have left, but Joan didn't. She stayed with her abuser for another two years.

Joan is not her real name. Although willing to talk about her experiences of being involved in an abusive relationship, Joan is still protecting her children from the things that happened during the decade of mental and physical abuse. And that meant hiding her identity, even as she shared her story.

Her biggest reason for telling her story is to get the word out -- there are people willing and able to help domestic violence victims.

"I didn't know there was anyone out there to go to," Joan said. "I didn't know until after he was arrested for domestic abuse."

According to an advocate of the Southwest Crisis Center more than 800 men, women and children used SWCC services last year. Half of those were from Nobles County.

Funded by the Minnesota Office of Justice, SWCC services five counties in southwest Minnesota and has offices in Worthington, Jackson, Luverne, Pipestone and Windom.

In a recent SWCC newsletter devoted to October's status as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an advocate wrote, "The desire to leave is not the same as the ability to leave." One of the most frequently voiced questions by people who have never been a victim of domestic abuse is, "Why didn't she just leave?"

An advocate at the Worthington SWCC office, who also wished to remain anonymous to better protect her clients, said every case is different, but the most common reason a female abuse victim doesn't leave involves finances.

Threats, safety fears and love are factors, but the inability to provide shelter and food for herself and her children continues to be the foremost reason a woman doesn't leave a man who is abusing her.

When Joan finally left her abusive husband, it was financially devastating. She essentially filed bankruptcy and moved -- bringing her four children and their clothes, and taking them from everything they knew.

Some victims have a defining moment when they realize they have to get out of their relationship, but that wasn't the case with Joan. She said it slowly dawned on her as she got older that she didn't want to continue living her life the way it was.

"I don't know that a light bulb ever came on and made me think, 'I'm in an abusive relationship,'" she explained. "I just realized I wanted more out of my life than what it was."

First, she made the decision to go back to school. The day she brought up going to college was "a major ordeal," she said.

"It took his control away," she explained.

Joan persevered and began school to get her license for practical nursing, and her husband also enrolled in school.

"So he could follow me," she said. "He only lasted a month or so."

That was toward the end of the relationship, she added. They were divorced the next fall.

"To make that decision to leave is very emotional," Joan explained. "You give up the time from your life that you devoted to making that marriage work."

Making her marriage work was more than a hope for Joan -- it was almost a mantra.

"I was determined not to let my marriage fail," she stated. "I did everything in my power to make it work."

The abuse started with name calling, put-downs and insults and progressed to slaps and hitting.

"The name calling is a strange thing," Joan said pensively. "After being told so many times you aren't good at anything, you start to believe it."

She hid her bruises and didn't let anyone know what was happening.

""I kept my life pretty secretive," Joan explained. "Why? I was afraid, embarrassed, ashamed. You think it's your fault. I provoked him again, made him angry."

Even with the seriousness of the subject, Joan cracked a small smile.

"I was really good at making him angry," she quipped.

To do that, she simply had to not be quick enough picking up a crying child, or simply be there when he came home drunk.

"For a long time I didn't argue back," Joan admitted. "I didn't think I had the right to. I had gotten married against my mother's wishes and I was going to prove her wrong. So this was my problem."

The way she grew up, Joan said, problems weren't discussed.

Before the relationship ended, Joan had entered counseling with her husband, but he became belligerent and was kicked out of the session. Joan continued to go back to the counselor, and eventually kicked her husband out of the house. But it was afterward that things got even stickier.

"He started threatening me," she said. "He called and said if I didn't agree to have sex with him, he would take the children away."

Joan decided to catch his threats on tape, and set up a recorder in the house when she knew he was on his way over. When he arrived to discuss things, she taped the conversation. But something went wrong.

"I don't know what happened," Joan said. "Somehow, he knew it was there. The recorder had a red light -- maybe he saw it."

Halfway out the door, he tried to lunge back inside, and she pushed him out the door. She ran into a bedroom with the recorder, but he broke down the door and gave chase. During a struggle over the tape from the recorder, Joan's arm got cut. One of the children called 911 and her husband ran out the door, destroying the tape as he went.

Authorities arrested him later for domestic assault.

Co-workers the next day gave her the cold shoulder and took her to task for having him put in jail.

"What the heck were you thinking?" they asked.

"He was very good at making people see the good side of him," Joan admitted.

The last year and a half of her marriage were not the worst years, Joan said, but she had come to realize she didn't want to live that way any longer, and wanted better for her children.

These days Joan is happily remarried, and is now a registered nurse with a fulfilling career and a bustling household.

Looking back, Joan said she doesn't know how life got out of control, when life changed or when she changed.

"It just did. I just did," she said. "I was so busy with life and I thought that was just how people lived and I guess I accepted that. I was wrong."

In 2008, at least 21 women were murdered in Minnesota due to domestic violence. Nine died from gunshot wounds, four were stabbed to death, three were strangled, three beaten to death and one died due to injuries sustained during a sexual assault. One woman died from unknown causes. Two men were murdered by intimate partners. Seven children were murdered in Minnesota in 2008 due to domestic violence, five friends or family member's deaths are attributed to domestic violence and at least 25 children were left motherless due to domestic violence.