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Domestic Violence, and Why Leaving Is Hard

Healthy Lifestyle

Jacey Gengenbach of Omaha was brutally attacked by an ex-boyfriend after he broke into her Omaha home in 2012.

She contacted authorities prior to her attack, telling them she feared for her life. She knew something awful was going to happen at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, but she was told by police that they don’t file reports on threats alone. She felt hopeless and had accepted the fact that something would have to happen to her in order for authorities to act.  

The weekend of her attack, Jacey continued to receive threatening calls and text messages from her ex. It was clear his behavior was escalating.

And on that Sunday in November, Jacey’s calls to 911 were nothing short of horrifying.

She made her first call as soon as she saw her ex pull into her driveway. A dispatcher told her that help was on the way.  As she waited for what seemed like an eternity, the threats kept coming – each one getting worse.

Just when it appeared her ex might be leaving, Jacey quickly realized he wasn’t going anywhere.

She called 911 again, begging for police to hurry, as she frantically screamed, “He is ramming my house with his car!”  The doors were dead-bolted. The alarm was on. But there he was. He rushed up the stairs in one big streak. She didn’t even have a chance to react. They only thing she remembers are his loud grunts – “Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!” – with every blow.

In a recording of that call, you can hear the assault take place.  You can hear the cries from her then 3-year-old son who was in another room. This man was not his father.

When Jacey came to, she called 911 again. It was obvious she had been brutally attacked. Little did she know that police were swarming her house to arrest her ex. Unfortunately, they were too late to prevent the attack. The damage was done.

Jacey’s attacker is now behind bars, serving a 21- to 25-year sentence for domestic assault and terroristic threats.

Jacey is thankful for the officers, investigators and prosecutors that ensured justice would be served for her and her son. She is also incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the community after her story went public. 

She wants people to know, “If someone reaches out for help like I did, believe them.  Know the resources available in your community. You never know when you may be the person that takes the steps with the victim to safety.”
 

The cycle of domestic violence

Stories like Jacey’s are happening all too often. And the victims of domestic violence aren’t always women. Domestic violence exists any time one member of a relationship tries to obtain power and control over the other.

In Jacey’s case, she recognized a common “pattern of behavior” from her attacker. And that pattern or cycle is usually present in every abusive relationship. It often follows this order:

  1. Trigger(s). The perpetrator is triggered by something. It could be stress, the couple’s economic situation or something someone said or did. A lot of times the perpetrator is looking for something to lash out over.
  2. Violence. A trigger usually escalates into violence. The perpetrator might attack the victim through hitting, pushing, kicking, spitting, biting, strangling, cutting or even shooting.
  3. Apology. Next comes feelings of guilt and “I’m sorry.” Perpetrators don’t always feel bad about what they did, but they often fear they’ll be reported or caught, so they try to make it up their victims.
  4. Honeymoon. After every make-up phase, there tends to be a honeymoon phase, where things are either good or stable. Words of endearment and affection may be shared, but in some cases, the honeymoon phase simply consists of limited or no abuse.

This cycle can repeat itself over and over, leaving the victim feeling very scared, on edge and confused.
 

Am I experiencing domestic violence?

Sometimes it’s difficult to see or admit that you’re in an unhealthy relationship.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I being harmed? Threatened?
  • Am I constantly being put down – told I’m stupid, ugly, crazy or not good enough?
  • Does my partner have control over my finances? Has he caused me to miss work? Does he want me to lose my job?
  • Does my partner force me to give her my social media and email account passwords? Does she keep my phone for long periods of time?
  • Am I ever forced to engage in sexual activities?

If you answer yes to even one of the above questions, you could be in an abusive relationship. It’s advised that you seek counseling or talk to someone. Remember: If someone displays power and control in one area of your life, he or she will often continue to show power and control in other areas.
 

Is my coworker, friend or loved one experiencing domestic violence?

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner. Think about that. Do you know four women? Seven men? You could be working with, friends with or even related to someone who’s currently in an abusive relationship.

Ask yourself:

  • Is she showing signs of medical neglect? Is there a chronic illness or injury that’s not being addressed?
  • Does he seem emotionally distant or “off”?
  • Is she prone to physical injuries?
  • Does he hesitate to talk about his relationship?
  • Does she often ask to use your phone or borrow money?
  • Is he often late to work?
  • Does she often call in sick?

If you answer yes to even one of the above questions, it doesn’t hurt to reach out and offer support. Don’t let the fear and embarrassment of saying something keep you from being part of someone’s survival. It is imperative that victims know they have someone they can lean on when they’re ready to seek help.


Reasons a person might stay in an abusive relationship

Being a friend and source of support to someone experiencing domestic violence can be difficult. In many cases, you will be let down and disappointed again and again – especially when you encourage a friend or loved one to leave a relationship, but she chooses to stay anyway.

Some of the best things you can do to help a friend in need include:

  • Offering unconditional help and support. Try this: “Whenever you need me, I’m here.”
  • Building him up. Try this: “You are strong. You can do this. And I know you will when you’re ready.”
  • Providing her with resources. Try this: “Here’s the number to the WCA. You can use my phone if you’d like.”

Remember: There are a number of reasons a person might choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship, and he or she must decide when it’s safe and appropriate to leave.

Reasons for staying might include:

  • Love. Most victims fall in love with their abusers long before things turn violent. It’s hard to leave someone you love, and in many cases, someone who’s family.
  • Children. When children are involved, it makes the situation even more difficult. Many victims refuse to leave and report their perpetrators for fear of losing their children. It’s not uncommon for perpetrators to threaten harm to the children should their victims ever leave.
  • Money. Some victims simply don’t have access to the funds needed to leave.
  • Safety. If it’s not done right – with a plan in place or with the help of trained professionals – leaving can be fatal. It’s estimated that 75 percent of victims of domestic violence homicides were killed as they were trying to leave or end relationships.
     

Help when it’s needed most

Methodist Hospital offers sexual assault and domestic violence services 24/7. It’s home to the longest standing forensic nurse examiner program in the state. No matter your situation, Methodist will assist you. Call (402) 354-4424 any time for help or direction.

Jen Tran

About the Author:

Jen Tran, RN, SANE, Methodist SANE/SART Program Coordinator, says she is inspired every day by the passion and tirelessness of her fellow Methodist SANE nurses. She is also also inspired by the community and the way everyone pulls together to try to put an end to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

See More Articles by Jen Tran