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Domestic violence survivor: 'Get out and stay out'

Jennifer Bullington
Ally Karsyn
/

Eleven years of domestic violence, heightened by her husband’s alcohol abuse and untreated mental illness, came to a head in the courtroom. The young mother of four wrapped a strand of prayer beads around her wrist. It was a gift from her sister-in-law, whom she hadn’t seen in six years.

Jennifer Bullington gently pulled and snapped the little green beads, 108 in all, one after another, as she fought for the custody of her children.

“You’re in denial for so long that something like this is even going on in your life. You don’t know how this person that you thought you loved could treat you the way you’re being treated,” she said. “It always feels like -- what am I doing wrong? Why can’t I fix this person? Why can’t they get better? Don’t they love me enough to get better? What’s wrong with me that they treat me this way?

“You can’t go to anybody because you’re so afraid. You live your life in so much fear that you just -- how can I survive today? How can I survive between when he gets home from work and when he passes out? Those are the three hours that I have to survive.”

Nearly one in four women and one in seven men have experienced intimate partner violence, which includes physical, sexual or psychological harm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Sioux City, the 12-bedroom shelter at the Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence has been at full capacity since December, and the agency has been housing victims of domestic violence in hotel rooms.

Jeremy Pigg, community development specialist at CSADV, said that the prevalence of domestic violence in the community is often underestimated and unseen.

“One of my biggest eye-openers when I first started working for the agency was our phone system,” Pigg said. “It tells you when somebody’s on the phone with a little light – and we have crisis line one, two and three. I was just shocked that crisis line one, two and three was lit up all day long, every day.”

For a victim of domestic violence, even making that first call for help can be difficult.

Bullington endured years of physical abuse, partly because she was financially dependent on her husband and cut off from family and friends.

“My phone was monitored by my ex-husband,” she said. “It was tracked so he could always see where I was at all times. I didn’t have a debit card. I was given a PayPal card that he’d load money on so I could get groceries, and if there wasn’t enough money, then we’d have to put items back.”

She was also paralyzed by fear and guilt and shame, believing divorce was a grave sin.

Caught in the cycle of abuse, she lived for the “hearts and flowers” stage that always came around after a violent episode. From the quiet and protected space of her separate bedroom, she’d get a sorry email from him late at night and a hot cup of Caribou Coffee in the morning.

“This is your apology? You can beat the s— out of me and buy me a coffee? My life is more important than a $5 coffee,” she said. “I’m sorry you feel so bad, but maybe you should feel bad for what you did to me.”

It was only a matter of time before tension would build and burst. The slightest annoyances would set him off.

“A lot of times I would put myself in the place of my children,” she said. “I could tell he was ramping up because they were, heaven forbid, laughing when they were playing, so I would have the kids go play in a different area and then I would just wait in the kitchen because I knew it was coming. He was going to have to hit something, so it was going to be me.”

The abuse only got worse.

With his hands at her throat, blacks spots clouded her vision and pressure built up in her head. Fading in and out of consciousness, a terrifying thought crossed her mind.

 

“He’s really going to kill me one day,” she said. “He’s really going to do it. I didn’t believe I was going to live be an 80-year-old woman. I didn’t believe I was going to make it even a year. But you know, I had one more day with my kids.”

Finally, she reached out to her sister-in-law. With the help of her brother, she loaded up her kids and left.

The fresh black ink tattooed on the tender under skin of her forearm hints at her enduring hope and strength. In capital letters, it says, “I know nothing but miracles.”

“I refuse to be hurt again. Refuse. I slowly began to realize that I’m not going to live every day thinking I’m going to die,” she said. “You have to choose yourself. I think that’s the only way that you can become a strong person again. You choose yourself. You choose to live, and boy, it’s really great being alive. It’s really great. Hopefully, it helps other people say, you know what, I kind of want to live today. I think I’m worth that. I’m worth that. So get out and stay out.”

 

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you need help, call CSADV’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-982-7233.

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