How You Can Help Friends in Abusive Relationships
"SOMEONE YOU MIGHT KNOW": PATRICIA AND ROBERT
When Patricia met Robert at their annual church social, it was love at first sight. They had so much in common. Sharing love for the ballet, music, food and most importantly they shared the same dream; they were both looking for that special someone to spend the rest of their lives with. Someone who believed in family, God & children--to them it was imortant to have a strong foundation. Both came from good, hard working christian families and they wished for the same happiness their parents had shared throughout their marriages. Patricia and Robert dated for over a year when Robert asked for Patricia's hand in marriage. While telling her story, if only for a brief moment Patricia's eyes reflected on a happier time in her life.
Patricia begins when Robert proposed.
We had just learned that Robert was offered a job as a financial analyst with a large investment banking institution. Robert wanted to really go out on the town and celebrate. I was so happy for him, I went out and bought a new dress. Robert was very secretive about how we would celebrate his new job. The next weekend we drove about two hundred miles. I knew by the highway signs we were headed to Chicago. When we arrived at the restraurant, Robert excused himself. When he returned he handed me an envelope. When I opened the envelope, I wanted to just scream out loud . Inside, there were two tickets to see my all-time favorite performer in the whole world, Tony Orlando. I couldn't believe my eyes. And they were front row seats to boot. I could hardly get through dinner knowing we were going to see Tony Orlando. I have to say when we were seated for the show, I had goose bumps.
After the first song, Mr. Orlando reached into the audience with his hand and asked me to come up to the stage. When I turned to look at Robert, he'd left his seat. I was actually on the stage with this handsome hunk of a man. Then he asked the audience for their cooperation for a moment. Then Mr. Orlando turned me around to the back of the stage. "Do you know this young man approaching," he asked. I couldn't say a word, I was frozen. "Ladies and gentlemen, the person coming on stage is Robert and he has something to ask this very special lady."
Mr. Orlando said hello to Robert, handed him the microphone and said. "It's all yours my man." And then, what seemed to be before the entire world, Robert got on his knees and proposed. When I accepted the crowd of strangers stood up and cheered. Then, from the audience, my family and Robert's family came up on stage to congratulate us.
We set a date and married in our town church shortly after. Things happened so fast, with the wedding, sending out resumes for a job, and then trying to find a place to live. We were going crazy. I was so excited when I found a good paying job; everything was falling directly into place.
After a few months, Robert began acting strange. He'd blow up when he thought I misplaced his shaver, or his socks weren't matched and still sitting in the laundry basket. You know, stupid little things like that. One night, I had to stay late at work and finish a project. When I walked in the door Robert was sitting with the channel changer in one hand and a beer in the other. "Can't you come straight home from work just once?"
When I tried to calm him down he threw his beer and the channel changer at the television and stormed out of the apartment. The next morning he apologized for blowing up and said he was under a lot of pressure at work. He asked me to forgive him. A few weeks later, the girls from work made plans to go out for a night on the town. I didn't think it was such a big deal. Robert was going to a basketball game with some people from work and I really didn't feel like staying home by myself. When I came home, Robert had just arrived.
"Where have you been?"
"I went out with some girls after work, why?"
"Those bimbos who go out and meet men like whores. Is that what you want to do? Is that what you like? Cause if it is, you can go out that door."
I was stunned and hurt by Robert's words. When I called home for some comforting reassurance, I was amazed as to how hard it was to lie and say how fine everything was going between Robert and I.
A few months later we learned I was pregnant. When I shared the news with Robert, he was so excited. Then at dinner that evening he asked when I was going to give my notice at work.
"I thought I'd work until the baby is born."
"Absolutely not," he said. "No wife of mine is going to work while she is pregnant." So, at his insistence, I gave my notice and began looking for a house. I thought things would get better, but Robert grew more irritated and impatient. When we brought our son home from the hospital, the baby would wake up nights and cry and Robert would get upset. Nothing I did seemed right. If dinner wasn't on the table the moment he walked in the door, he would scream louder then the baby. If my hair wasn't fixed the way he liked me to keep it, he would accuse me of not caring anymore. If he'd call during the day from work and I wasn't home, he would demand to know who I was with that day. I couldn't understand. I loved him so much, why was he treating me this way? I continued to ask God for guidence, but somehow it didn't stop the hurt I felt inside. When I went to my pastor, he told me to continue praying and to reach out to family members for support.
So When I called my sister and explained what was going on, she didn't believe me. She said I needed to pay more attention to Robert. So, I took her advice and tried to make things better at home. After our second child was born, I hardly left the house. And I had no time for myself.
One night Robert came home from work late. He'd been drinking. He demanded I put the children to bed. When I didn't get off the couch fast enough, he slapped me.
"Did you hear what I said? What part didn't you understand?"
I stood up, stunned, put the children to bed, locked the door to the den and went to sleep. The next day Robert left for work before I got up. That afternoon a dozen roses arrived with a note from Robert saying he was sorry. For a couple of weeks things were great, but that didn't last long.
One night after I put the kids to bed he wanted to fool around. I was just too tired. I had been up for two nights straight while the kids took turns with the flu. When I pushed Robert's hand away, he became angry, accusing me of having an affair. Then before I knew it, he pulled the belt from his pants and began beating me with it. I screamed for him to stop; the more I screamed the harder he hit me. Then he began shouting,
"You little bitch, you little bitch, defy me will you, this will teach you. I'm your husband, you do what I say when and where I want, do you understand me."
In the background you could hear the children screaming. All of a sudden there was a heavy knock at the door.
"Open up, police, open the door now."
Robert got up turned around to go to the door, he pulled a comb out of his back pocket combed his hair and tried to straighten his appearance before he answered. The officer demanded to be let in the house. He made his way around Robert into the corner of the living room where he found me hovering in the corner. The officer slowly helped me from the floor onto the sofa. Then he gave his partner the order to cuff Robert.
"But you're making a mistake, you can't do this, what do you think you're doing?" Robert said. He kept going on an on about his rights.
Shortly afterwards the paramedics arrived to treat my injuries. Suprisingly, everyone was so nice. When the officer insisted I go to the hospital, I refused.
"I'll be fine," I explained. "And besides, I have no one to leave the children with."
I was so numb and terrified, I didn't know what to do and everything everyone was saying wasn't registering. Here I was this grown woman, with two small children, a responsible individual. How could I have allowed this to happen? Why didn't I see? What did I do to provoke this outburst? Why was God allowing this to continue. How much more can I take, I thought.
Before the officer left, he gave me telephone numbers of where to get further assistance. When I got the children back in bed and settled, I sat at the kitchen table just staring at the sheet of paper that was given to me. I decided to give one of the numbers a try. When I asked about services, I was told that they were full, try back in a week. I continued calling the other hotline numbers. I kept getting the same response, "Sorry, we're full."
HOME, SWEET HOME
Feeling as though I had no other alternatives, I decided to call my mom. I decided to go home for a visit. When I went to the bathroom to get cleaned up, I was horrified. My face was swollen and bruised, my neck, arms and back were raw and red with a lot of my skin broken.
Then I called the police station where my husband had been taken. They informed me that it would be around noon the following day before he sees a judge and bail is set. When I got the strength and my second wind, I packed up the jeep with some of the kids' toys and clothes. We left early the next morning for my parents' house.
When we finally arrived, my parents came out to help me along with the family pastor. The expression on my parents' faces was one of horror. My father wanted to find Robert and teach him a lesson for harming his little girl. We got settled, I sat with my parents and my pastor and we talked things out.
The Pastor suggested I write down what I needed to do. And before he left we all got down on our knees and prayed togather. I pulled out the yellow pages and looked up legal assistance offices, women's groups and attorneys. I spent the next four hours on the phone. Everywhere I called wanted personal information or history before they would even speak with me. Then I was told no one would be able to contact me for a few weeks because they were booked. Then I began calling private attorneys everyone was pretty matter of fact. The first questions were about resources, net worth, what was my current financial status. And unless I had twenty-five hundred dollars for a retainer when I walked in, they wouldn't help me. So I decided to call around to the various churches for direction. I found them very supportive and helpful.
After dinner that evening Robert called and demanded to speak with me.
"She's not here," my father said.
Robert kept calling and when my father had had enough, he blew.
"Listen, you call here again and I will call the police. Stay away from me and my family."
After the children were asleep, my parents and I resumed our conversation and we discussed what I wanted to do and what was best for all concerned. It was a blessing that my parents were willing to do anything they could to help me, and for the first time I didn't feel alone.
The next day, someone from a church office returned my call. I was asked so many questions, I felt confused. There seemed to be so much to do that I wasn't aware of because I had never been in this situation before. That afternoon, I scheduled an appointment with an attorney recommened by a local church.
The first thing the attorney did was to take pictures of me with an instant camera. Then he explained my legal options and alternatives. He also tried to prepare me for what might happen. He suggested that this was not going to be easy, I wasn't going to just be able to get rid of this man and throw him out of my life. He said Robert had rights too even though he's committed a crime. The attorney wanted me to understand that because we had children, Robert had a right to be a part of their lives. And that even if I had sole custody, Robert, under the law, had a right to visitation. Then after we finished our meeting the attorney asked if I would pray with him.
I was very confused, but for the first time I felt God's presence with me. All of this seemed as though it was happening so fast. The attorney suggested that because I didn't have an Emergency Order of Protection that we fill out the paperwork in his office, head over to the court building and get one now. He indicated that we would have no problem based on my injuries and police reports. I was so scared. I had never set foot in a coutroom before; it was cold and smelled like damp, musty wood. It was nothing like you see on television, except the "All rise" when the judge enters the courtroom. When my name was called, my attorney gently guided me by the arm and we went in front of the judge. My attorney spoke first.
"Your honor I'm... representing my client, Jennifer Serpico. As you can see before you judge, my client has been badly beaten. We are here today to obtain an emergency order of protection for she and the children. In addition, we ask the court to grant temporary custody to Mrs.Serpico pending the outcome of a divorce, your honor."
Then the judge spoke, "Clerk, swear in the witness."
"Raise your right hand..do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
"I do," I replied. Then the clerk held up a piece of paper and asked if that was my signature. "Yes," I stated. Then for the record I was asked to state my name, address and age. The judge asked me to briefly explain what happened. When my attorney told the judge it was in the paperwork before him, the judge told him to be quiet and asked me to answer the question. I tried to explain, but I couldn't. I lost it and began crying.
Slam, went the judge's gavel. "The court will take a brief recess while the witness composes herself."
"I'm sorry," I told my attorney." Did I make him angry?"
"No," in a gentle voice he replied," just calm down and we'll try again."
When the court was called back to order the judge reappeared from the side door of the court. He looked down at me. "Are we ready to proceed"?
"Yes your honor," I replied. I tried taking a few deep breaths in between sentences to explain what Robert had done and that I was in fear for my life. When I finished the judge spoke.
"The court finds in favor of granting Mrs. Serpico an emergency order of protection based on the witness's testimony and physical injuries apparent before this court. The court further orders that the witness be granted temporary custody of the minor children. Next return date in 21 days. Good luck." Then he tapped his gavel and the court person called the next case.
When I asked why we had to return back to court the attorney explained that Robert would have to appear before the judge and my order would then be renewed depending on the circumstances of my case. There was so much I wanted to ask, but I didn't want to take any more of my attorney's time and most of all I didn't want to appear stupid.
A few days later Robert appeared at my parents' house, demanding to speak with me. My father refused to let him in the house. The following night my parents and I were awakened by a large noise outside. When I peeked out the upstairs bedroom window, I spotted Robert's car down the street. I began screaming, "It's Robert, he's back."
My father ordered us to stay in the house and to contact the police. You could hear my father having it out on the front lawn with Robert. It was also obvious that Robert had been drinking. When my father turned around to go back in the house, we heard a loud noise like a car backfiring. Then all was quiet. I called 911 again, trying to get assistance. I heard my mother whisper to stay put. When the police arrived, they found my father unconscious lying with a bullet wound to his back. Robert was nowhere in sight. The police immediately put out an all points bulletin on the radio.
They were throwing so many questions at us. They wanted a description of Robert, the car, what we saw. Several minutes later a call for backup came over the police radio. It sounded like they had Robert in sight going 90 miles an hour on the state highway. You could hear the chase like a made for television movie. It sounded like several cars were in pursuit of my husband all at one time. When the ambulance came, my mother went with my father to the hospital.
An hour or so later a squad car pulled up to the house. The officer approached me, "Mrs. Serpico?"
"Yes," I replied.
"We're checking, but we believe we've located Robert Serpico. We'll know in just a few minutes."
The following day, the doctors took my father off the critical list and moved him to a regular room. I was still in shock with the news that Robert was dead.
According to the police, while in pursuit of Robert who was going at a high speed, his car went out of conrtol, sliding off the road and over a bridge. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Even though he was gone, the memory of the violence and the anger I felt were still inside of me. You would think it just goes away, but it doesn't. I learned that I had to deal with all of this. That meant there had to be a conclusion to all of this. It's taken over a year through therapy just to get past the violence and why he did this. I still have a long way to go and with the assistance of professional counseling there is hope that I will recover and begin again to rebuild my life.
Patricia's story ends with the tragic death of her husband, but she still has much to grieve from the abuse she received as well as his death. She has since remarried and volunteers at a local women's shelter.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The most important thing you can do for a friend or family member who's being abused is to let the person know you care. They need to know that you are there for them, no matter what. If you see signs or specific behavior patterns in a loved one or friend, you cannot look away. Here are some things to be alert to. Is she:
- Not coming to family gatherings or outings?
- Making excuses for not showing up when they're expected?
- Wearing clothes that hide arms and legs during hot
- Appearing irritable or depressed?
- Talking about trouble in the relationship?
- Openly admitting emotional, physical or sexual abuse?
These are all signs of abuse.
If someone is trying to reach out to you for help, don't pass it off as a one time incident. Abuse is against the law; these are not accidents, they are crimes. If you choose to ignore appeals for help, she could be killed, and there will be no more choices to make, except to pick up the pieces. Listen to the person who comes to you for assistance or advice. Don't judge her. Do not minimize the extent of what she says is going on.
Abuse is not a "One Size Fits All" Solution. Like our own fingerprints no two cases of abuse are the same. Our society does not make it okay for anyone to say "I need help" or I am a victim of abuse or a broken relationship", when there is so much contempt for weakness and submissiveness.
The names, addresses and telephone numbers of programs and agencies who assist victims of domestic violence are located in your phone book under social service agencies. Or you can search the internet.
Sit down at the kitchen table with her, take paper and pen and help her with a safety plan or to set goals. Let her know you will help and support her in every way. If you know someone who is being abused, but you are fearful of confronting that person, send them information anonymously. Don't look the other way. Do something! Abuse is not a "one size fits all" solution!
Susan Murphy Milano, respected author, has been a tireless advocate for battered women & children.