In Utah, on average, one in three women and one in ten men will experience domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime.
Without proper education, IPV victims may not realize they are in an abusive relationship. It’s common for someone who is being abused to believe that it’s their fault and that they somehow “deserve” the abuse.
It’s important to know that you are never to blame for the way an abusive person treats you.
IPV comes in many forms. It can be difficult to realize you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship rather than a physically abusive one. It can creep up so slowly that your mind rationalizes the behavior.
You tell yourself things like, “They’re not hitting me. It could be worse,” or, “They love me, but they just don’t know how to express it.”
Educating yourself and being aware of red flags in a relationship can quite literally be the difference between life and death, or at the very least, save you from lingering emotional scars that may last a lifetime.
Not every case of IPV will escalate to violence, but two prominent Utah cases did, ultimately ending the lives of two beautiful women: Susan Cox Powell and Lauren McCluskey.
Powell, a West Valley City mother of two, went missing Dec. 6, 2009, and has never been found. Her now-deceased husband, who murdered their children before killing himself in 2012, is the only suspect in the cold case.
McCluskey, a University of Utah student-athlete, was murdered Oct. 22, 2018, by an ex-boyfriend who deceived and extorted her — a man who ended her life, and his, when she discovered his secrets and tried to leave him.
For the first time publicly, I will be sharing my own experience with domestic violence in the hopes that it may help someone in a similar situation.
Note: Some details, including names, have been altered for the privacy of those involved.
Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but to me, it was my own little slice of heaven. Justin was not just someone to hold at night, but a great father figure for my daughter. He was kind and caring. Everything revolved around our love. Our relationship was passionate, and he wanted all my time.
It was that mushy, gross kind of love that seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it was.
There were red flags during our relationship that I simply wasn’t aware of, or at times, blatantly ignored. Justin struggled to hold a steady job, and I was eventually forced into the role of breadwinner. Justin also hated crowds, which seemed innocent enough, until it evolved into a severe disliking for any group activities, including events with my close friends and, at times, my own family.
Closing himself off to the outside world, he slowly sabotaged his friendships, only intensifying his need to have me around. I was not “allowed” to spend time with friends or family if he was home, that was “his time.”
Hobbies were a no-go, new friends were not tolerated, even my choice in music became a topic of extreme aggravation. Nothing I did was good enough, and Justin reminded me daily.
Justin was amazingly talented at projecting his insecurities. I felt like I was going crazy, that I was an awful person, and when infidelity came into play, I blamed myself for that as well.
The truth was, I had been warned; his ex-girlfriend had tried reaching out to me with tales of horror, abuse that was unimaginable, and behavior that seemed so preposterous that it only confirmed his story. I rationalized those conversations by telling myself, “I’m different, our relationship is different, he has never been violent toward me.”
If only I had listened.
The breaking point can be defined as an event so shocking that it shifts how you see both your partner and your own changes; a re-evaluation of your circumstances, learning to love yourself, which results in standing up for yourself and not allowing your significant other to disrespect you. Justin didn’t like this phase one bit.
After his infidelity and months of self-loathing, a co-worker walked in on me hyperventilating and hysterically crying in my office. I thought I was alone. I said nothing, fearing it would make a bad situation worse, but it only took them one guess. They knew.
They saw right through me and said something I will never forget: “Why are you so dependent on someone that treats you like garbage?”
I was outraged. How dare someone question me like that? I was a strong, independent, hard working woman who didn’t need to listen to that kind of crap!
After two weeks of stewing on what I thought was an insulting comment, I finally realized why I was so angry: My co-worker was right. I had become so dependent on Justin that I would instantly forgive all the controlling behavior, the hurtful jabs, the infidelity, the lying, the manipulating, the disrespectful hypercriticism…
“Oh, God, who am I? Why didn’t I see this before?” I thought.
I began standing up for myself, I got a hobby and a new friend, even. Justin could see that his control over me was slipping through his fingers, and he was furious.
His behavior became erratic; he became so angry at times that his words didn’t even make sense. He accused me of being an “awful mother” for pursuing my GED and would often scream at me if I left the radio on the wrong channel in the car.
Then, the ultimatum: “Get help, or I’m done,” I told him. His behavior had spiraled out of control. He grasped at straws to justify his actions, but he was too late. I loved myself again.
I remembered what it was like to be happy, to have friends and hobbies, the small things in life that bring us all so much joy that I had taken for granted and missed with all my heart. Justin didn’t see any reason he should seek counseling and was angry with me for even suggesting it.
Our fights intensified, we grew distant and Justin began demanding sexual favors.
It was a week before my birthday, and a long night at work left me emotionally and physically drained. I plopped onto the couch like a deflated whoopee cushion, sighing in relief as I removed my shoes and settled in for an episode of my favorite show.
Justin didn’t seem fazed by my arrival. He simply paced back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, filling his glass over and over. At first, I thought it was water, but after each glass I became more concerned with his behavior.
His face was perplexing; it was hard to tell if he was angry or just tired as he gazed into the distance. After the third trip to the kitchen to fill his glass, I became anxious. His eyes grew darker and soon reached an unsettling shade of black.
I tried to keep my composure and stated I was going to turn in for the night. “I’ll join you then,” he said. My stomach sank.
As I headed up the stairs, my stomach was a rock. Something was very wrong with Justin; he was less himself than usual. I caught a whiff of his breath and realized it was gin in his glass.
I laid down like a frozen corpse in my sheets, afraid to move or breathe. I tried to close my eyes and act as though I was going straight to sleep.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” Justin asked. We had been fighting all weekend, and of course, it was all my fault.
I apologized profusely in the hopes I could end this argument before it began, but it didn’t work. Justin got louder and louder, asking me “Why?” over and over. He began to hover over me as he screamed.
The tears flowed down my cheeks as I looked around the room for an escape. I clutched my phone, trying to decipher if I could dial 911 before he could stop me, but he must have seen it in my eyes. He ripped the phone from my hands and tossed it aside.
I jumped up and cowered in a corner of the room. He seemed like he was eight feet tall, his eyes were black and empty, as if his soul was no longer there. It was like nothing I’d seen before, his whole body trembled with anger.
“The door, it’s only fifteen feet away, I could make it!” I thought to myself.
I quickly darted under his arm and tried to leap over the bed. I remember it like it was in slow-motion. I could see my way out. It was right there, but almost midair I was pulled down, he grabbed my leg and threw me with everything he had, stopping himself just before the bone snapped.
He hovered over me again, yelling for what seemed like hours, and all I could think was, “There is no way my baby is sleeping through this. What if she hears him?”
In the days to follow, Justin apologized profusely, promising nothing like that would happen again. When I asked him about nearly breaking my leg, he responded, “but I didn’t, I stopped myself.”
That response sent chills down my spine.
“You stopped yourself,” I thought. What would happen if he didn’t stop? I could end up in the hospital, or even worse — dead.
I was faced with the hardest decision of my life: stay with the man that I loved, but feared, or report the abuse and get out.
Questions raced through my mind: “What was best for me and my daughter? Could I support both of us? Who will watch her while I work? Will she forgive me for leaving?”
Two days later, I had my answer, when everything suddenly hit me. I found myself at work, locked in the women’s restroom, curled into a corner, hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably. I knew I had to leave.
The next morning, I reported the abuse to the police, packed a bag and headed straight for my mother’s.
For a short time after, I lived very cautiously. Justin began making threats, and would randomly show up at my workplace trying to guilt-trip me. He stormed my car, screaming, when I would get home, and even went as far as to raid my home while I was out playing with my daughter one day.
Every night, I slept with a knife in every drawer, a machete in my closet, a bat next to my bed and a taser under my pillow. Months went by, and the threats subsided. He had found a new partner and I was finally free.
I had ignored so many signs, but learned a great lesson: You must listen to your inner voice.
An emotionally abusive relationship consists of verbal or psychological abuse that leads to depression, anxiety, and possible post-traumatic stress. All abuse takes a severe toll on self-esteem and can leave the abused person feeling helpless and possibly even hopeless.
I’m writing this story to say if you’re in an abusive relationship, and any part of my story sounds familiar to you, seek help.
I fought hard for my freedom, and I am grateful for every moment that life has given me, including my struggles. I am stronger than ever, I provided for my daughter and myself, and I reclaimed my body and mind as my own.
I began hiking every weekend after my relationship ended, a hobby that I am still passionate about to this day. It gave me the clarity, peace, and confidence I needed to pursue my new life, the one I am living and loving today.
I am a mother, a student, a wife, a daughter, and I am a survivor of sexual and domestic violence.
- Utah Domestic Violence Link Line: 1-800-897-LINK (5465)
- Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1-888-421-1100