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Why did you stay?

He wouldn’t do those things if he didn’t really love you.

I’m sure you’re exaggerating.

What did you do to make him do that?

Those are just some of the things that were said to me after I left my husband. Some believed his stalking was proof of his love for me. Some believed that it was a matter of two sides to the story and they were only hearing mine. Some believed that something I did caused him to push me against a wall, hold his arm against my throat until I could not longer breath and hiss that he would kill me.

People that love an abuser, and I don’t mean the victim, I mean the friends and family of the abuser, they don’t see the other side of him. They see the fun guy, the charismatic guy. They see the guy that always helps hang sheetrock or give a ride to the airport. They see the guy that offers help with that fence that fell down. They see the good side of him. Everyone has a good side. Even abusers.

In fact, there are abusers who have a side so good, so fun, that most people would never believe he is an abuser. That was my ex. He was the life of the party, the guy who was always there when you needed him. He was also the guy terrorizing his wife if you made her laugh too loud or look at you too long.

That is another one of the parts of abuse that make it so difficult for victims. It’s hard for most people to reconcile the perceptions of an abuser with the person who is always willing to lend a hand. It’s hard for any mother to look at her son and think of him as a man who would threaten his wife with bodily harm. What sister could look at her brother and think he would batter his wife?

There are different relationships built on love and on denial. Maybe they see things. Maybe the jealousy rears its ugly head from time to time. Maybe the control shows a bit as it worsens. But usually it’s laughed off. That’s when you hear, “He must really love you to be jealous like that.”

When I left my husband, he threatened to kill me. More than once. He tapped my phones sure that he was going to find the proof he needed. Needed for what? He never could understand that there was no other person involved in my decision to leave him. There was nothing for him to find and why did it never occur to him that if he did find something that it should be proof of how broken the relationship was and not some bargaining chip to force me back?

That’s the part that most don’t understand. Leaving an abuser isn’t easy and it isn’t always safe. How do you reason with a person who believes if they could only catch you they could keep you?

So why does she stay? For a lot of reasons that may not make sense to you. And no. The fact that he followed me everywhere was not proof of his love for me. It was some scary stuff and nobody should have to live like that. We should be free to leave a relationship for any reason. And we don’t owe those reasons or explanations to anyone.

Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.

19 years ago a mother was butchered to death in her walkway as her children slept upstairs. Not far from where she laid dying was her friend, also butchered, after attempting to do a good deed.

Small personal touches like a bath that had been run or a cup of ice cream melting on a bannister went from little personal pleasures to evidence attempting to place a time of death.

The man accused of their murder was called an American hero over 4 million times in the news in the days following his arrest. That man had pleaded no contest to spousal abuse a few years before. Still, he was called a hero.

Much has changed when it comes to the perception of domestic violence in this country. Unfortunately it was while America was glued to a trial often billed as The Trial of the Century.

We all saw the pictures of a battered face. We listened to 911 calls and heard the rage of a man who thought it was ok to break down a door as his ex-wife cowered behind it. We listened as she told the operator exactly what he was going to do to her when he broke that door down if help didn’t get there quickly.

We know that eventually she ended up dead.

So what is it about domestic violence that still is so puzzling? Nicole Brown Simpson changed perceptions in that we saw that it was not a problem exclusive to any race, ethnicity or even financial status.

She had our sympathy. But he was still called a hero. For running a ball? For parlaying a charming personality into a broadcasting and acting career? For those rental car commercials?

For pleading no contest to spousal abuse?

It is a sad reality that despite a raised awareness about domestic violence, we still have a long way to go. The signs are often missed and the dynamics of a relationship get lost in trying to assign blame.

It is often hard to understand why a victim goes back or even stays. It’s even harder when the abuse is hidden which is often the case.

The fear that Nicole Brown Simpson often voiced was that he was going to kill her and get away with it. She knew enough about a public image that was very different than the he that appeared in private.

It is that fear that many victims have. It doesn’t matter if he’s a football player, a doctor, a lawyer, or a police officer. No abuser is going to work speaking about that great beating they gave the wife last night or how much she deserved it.

Nicole Brown Simpson was a beautiful woman and it seemed that she had the perfect life. Until she was found in a pool of blood nearly decapitated.

19 years later there are still too many victims. They don’t all look like Nicole but they all have something in common. They are being abused and they worry that nobody will believe them or that their abuser is too charming, popular or charismatic for people to believe he is an abuser.

Abusers come in all shapes and sizes. There are even some who believe them to be heroes. Nicole’s ex-husband spent a lot of time searching golf courses for her real killer, that is until he ended up in prison for different crimes.

19 years ago a woman never got to take her warm bath or finish her ice cream. She was butchered in the walkway of her home as her children slept upstairs. Her ex, the same ex who had given a plea of no contest for spousal abuse was still called a hero. Over 4 million times.

Perceptions have changed since that day. But we still have a way to go.

If you or someone you know needs help The Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence will be merging with the Coalition Against Child Abuse & Neglect forming The Safe Center LI. Please call for help or visit the web sites.

Kristen is a single mom of 3 kids and studying at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. She is blogging while she still figures out what she wants to be when she grows up.

When I was a little girl I believed in fairy tales. I never saw past the happy ending to think there could ever be an ugly side to love. In fairy tales the only names called were terms of endearment. The boy never told the girl she was stupid or held his arm pressed against her throat as he hissed expletives. The girl wept openly after romantic gestures, not because the boy whipped a casserole dish past her head over some perceived transgression.

And I don’t know that the girl ever had a marriage counselor ask if she had an escape plan because the boy was usually a prince on a white horse and no escape was needed.

An escape plan…those are some scary words to hear and they were a sharp contrast to the romantic images I had grown up watching on the big screen. In real life my captor wasn’t some ugly villain who would meet an ugly end making way for a happy ending. My captor was my husband.

When ugly does invade the fantasy on screen, the victims look like Julia Roberts and she has the means to fake her death and run off to some charming place that only exists in the movies where a leading man has been cast who will patiently bring back her confidence or save her from the cycle of violence.

Domestic violence isn’t something that gets wrapped up in a neat little ending nor does there seem to be any great musical soundtrack playing in the background. It isn’t about fairytales or fantasies or even love. It is about control. The control one person feels they are entitled to have over another person.

My husband spent weeks in marriage counseling explaining to the counselor all that was wrong with me. I never said a word. Not one word. I listened as my husband practically begged the therapist to help him get me in control. His control.

With each session I was sure that the therapist was looking at my husband with sympathy. As my husband recalled the time I took 45 minutes to grocery shop the fear welled up inside of me. I remembered coming home and carrying in packages from the car. My husband was sitting on the couch when I walked in. It never dawned on me that he should get up and help as I went back and forth from car to kitchen carrying bags. I just remember his stone face and the panic I felt.

The store had been crowded. Only two registers were open. There was an accident on the way home. I hit every read light. It amounted to me being out a little longer than usual but all of those reasons just sounded like excuses. He knew the truth. At least he was sure he did. It wasn’t all innocent things that added an extra 20 minutes. He was sure that I had slept with someone. Maybe it was the produce guy. Maybe it was the guy who repackaged the chopped meat that had leaked. Maybe it was just some random guy who happened to be in the store at the same time. It didn’t matter who it was. It also didn’t matter that he told me I was fat and disgusting and that no man would ever want me. When I was out for too many unaccounted minutes, I was a goddess and no man could resist the temptation that was me.

Just when I thought that the therapist was nodding sympathetically at my husband, he suggested speaking to us privately. I was afraid to feel hope. I had begun to believe the worst things about myself. But there was something about the way he asked to speak to me privately that gave me hope.

My husband left the counseling session that day and never went back. He was sure that the therapist was in love with me. It was more proof that I was a slutty seductress. In my husband’s fantasy, the therapist would be pushing all of his things off of the desk and making it our own private love nest. Maybe I wasn’t the one who watched too many movies.

I finally got my 45 minutes alone with my marriage counselor and he worked fast. He spoke of the importance of an escape plan, a husband who was a police officer and even more scarily, his access to a firearm. Forget the fairy tales. I was the star of my own horror movie.

Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.

Let me tell you about the first time someone mentioned domestic violence and me in the same sentence. Over ten years ago during what I thought was an innocent conversation with an acquaintance from my kids’ school she dropped the bomb. She missed my son’s birthday party but not the gossip that followed. My husband had not been on his best behavior though it was something that seemed normal to me. It was normal for him to verbally abuse me though usually he was more careful when people were around. Not this day. Funny thing is that the incident wasn’t among the worst when it came to his abuse but I still remember it today with such clarity. Maybe because it was the beginning of the end.

She told me she had worked with women like me, domestic violence victims, and I turned around to see who she was speaking to. Surely she didn’t mean me. I turned around sure that there was someone behind me but there wasn’t. We were alone. I turned back around and stared at her, dropped jaw. Me?!

I extricated myself from the conversation as quickly as possible and went home lost in thought about my son’s birthday party. Rather than feel horror about his behavior, I was instead horrified that I was the subject of gossip and I spent my energy wondering which mom was the gossip and the best way to do damage control. It was crushing to think that people were talking about me and that their talk implied that I was weak. It never dawned on me that the talk was sympathetic or supportive. Abusers have a way of building paranoia and my own paranoia set in.

I wish I could say that was the day things changed. I wish I could say that that was all it took to make me leave. But it wasn’t. There were many more years of abuse, abuse that escalated. By the time I did leave I was afraid for my life. I was afraid that he would kill me and that he would get away with it. I was sure that if he killed me he would get away with it.

What still saddens me when I think back to that awful time is how much blame I put on myself for his actions. I look back at myself and wish that I could give me a hug. I wish I could wrap my arms around that girl I was and tell her that it wasn’t her fault and that she didn’t deserve this. But there’s no going back. Only forward.

There was a long time that I couldn’t look back. It was too painful. I felt dumb. I was ashamed. But then it dawned on me that by not dealing with it I was sending a terrible message to my kids. I looked at my sons and imagined the future. I never wanted a daughter-in-law looking at my son the way I looked at my husband. I never wanted any woman to fear my sons or to hate them. I looked at my daughter and knew that it would kill me to ever see her in a relationship that was abusive. I loved my kids and I knew that the best way to love them was to break the cycle of abuse.

I had to look at the past and understand what happened. It was no longer about blaming me but trying to understand why I missed so many red flags. They were easy to see in hindsight but why did I miss them at all? Looking back I can tell you there were many red flags not just for me but for my family. We all saw them yet we found ways to excuse or justify his behavior. Why did we do that? All of us?

As I sit here and write this I still have questions though I’m much stronger. I still want to go back and hug that girl that I was and I want to hug that woman who was afraid to leave for so many reasons. I want to share my story because there are many others out there who think they are alone or that nobody will believe them or understand or they are just too fearful to leave. And there are others who don’t think they are victims. When confronted they will turn around, like I did, and look to see who is there. I want to be there. I want them to turn around and see me or at least me through my story and know that there is help and there is hope.

Peggy is a mom and student at The CUNY School of Professional Studies. Peggy hopes to change the perceptions about what a victim looks like as well as raise awareness about domestic violence. Peggy believes it is possible to break the cycle.