A personal testimony on how JBWS transforms lives.
Each year, there are about 2,500 domestic violence offenses reported in Morris County, NJ. There are countless others who are victimized but don't report the abuse to the authorities. These victims are more than just a statistic. They are our loved ones, neighbors, friends and coworkers.
Here are their stories.
(All of the identifying information has been changed to maintain confidentiality and safety.)
Michelle and Vera
As JBWS reflects back on its years of service, so do the victims who have been helped. In this brief 2002 video clip, you will hear "Michelle" and "Vera" talk about the abuse and the help they received from JBWS.
Below, Michelle and Vera share their success stories, 28 years after first coming to JBWS for help.
I met my abuser when I was feeling sorry for myself and coming off an unexpected previous breakup. I was at a very low point in my life where I was not feeling very good about myself or my future. He charmed me, flattered me and built me up to a point where I was totally taken in by his words and thought he really loved me and wanted me all to himself.
Well, he did want me all to himself, and, if I spoke to anyone, especially a male, he was jealous, questioning and accusatory. Naturally, at first, I thought this was very flattering because I had never experienced this before and thought it was how he was showing his deep affection for me.
Little by little things escalated and he gradually cut me off from all my family and friends. He wanted me all to himself, he said, he didn’t want to share me with anyone else. Unfortunately, I was then in his complete control and the abuse got worse and I sustained a broken arm, a fractured skull and a state of mental depression.
I even had visions of suicide because I thought no one would ever believe he would do something like this. To the outside world, he was great, wonderful and such a gentleman at least that is what he led them to believe. Then one day, he was at work and I was at home, due to one of my injuries and was in front of the TV watching the Phil Donahue Show, this was 1983. This particular show was all about Battered Woman’s Syndrome. I felt they were talking about me?! I sat up so attentive and so shocked that anyone would actually “talk” about these things on TV. I then called the number on the screen which led to JBWS and I sought their help and made my plan to leave.
I remember driving to the shelter July 2, 1983 asking myself - “What have I done? Is this what has become of me? I’m going to a shelter. What a failure I am?” The truth is that this was the beginning of my success in so many different ways. First, my safety, just to be in a place where I was assured no one would question, accuse or strike me was an adjustment in itself. I was in a place where people really did care about me and helped me adjust to the real world both mentally and physically. I slowly but surely gained more confidence in myself and started to love me for whom I was and had become and trusted myself more to make better decisions.
Building a new life
Some of those better decisions were gaining enough confidence to continue with my college education which gave me more reassurance and knowledge at work and I then gradually received several promotions. From there, I proceeded to go on to buying myself a house and being totally independent and happy in the new life I had built for myself. JBWS helped me see I had the tools all along to attain these things I just needed the help to believe it for myself.
I eventually began dating again but, very gradually and cautiously. I continued in therapy and was very careful about dating, as well as, friendships. I am proud and happy to say I am now happily married and have a wonderful friendship with my husband for the past 14 years. I retired from my work at a large company after 30 years and am currently enjoying another part time career with a non-profit organization.
There was a lesson to be learned through my experience and that I needed to share it with others. This is how I was able to evolve and survive. JBWS gave me a path to see that I already had what I needed within me. I just needed to reach down and bring it out.
I was married in 1977. After six years of mental abuse from my husband, I separated from him and obtained a restraining order because he threatened to kidnap my daughter. I moved into my old bedroom in my parents’ house with my two small children. While there, I started attending group counseling sessions at JBWS. I met wonderful courageous women there who had similar problems to mine. This helped me to gain confidence.
To survive financially, I had to go on welfare. I was embarrassed for anyone to see me paying with food stamps so I would shop a store where no one knew me. With the help of the rental assistance program, I was able to get a one bedroom apartment where my children and I shared a bedroom. Over the next decade, I had a series of jobs that helped to pay the rent and childcare expenses. With the help of Morris County Housing Partnership, I was able to save enough money to purchase a house in 2005. It was a super fixer upper and my family and friends helped with most of the construction. It was hard work, but we did it.
Then, in 2007, I was laid off from a very good job. The Women’s Center of County College of Morris counseled me and helped me to find another great full time job and assistance with obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
I am proud to say that my daughters are happy and both college graduates. My old fears of raising them without a two-parent family have disappeared…as have my fears of being married. In 2010, I got remarried to man who supports me and loves me.
Without the counseling and community referral services of JBWS, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Not to an Educated, Affluent Woman Like Me..."
Carol never had a black eye or bruises. Yet, after 20 years of marriage, she knew that she had been emotionally damaged.
"With no provocation, my husband would subject me to a barrage of verbal criticisms and put downs while destroying almost anything at hand," remembers Carol. "The outbursts never lasted for long, but the effects did."
Domestic abuse or intimate partner abuse takes a toll on the mind, body and spirit. Reported by nearly 1 in 3 women, it includes emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual, and physical abuse. At the root of each form of abuse, is the abuser's intent to gain control over the partner.
Like many victims of abuse, Carol felt ashamed and blamed herself for the things that went wrong in the marriage, and believed that if she tried harder, it would get better. As close friends became aware of the escalating situation, they advised her to get out, but she still hesitated to take action.
"I had trouble accepting that this was happening to me, an educated, affluent woman living in a nice home and in a nice community. Also, I didn't want to believe that the person with whom I had fallen in love, married and raised a family could be such a threatening and unpredictable person," explains Carol.
It wasn't until one night, when Carol slept on the other side of a locked door, fearing for her safety, that she knew she had to take action. Certain she had no other alternative; she called the police for help. The officers informed of her of her legal rights, removed her partner from the home, and referred her to JBWS, the local domestic abuse program in Morris County.
"I wasn't sure if JBWS could help me," explains Carol. "After all, I wasn't physically battered and I didn't need to come to a shelter."
Carol's counselor assured her that she had called the right place and that although her wounds were not visible, she was a victim of abuse. Carol was offered a court advocate to help her through the legal process and was urged to join one of the many support groups offered by JBWS for women who do not need protective shelter, but do need supportive counseling and advocacy services.
"I was surprised to discover that the women in my group were from surrounding affluent communities and not unlike me," says Carol. "One after another, they presented different yet similar accounts of the same stories of power, control and rage. The group was so empowering. It helped me to regain my confidence and self-esteem."
At first I didn't believe I belonged in the batterer's counseling program. I thought I was the victim. I didn't think what I was doing was any big deal, or that I was behaving that badly. If the court hadn't ordered me to the ACT program, I would have continued my behavior. I went along with the program, thinking it was a way to get my wife back.
I thought: 'I'm a man. A man can do whatever it takes to maintain the power and control over the family unit.' I really wanted her to fear me so she would be under my control.
After about six or seven weeks, I started to see that I was abusive. It was hard at first, but I had to admit that I was a batterer and that I had to take responsibility for what I did. What was going on in my home was not from marital problems: it was wife abuse and it was because of me.
I could not have done this on my own. ACT offers counseling within a structured program and keeps the batterer focused on why he is there. Attending ACT changed my behavior. I take responsibility for my anger now. I don't mind getting angry. It is usually a signal for me. If I recognize my anger and admit to it, that often diffuses it.
I don't think many men take inventory of their feelings. Abuse is a pattern of power and control over someone, usually through intimidation. An abusive man has to get help for himself. He needs to get into a program like ACT or in some form of abuse counseling. This is not a marriage problem and marriage counseling is not what is needed. Despite my involvement in ACT, my wife still wanted a divorce. Staying in the program was not going to save my marriage. I wanted to save myself.
The court experience was a humiliating, embarrassing, and humbling experience. It's too bad it took a restraining order to wake me up. If I had gone to the program earlier, I could have lived violence-free sooner.
"I wore makeup to cover my bruised and puffy face. I wore long sleeves in the middle of summer to hide my bruised body. I stopped looking in the mirror because I hated what I had become.
Then, JBWS took me in. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who cared for me and my baby. My son took his first steps and celebrated his first birthday in the Simon House. It was there that I became self-sufficient, leading to my college degree and first job.
Years later, when I find myself in a difficult situation, I can feel the voice of Jersey Battered Women's Service cheering me on."-Sophia
From the beginning, something was terribly wrong. Normal life is not vicious verbal assaults and self-esteem-eroding emotional abuse, dished out for no reason, and without apology. But I was not yet a student of abuse. I didn't know how to recognize it, verbalize it, or deal with it. My reaction, over and over again, was to rationalize it. I truly felt that if I could just love him enough, say the right things, and treat him better than anyone else had, that eventually he would come around and I would be rewarded for my patience.
Somewhere along the line I began to realize, ever so painfully, that I was spending an awful lot of time with a knot in my stomach or tightness in my throat. I was constantly walking on eggshells so as not to upset him. I concentrated on his needs and never my own. All my energy went into keeping the peace, instead of enjoying life.
I withdrew from my friends, gradually becoming more and more isolated. I'd paint a happy picture for them when we did speak. If I told them how he was really treating me, they'd think I was crazy to stay with him. It was such a roller coaster ride! I lived for the widely scattered peaks, and tried to ignore the ever-lengthening valleys.
Now I am full of anxiety and pain. My insides are screaming every minute of every day. I loved this man, and I would have done anything to help him. But I can't love him anymore. Somehow, I have to let him go. I feel rage at what was done to me in the name of love.
I cry very oftenat home, in my car, and sometimes even at work. I never used to cry. The tears just show up and sometimes they don't stop. How can anyone cry at work? That's something I could never comprehend. Now I know. Anger, sadness, pain, betrayal, my vanished hopes and dreams, my fears, my lost freedom and safety, my tortured memories; all these things make me cry, anytime, anywhere.
I am now extremely tense and jumpy. When the doorbell rings, even if I am expecting a visitor, I jump a mile. When I hear a car pull into my driveway, my whole body tenses up. I am haunted and tormented by what has happened. Some nights I cannot sleep and I have frequent nightmares. I am deeply afraid. He said he would destroy me. I cannot let my guard down. I can never forget.
I cringe when I think how the newspapers reported that "the victim was released unharmed." Not true! There are many types of harm in addition to broken bones. Trust, for example. How do I ever trust a man again? How can I even trust myself again after having spent so much energy on a relationship, which brought me so little emotional satisfaction? How could I have ignored my own needs for so long? How could I have settled for mere crumbs of affection? Surely I deserved more than that!
The support that I received from JBWS was invaluable. I was initially shocked that anyone would refer to me as a battered woman. But once I learned that battering encompasses verbal and emotional abuse, as well as physical abuse, I understood why my scars felt so deep and painful, and I knew I needed their help.
"A Home for the Holidays"
As I fled our home with the children and drove to that secret place, I began to curse myself for being too hasty. Reality hit me. We would have Christmas alone. Nobody cared about me—my husband often told me so. The memory of his words stung. I should have stayed for the kids’ sakes. They would never forgive me for robbing them of their Christmas.
Lonely, depressed, confused and angry, I entered the safe house. I felt uncomfortable for a moment and then, I saw a Christmas tree decorated from head to toe. The colored lights welcomed me and warmed my heart. I learned that the tree and its decorations had been donated by somebody who cared about us.
There was plenty of food and gifts for everyone, thanks to more generous donors. My biggest fear—that the children would cry for their father—never materialized. We were in awe of the safety we felt on that peaceful Christmas day.
During my two months at the Arbour House, I received my most cherished possessions—self-respect, dignity and inner peace. They decorate my soul like colored lights on a Christmas tree.