Tuesday, October 14, 2003
When "Kelly" walked through the door of the battered women's shelter a few weeks ago, she was very small. Too small to lift her head and look anyone in the eyes and too small to answer the counselor's questions with more than a whisper.
For years, her husband whittled away at her with words. He never raised a fist against her, but she was a battered woman.
"Oftentimes, when people think about domestic violence, they think about physical violence," said Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. "They think that if you don't get hit, you weren't abused, but there is also emotional and verbal abuse.
"Some women say they would rather have the physical abuse. They say that it hurts and it's scary, but it goes away. Emotional abuse doesn't go away."
Emotional abuse can range from name-calling to repeating insults such as "no one would want you" or "you can't make it on your own."
"The scars are on the inside," Moore said.
Kelly's situation escalated so slowly that she didn't recognize what was happening.
He started by isolating her, she said.
"There was always something wrong with my friends," Kelly said. He would get angry when she spent time with friends and family, so she stopped. "Then there was always something wrong with me -- my opinions were wrong, my weight was wrong, my race was wrong. After awhile you get used to it. You believe that you're fat and stupid."
She finally decided to leave him "when he said something I heard from my first husband. (A man who physically abused her for almost a decade.) Then I realized what was happening."
From her first divorce, she knew there was a system in place for women like her -- women who needed to get out of a situation before it's too late but don't have family or friends to take them in.
She quietly packed her belongings and made a phone call to Advocates. They gave her a quiet place to stay for several weeks and access to a counselor so she could put her life back together.
Last week, she was feeling ready for the next step.
"I just want to get out of here and get on with my life," she said. "I want to learn how not to get in this situation again."
Kelly described herself as a needy woman who gets involved with men because they "said the right things. But before you know it, the other shoe drops and then there's another abuser."
Now that she feels strong again, Kelly wants other women in her situation to know that they don't have to take it anymore.
"Don't believe them when they put you down," she said. "I'm going to go get my dreams. I can do what I want. My opinions are important. It will get better, you just have to decide."
Advocates has been helping women like Kelly for 20 years now.
It takes a woman an average of seven attempts before they finally leave an abusive relationship, Moore said.
"A lot of women will not leave," she said. "We consider it a success if she just calls."
At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Advocates against battering and abuse will be hosting a candlelight vigil and walk in support of victims of domestic violence in Routt County. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To increase awareness of the issue, Advocates staff placed silhouettes around town, each representing real woman, children and men served by the agency. Written across their chests are comments like, "I'm not sure I can make it on my own."
The vigil is an annual tradition meant to honor those who died from abuse and celebrate those who survived.
Because this year marks Advocates' 20th anniversary, the vigil also will honor the people in the community who came together to battle domestic violence.