Beaten, Battered and Broke

Not all women who stay in abusive relationships are fucking stupid.


“You’re so fucking stupid. Why can’t you just leave him already?” This is the question I found myself constantly asking my oldest sister. Late night phone calls were common in my house. At 2 a.m. the phone would start ringing like crazy. We all knew we would have to hop out of bed and drive across town to go pick up my sister because her boyfriend once again had decided to beat her ass. This was not the first time and we knew it wouldn’t be the last.

Screaming babies crying for their daddy to stop, late night visits to the emergency room for broken wrists and multiple concussions. Yes, my family and I have seen it all. It was always the same; an argument that resulted in domestic violence.

My sister Evelina got pregnant at 17. She was young, foolish and unaware that she was not only bringing a child into this world, but that she would subject herself, her child, and our family to years of abuse from the father of her first daughter. As my sister aged, she became distant from our family and moved in with her boyfriend and his family. He was always in and out of jail, yet it seemed like he had a spell on her. He would never allow her to leave his sight and she obeyed. I think that one of the reasons why she stayed away from us that she did not want us to see her with black eyes and bruises all over her face and body. She knew that she would hear a long lecture about how she needs to leave him, or put him in jail. But we knew she never would. Anyone could see the pain in her eyes and the aching confusion. She was in love with a man who she now describes as a monster.

It was about this time when I started becoming disgusted with her. I was around 12 and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the abuse anymore. It was a turning point for me.

Growing up, I admired her. She was beautiful, not only in physical appearance, but in spirit. I wanted to be like her when I grew up. But once she began to allow this negativity and abuse in our lives, I began to hate her. It was impossible to understand how someone so beautiful could be so stupid. I was sick and tired of her phone calls to my mother and her tearful tirades to my father. I no longer wanted to hear about it because no matter how bad each situation escalated, she never left. It seemed futile to hear her stories because she would never leave her abuser.

I was mean to her. The times that she did come around, I would find myself making fun of her for being so foolish. I never knew how deeply I was hurting her until my mother told me that I would never understand her mentality and her reason for staying unless I one day experienced it myself. I promised myself that day that I would never be so stupid.

But the reality is that my sister is not alone. Thousands of women of all ages experience domestic violence. According to statistics put out by National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States alone, nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner. During one year, this amounts to more than 10 million women and men. On a typical day, there are over 20,000 calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. The statistics also report that one in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime, and one in five women have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Anyone can be a target for domestic violence but it is no surprise that women are at the top of the list at 85 percent. These statistics are horrifying, but the number one fact that stands out is that that most domestic violent issues are never reported. For many, it is hard to grasp the idea that women do not report their abuse.

But now I can relate to my sister. I, too, became a victim of abuse.

As children, we watched our mother struggle with alcoholism. We never witnessed her getting physically abused but the mental abuse she suffered was terrible. When she was drunk, she would tell these stories of abuse and I would play these incidents over and over in my head.

At 15, I fell in love with a guy who treated me like the queen of the world. I was so young and naive. I did not understand what real love meant and I put a value on any love that was given to me. And then I found myself pregnant. It was a tough time because I was so ashamed of myself. I just couldn’t become a mother at such a young age. That’s when the abuse began.

The father of my child was upset because I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was 15 and pregnant. The thought disgusted me. I couldn’t bear to go to school and have my teachers see my growing belly. I couldn’t tell my mother and see the look of disappointment in her eyes. So I remained silent for as long as I could. That is when he started messing with my head.

He would tell me that I was going to be a horrible mother because I refused to tell anyone about my pregnancy. He told me that my child would never love me because I didn’t love her enough to share her with the world. He never once took my life into perspective or the effects a child would have on me, my family, and my future. I was never a typical high school freshman. I was ASB president, a youth leader at my church, and an athlete who played every sport of the season. I was involved with anything that I could be, and he hated it. And then jealousy took over.

He made me quit all of my extracurricular activities. I was given an ultimatum— time with him or time for myself. I chose him. I was so heartbroken to be pulled away from everything I loved most. I allowed him to control me. I was fearful that he would leave me and I would become a statistic. I would be another single young mom. I could not and would not allow that to happen to myself so I went along with all of his demands. The mental abuse continued throughout most of my pregnancy.

He wouldn’t let me wear certain types of clothing because he didn’t want other guys looking at me. He treated me like his property.

I remember the first time he laid his hands on me. I was scared for my life, but I remembered telling myself I would never let a man hit me. Right after the abuse, I ran out of my room screaming for help. My mother was there and she kicked him out. We separated for two years but the abuse never ended. He threatened all of my male friends and warned them not to talk to me. He threatened my girlfriends, telling them that he would spread rumors about them if they took me out to parties. He did everything in his power to make my life miserable. For a while, he was successful. I isolated myself from everyone because I did not want to disclose my situation.

So many women remain silent when abuse begins. They fear that their abuser will find out and things will become much worse. Opening your mouth can be the most terrifying thing in the world a woman can experience. I know because I remained silent for way too long.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that the aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you are the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship or that without your abusive partner you have nothing. Psychological abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behavior also fall under emotional abuse. Additionally, abusers who use emotional or psychological abuse often throw in threats of physical violence or other consequences if you do not do what they want.

Some may think that physical abuse is far worse than psychological abuse since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. But the scars of emotional abuse are real and they run deep. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse, sometimes even more so.

The emotional abuse that I endured stayed bottled up inside me for years, and some of it still remains. I am too ashamed and I have too much pride to admit to anyone that I allowed myself to be a victim of that type of abuse.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that psychological abuse frequently occurs prior to or concurrently with physical or sexual abuse. The site states that psychological abuse increases the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and a number of studies have demonstrated that psychological abuse independently causes long-term damage to a victim’s mental health.

The statistics also show that psychological abuse is a gateway to physical abuse. This is exactly what happened with me.

During the years of separation, I regained back some of my emotional strength. However, I am still trapped. One of the main reasons that women stay in abusive relationships is because of financial instability. It sometimes feels as if there is absolutely no other way out. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. A woman can feel as though everything can be ripped right out from under her feet and it is sickening. I am no different.

I remain in this situation because I will not allow him to crush any more of my dreams. I rely on his finances to put me through college.

My daughter is 6 now and I want to give her the best life possible. I will not walk away from my education and I will not walk away from an opportunity that I know is going to result in great things. I plan to continue my education and become a news broadcaster.

As for my sister, I think she also feels trapped. She stays in contact with her boyfriend because of her three children, ages 15 , 5, and 2. He is in jail.

So after all the pain I have endured, I can now understand why I am stupid enough to remain in this relationship. I can now understand why my sister stayed in her situation. I can look at other girls in horrible situations and not judge them because I know what it feels like to be hurt and to be dependent on someone. But one day I know I am going to be strong enough to walk away and say, Thank you for all you have taught me.

Header photo of Robyn Ritchie shot by Adam Ernesto Fuentes

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.