Woman finds new life away from abusive marriage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Editor's note: This is the final installment in a month-long series about domestic violence. The names of the people in this story have been changed to protect their identity.

A smile appears on her face as she talks about her plans for the future.

At 44 years old, Ginger is starting her life over. She is going to school to become a cosmetologist and has a new part-time job to help pay the bills in the meantime. She has a new place to live. She has a new sense of self-worth - and she owes all of this to her decision to leave an abusive marriage.

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"I was married 8 years," Ginger said. "We met and dated about 6 months and got married and in about 2 weeks, he attacked me."

The violence shocked Ginger. She never dreamed that Tom could be a wife beater as he was well-educated and a professional with a good-paying job and lots of friends.

"But domestic violence knows no socioeconomic boundaries," Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force Director Ruthanne Delong said.

As the relationship progressed, Ginger discovered that Tom's violence extended to other people. He was often in trouble at work over his inability to control his anger. Anger management classes he took did no good. Making matters worse, Ginger said Tom often was involved in substance abuse.

Ginger and Tom separated and divorced, but they remarried when Tom promised her he had changed.

"He was good long enough to where I thought he really had changed," Ginger said. "But I am of the firm opinion that they (abusers) believe that after you marry them, then they have some kind of license to beat you - like an ownership. And I think he thought he could get away with anything he wanted to."

Physical abuse was only part of Ginger's pain: Tom was, like most abusers, controlling.

"He decided everything - what color hair I would have, what I would wear, who I would speak to. He wanted me quiet and right by his side. He wanted me submissive. He wanted me in this little box. By the time I got out of that little box, I could not believe I allowed him to put me there."

But like many such relationships, the control was so gradual that Ginger did not realize how much power Tom had over her life until she left him.

Delong likens abusers to puppeteers who pull all the strings in the relationship, forcing their victim to dance at the end of that string.

Her children from a previous marriage and her parents expressed alarm at what they saw happening to Ginger.

"My son would ask 'why do you let him talk to you this way?'" Ginger said. "I let my 17-year-old daughter move out of the house so she wouldn't have to see the abuse. The last straw came in July when he put a gun to my head and then in my mouth."

She went to a friends house to spend the night and, not knowing who could or would help her, looked in the telephone book yellow pages for a domestic violence shelter.

"I sat here for two days at the shelter and just was in a daze," Ginger said. "I felt safe. I felt like he couldn't get me here. I just sat like a bump on a log for two days. I was at my lowest point and it was comforting to have someone here with me 24/7. I think if I hadn't had this support I would have gone back to him."

With counseling from the domestic violence task force staff, Ginger began to take control of her life. A task force representative helped her get a protective order against Tom and was with her during her divorce proceedings.

"But the best thing is the validation," Ginger said. "They listened to me and they told me that 'yes, you have a right to feel the way you do.' He would always downplay everything. He'd say 'oh, it didn't happen this way' or 'you're just crazy' or 'this is what really happened.' They helped to empower me."

Delong agreed.

"Abusers can be very manipulative," she said. "They tend to discount their violence as 'no big deal.'"

Ginger looks with anticipation toward December 2004- that is when she will graduate from cosmetology school. And with her divorce and abusive marriage behind her, she and her family have a new sense of peace.

"I want to get my own little shop, that's my goal," she said. "I saw my son last night. I hadn't seen him since I left Tom. He was glad. He saw 'wow, I don't have to worry about you anymore.'"