Plenty of people are oblivious to the many diverse forms of domestic abuse. It can be deemed physical, verbal, emotional, psychological or sexual. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention: every month 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Lugubriously enough, domestic violence doesn’t just transpire between romantic partners. An immediate family member or alternative relative could also be the abuser and use stalking, blaming, threats or other behaviors meant to manipulate or control someone else. Between 2003 and 2012 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that domestic abuse from former spouses and boyfriends were the most common type of violence and accounted for over twenty percent of all crime in the United States. I, in fact, was involved in that statistic. I received my first order of protection against my spouse in 2005 when my daughter was just a year old.
Although considered Taboo, men suffer from abuse too. We live in a society that doesn’t allow men to be victims. Most men don’t report being abused because they feel ashamed to be a victim. Domestic violence survivors are commonly portrayed in pop culture as beaten and battered women in low socio-economic positions. Imogen Paton, an artist and former victim of domestic violence recently spoke up about the topic in an interview saying “ People that are abusive don’t wear t-shirts, they don’t come with a warning and they don’t have a particular look, anybody can be an abusive person” It can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, age or financial status. Abuse has no face and in October 2017, during National Domestic Violence Awareness month a couple of organizations recorded disconcerting statistics. Safe Horizon, The National DV hotline and the Centers for Disease Control stated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are survivors of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the US. That’s more than 12 million woman and men over the course of a year. In 2014 the Association of Childhood Domestic Violence reported that 5 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US and 40 million adult Americans grew up living with it. Children of domestic violence are three times more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood. Growing up with DV is the most crucial predictor of whether or not someone will be engaged in that behavior later in life.
I witnessed the physical abuse that my father inflicted on my mother when I was a child and it was mentally hindering. My father had fled Puerto Rico at the age of eighteen to escape his dad who was abusive in differing ways. He married my mom when she was fourteen. He wanted to protect her from her abusive mother, but he was struggling with his own demons. It was the first spin to their cycle of dysfunction. Shortly after my mom wed my dad they became parents and little did she know she would become his punching bag too.
I got married at 18 to a man who was verbally abusing me for a prior year. I still cringe at flashbacks of all the abuse I endured. Aware of my learning disability and body insecurities, he would mock me and say I was retarded. He humiliated me in public on numerous occasions calling me a fat bitch, pig, and slut. He smacked my face hard for the first time in front of the Broadway/Lafayette train station on Houston Street, after accusing me of staring at a man he claimed looked like “my type”. I was in denial most of the time and sometimes felt like I deserved it. He told me many times that I would never find a man if I left him, he used to say he was the only one that could tolerate me and I believed it. By the age of twenty, I had experienced psychological and physical abuse proving that detrimental cycles keep spinning indeed. When I was 24, my husband tried to rape me two months after I filed for divorce. I had kicked him out of my Brooklyn apartment a year before for being violent. My daughter who was two at the time experienced something no child should and sometimes I can still hear her frantic screams, that memory is forever embedded. It was then and there I vowed to protect her from witnessing domestic abuse. I would never want her to be involved in an abusive relationship nor would I want her to become an abuser. I acknowledged the destructive cycle that needed to be broken.
I clearly remember the day he tried to rape me. It was a Monday night and I was terribly exhausted. I had worked until four am, slept three hours, studied at school all day, picked up Serafina and traveled home to Brooklyn in the evening, I was trying to obey the order protection and keep my distance from him, but I gave in, he texted me all day while I was at school. He said he was feeling depressed and suicidal and just wanted to spend time with his princess. I was sympathetic, I knew what it was like to suffer from depression. Serafina is still the only one capable of helping me pull through. I sought help for her well being. I voluntarily attended therapy sessions all throughout my twenties. I knew I had to change my destructive ways of thinking and break old patterns in order to raise a great woman. I agreed to let him visit at eight, he got there at ten. The first thing I told him was that he needed to leave as soon as she fell asleep. After cleaning the kitchen, I brushed my teeth and put my pajamas on feeling relieved that I was finally able to lay on my bed even though it was in the middle of the living room.
I remember it was a quarter to eleven when he came out of her room to get her a glass of water. He heard me gasp when I turned over to my left side, my back had been hurting again. Twelve hours of standing at work were proving to result in excruciating discomfort even at home. He sat at the edge of the bed and placed his free hand on my lower back. He pushed on the tension with his fingertips and I felt instant relief. He put the cup on top of the TV stand and told me to lay on my stomach. After a few minutes the pain eased up, I also started to feel the effects of the Tylenol pm. I noticed his touch was lingering in certain areas. I felt uneasy about it and asked him to stop. He didn’t listen and tried to go under my shorts. I stood up abruptly “no,” I said firmly and yanked his hand off the waistband of my shorts. He said “stop tripping, you know you like it, “I told him he was wrong, that I didn’t like it and it was inappropriate. “You have to leave my apartment now”, “Let me just bring the cup of water to her room. I will be out of here in a few minutes.” I was too tired to argue with him and frankly didn’t want to hear him complain about the order of protection or how I kept his daughter from him. I laid down on the bed and as soon as my head hit the pillow I passed out.
I was in a deep sleep, but was still able to feel my thighs being caressed. I thought I was dreaming until I felt strong hands restrain my wrists. I looked up and saw his face, the malicious look in his eyes was intimidating. He hovered over me wearing only white boxers that exposed his very obvious erection. I tried to yell, but he covered my mouth. He tried to pull off my shorts with his free hand. I managed to grab the TV remote and hit him in the head. He cursed under his breath and turned me over with such force it hurt my back. I just laid there for a moment crying. “Stop! I’m begging you!” I yelled through sobs. I let him pull my pants off as I prepared to give up the fight. I thought of my daughter and my hectic battle with self-love. He grabbed a hold of my wrists again, harder this time. I couldn’t let his penis enter me and I didn’t want to let him take something he didn’t deserve. I used one of my legs to kick him in the balls, my last attempt to stop him. He reciprocated by throwing me off the bed, I remember bumping my head so hard I thought my skull was cracked. He jumped on top of me and tried to insert his penis in me once again. I got the idea to call out my daughter’s name. My intentions weren’t to have her witness the abuse, I knew him and was really sure that he would stop at the risk of waking her up and I was right.
When it was over I begged him to leave the apartment, I told him I wasn’t going to call the cops if he left. He didn’t obey and locked himself in the bathroom. I was afraid he would try to rape me again. I couldn’t go back to sleep until he was gone. I felt warm liquid oozing from my nose and I knew it was blood. For a couple of minutes, I just stood there in silence. I heard him speaking on the phone to God knows who about how much he missed his awesome girlfriend and how lucky he was that she was moving back to NY from the Dominican Republic. I felt battered and bruised, not physically, just emotionally. I sent a text message to my best friend who was aware of the order of protection I had against him. The cops were at my door shortly after. I let them in feeling afraid of what his reaction might be.
“I can’t fucking believe you called the cops on me you stupid whore” he yelled from behind the bathroom door. I sobbed uncontrollably. The tall cop put his hand on my shoulder and told me everything was going to be alright. He opened the door as soon as they threatened to knock it down. He glared at me with hatred, his thick eyebrows pulled together. As the cops handcuffed him he yelled “I need my clothes you fucking pigs, fuck you degenerates!” he yelled some more “ She let me massage her, I bet she didn’t tell you pigs about that. She’s a fucking whore!!” I remember the warning they issued ”shut your mouth right now, have some respect for women, isn’t your daughter sleeping?!” The truth is that I was scared to tell the cops that he gave me a massage. I was worried they would say it’s my fault and arrest me for violating the Order of Protection.
Until this day he is still blaming me for contributing to his felony because I testified against him in front of the District attorney. During a recent argument he stated and I quote “You were still my wife, you overreacted, I got a record for trying to fuck my wife”. He has told me on many occasions that I’ve ruined his life and his chances of becoming a firefighter. According to him, it’s also my fault that he can’t keep or find a job.
Although emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to physical assault, physical abuse is almost always precedent with mental abuse. I use to think it was normal when my husband called me a slut and shamed me for wearing short skirts. When I was 16, my father used to call me a whore for wearing short skirts. He used to also say that fishnet stockings were for prostitutes. I grew accustomed to verbal abuse at an early age and I realize now that I even romanticized it at one point in my life. I remember watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and being drawn to Harley Quinn’s character. I admired the Joker and Harley Quinn’s romance and overall dysfunctional relationship.
One of my favorite quotes is “not all wounds are visible”. Physical abuse can leave scars, but the effects of long-term mental abuse can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders. I believe that domestic violence awareness should be taught in middle school just like sex education. If we can teach the youth to recognize abuse at an early age, then maybe it can help stop cycles of destruction. I agree with Imogen Paton when she said: “ there is life after abuse”. Here I am, living one day at a time.
Rachel Wendy Cuevas is a single mother and a lifetime New Yorker who was born and raised on the lower east side. She began writing in the second grade when she realized she could make the ugly thoughts in her head look beautiful on paper. Rachel is a domestic violence and mental illness advocate who wants to raise awareness and help women overcome abuse. Two of her passions in life are writing and cooking and She is an aspiring food truck owner. She self-published her first book through Amazon in February of 2015, it’s called An Unexamined Truth. In the fall of 2016, an excerpt from her second book was published in The New Engagement magazine under resilience and recovery.