Once A Domestic Violence Victim, She Now Helps Others
October 27, 2009
In a tiny courtroom office with no windows, Karen G. sits with a 20-year-old woman who is cuddling her 2½-week-old son.
The father of the baby pushed the young woman when she was pregnant. He's in jail now, and up on several charges, including possession of a gun and of marijuana. He's been in and out of jail since he was 14, the woman says. He spent his longest stint behind bars three years after he assaulted another woman, the mother of his oldest child.
He's bipolar, she says. He's angry at his mother, and jail isn't working. Can she drop the protective order against him? She'd like to see him.
She looks at Karen with tears on her cheeks. She has no idea what Karen knows.
Karen, a court advocate for Interval House, the Hartford area's domestic violence shelter, knows the push. She knows the stalking, the hounding, even the feel of a knife blade sliding into her back. Not long ago within this woman's lifetime Karen sat where the young mother sits.
But Karen got up from that chair and began the long, painful path from being a victim to a survivor to an advocate. It's what she wants from this woman, but even from her position of strength today, Karen asked that her last name not be used in this story. There's no use courting unwanted attention from her abuser.
That March day in '94, Karen's estranged husband raged in the hall while Karen and a friend stood with their backs pushed against her bedroom door, trying to keep the mad man out. Karen's terrified preschool-aged daughter screamed on the bed next to her, and in the chaos, when her attacker plunged a steak knife through the door, Karen at first didn't realize she'd been stabbed.
The blade cut through her denial, her hope that things would get better, and any notion that Karen had of a happy marriage. And that blade marked Karen's last day as a victim of domestic violence.
When victims sit talking about their abusers' good qualities, she nods. Karen's abuser, too, was the perfect boyfriend. He made Karen feel like a queen, but once they got married, he started nitpicking, and his bad-mouthing escalated. She once asked her mother what constituted verbal abuse.
"Karen," her mother said, "you will know." But Karen didn't. He first struck her in the summer of '93. From then until the stabbing the following year, she was stalked, verbally abused, the whole nine, she says now.
"You try coming out of your apartment and there he is, leaning against a car across the street, arms crossed," Karen said. She started keeping notebooks scribbled notes, business cards from police officers and counselors, as well as police reports, therapists' reports, and the like. For a while, she carried the notebooks in her purse and called them her bible. Like the scars, they are reminders.
So many of the women in her office insist that their abusers love them. Yes. Karen remembers that, too. Her abuser begged her to celebrate his birthday, or the holidays. He reminded her of what the pastor said at their wedding.
The pastor, Karen would reply, wasn't living her life.
After she was stabbed, Karen came out of the hospital and made sure that her estranged husband spent time in jail. She got her daughter in therapy, and threw herself into a support group. She also carefully watched her court advocate, the woman who helped her navigate the legal system. As soon as she could, Karen began training for the job, and today she walks the halls of Superior Court in Hartford like she owns the place. She knows judicial marshals and judges. She knows lawyers and, sadly, she knows the names of the men who abuse woman after woman.
Karen sometimes shares her story with the shell-shocked women who come into the office she shares with the other advocates. Her daughter, who is attending college to be a nurse, tells Karen not to preach when she talks to abused women. It's hard not to, but first Karen listens.
Mostly, the women with whom she works want the bad to go away. She did, too, and today she walks around with scars a small one in the back, and a large zipper on her stomach where doctors did exploratory surgery to assess the damage from the stabbing. The victims tell her what they want to see happen jail time, rarely, and usually they want to talk about their relationships before things got bad.
When the young woman with the baby stops talking, Karen takes a breath and reminds her that the man pushed her when she was pregnant.
The woman waves her hand. He didn't mean to push her hard, she says.
Maybe. But he did push her. It is an unsatisfactory conversation, and when the woman leaves, Karen looks down at her notes and says, "She could be my daughter." And later, she will go to court to tell the judge that the victim doesn't want to pursue charges against her abuser.
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Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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