In 2011, police agencies across Idaho responded to 5,715 reports of domestic violence. That’s about 16 incidents a day. But the more alarming number is 73 — the percentage of domestic attacks on women that go unreported to police, according to the National Violence Against Women Survey. It’s frightening to think that 21,166 Idaho residents could experience violence at the hands of a partner this year, but 15,452 of them would suffer in silence.
This week in the Idaho Press-Tribune, you’ll read about victims of domestic violence, but you’ll also hear from police officers, prosecutors, doctors, lawmakers, business owners, counselors, victim advocates, pastors and nonprofit directors.
In talking with them, we learned about some of the amazing efforts under way in our community to increase awareness of domestic violence. We’re proud to support these activists by sharing their stories and promoting ways we can all help end this cycle of violence. Will you join us?
— Charlotte Wiemerslage, local editor
Domestic violence survivors hope to inspire others
After enduring years of mental and physical abuse, three local survivors of domestic violence reached a point where they thought they would have to accept their lives this way.
Each woman had reasons to stay in her relationship — children, financial dependence and the fear of what would happen if they tried to leave.
But eventually all three found the strength and the help to change their lives for good.
“After you take that first step, in a year you will be a mile from it,” Colene Brewer, a survivor from Nampa, said.
Brewer, Kim Kimball of Caldwell and Carlene Hansen of Boise, now share their stories with others to help raise awareness to the issue and give other women who are suffering hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.
A TRAPPED BUTTERFLY
C arlene Hansen has a loving husband, two children and a good job at Boise State University. She’s blessed, she says, to have the life and the support that she does. And other people have noticed her happiness.
But there are things that aren’t visible from the outside. Hansen has a spinal cord injury, a disease called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder — all the result of an abusive ex-husband.
“Domestic violence is something that will affect you your entire life if you encounter it,” she said.
Hansen’s ex-husband abused her even after she left him. On one occasion, when Hansen and her ex-husband were separated, she went to his home to pick up their son.
Hansen left the home badly beaten. She turned to neighbors for help, eventually knocking on the door of a nurse who worked for St. Luke’s who called police and an ambulance.
Hansen ended up in the hospital with injuries from the beating, but at the hospital, she was embarrassed to admit how her injuries happened, going so far as to let a rotator cuff injury heal on its own. That was also due in part to the expense of medical bills on the single mother.
Hansen credits her faith in God, support from her mother and the loving care she received when she turned to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in Boise to help her overcome the situation.
Hansen and her young son and daughter left their home with just a few grocery bags filled with their belongings. The WCA provided them with food, clothing, counseling and shelter.
“I would tell people that are thinking about leaving but are afraid to do so that there is life out there to be had,” she said. “They should embrace it. … It is so worth breaking away from the violence and like the butterfly you are free.”
The butterfly is a symbol at the WCA. When women are stuck in abusive relationships, it’s like being trapped in a cocoon not knowing what is out there and what will become, Hansen said. But eventually a butterfly emerges from that cocoon.
Before sharing her story, Hansen read aloud a quote by Maya Angelou she said describes what she has been through: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
WOMEN DESERVE TO BE LOVED
As Kim Kimball sits in her living room, her grandchildren call for her from upstairs, hardly able to be away from her.
Eventually the little boy and girl come downstairs, beaming, to snuggle with her on the couch.
Kimball’s home life is filled with two adoring grandchildren — and three more on the way. But this love and affection is much different from what Kimball has endured for most of her life.
From a young age, Kimball has been around abuse, starting when her mother’s first husband turned violent. Kimball’s first marriage was rocky, and her second marriage marked the beginning of 11 years of abuse.
It didn’t start at once. Her second husband slowly began to isolate her from others then took control, putting cars and property only in his name.
“Abusive men are very clever that way,” she said. “They start out real slow.”
When things started to get bad, Kimball tried a few times to leave, but she always felt the pressure to go back to her husband.
“My kids were young, and I felt that was the only way I could support them,” she said.
Kimball loved her job, but her husband took her transportation away and she had no way to get there, costing her the position.
Kimball turned to alcohol to numb the pain of the abuse, and it also gave her the courage to fight back.
But that only made the situation worse.
Kimball began spending time with a couple that moved in nearby. They gave her a place to stay and introduced her to a man who rented her an apartment. Kimball divorced her husband.
She still wasn’t past the tough times yet. She suffered a nervous breakdown and served jail time. She ended up in mental health court after violating her probation by drinking. That led to a referral to Hope’s Door, a domestic violence shelter in Caldwell.
Hope’s Door is where Kimball finally started to heal.
“… I think it was really important to me and really inspiring that I realized that I don’t have to be unhappy, I don’t have to be numb, I don’t have to go through the motions anymore,” she said. “I can have a good life.”
Kimball liked that the people she worked with at Hope’s Door had been through similar situations and didn’t look down on her. She made friends there and it’s still a big part of her life.
She plans to go back to college and become a social worker to help other people who went through what she has.
“There is a better life,” she said. “Women deserve love and to be loved.”
BREAKING THE CYCLE
There was a point in Colene Brewer’s life when she realized abuse had come full circle.
As a child, she grew up with abuse and pleaded with her mother to leave a bad situation. Brewer herself was in two abusive marriages, but it wasn’t until her kids got older that the abuse started to shake her.
Her oldest son began crying one day and begged for them to leave.
“And that was the pivotal moment in my life, because my entire life from childhood up until adulthood came full circle at that moment,” she said.
From that moment on, Brewer tried to do anything she could to get free. She went to real estate school and tried to get her license, but her husband stepped in the way. He continued to block her attempts to leave. And there were other things during the relationship that kept Brewer from leaving.
“I think the key thing … is that people don’t understand the mentality behind the abuse,” she said. “And they say … ‘if I was hit I would leave,’ and you think that at the moment but you wouldn’t because of the mentalities that are already there.”
Brewer said women also try to justify the abuse or blame themselves. There’s a feeling that if you could just be better, the abuse wouldn’t happen.
“A lot of times people think that fear is the greatest thing that keeps you in a relationship, but honestly it’s the thought that you’re never going to be loved, that you’re never going to be good enough for anybody else so you stay,” she said.
The abuse didn’t start right away in her relationships, but there were red flags. Other people may have recognized those, but Brewer only knew what a dysfunctional relationship looked like and to her, those red flags seemed normal.
Brewer’s ex-husband would get mad and punch a hole in the wall or throw something at her but miss. Things began to get worse after Brewer was injured in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Because of her injuries, Brewer was not able to do things for her husband at the time and he began to get mad.
She endured verbal abuse and threats aimed at her or family members — sometimes made with loaded guns pointed at her or knives above her head. The physical abuse persisted even while Brewer recovered from back surgery and a hysterectomy — her ex-husband further damaged her body.
He agreed to go to counseling but it didn’t last long. The counselor gave him a simple homework assignment: Say one positive thing about your wife each day for seven days. He wasn’t able to do that and quit going.
But the counseling helped Brewer understand what was happening to her and that life could be better.
“The night that I actually called the police, I sat and I wondered, ‘why didn’t I do this before? Why this time? What was different at this moment?’” she said. “And the only thing I could think of is that I was stronger now.”
It was on that night that Brewer saw a look in her ex-husband’s eyes, after another fight: If she didn’t leave that night, it would be over for her.
July 12 marks seven years since Brewer went to Valley Crisis Center, a domestic violence shelter in Nampa, where she and her children spent three months before the shelter helped her find transitional housing. Five children and their mother are now happy and safe.
Brewer has encouraging words for other women who feel trapped in the same situation she was.
“I would say every seed produces after its own kind, if you want a different tomorrow you must be willing to plant a different today. Taking the first step in time will lead you miles away and eventually your tomorrow will be unrecognizable from your today.”