Jennifer* was just 19 years old when she met her boyfriend in 2010 through a mutual friend. He was smart, kind and so generous, often showering her with gifts and surprising her at work to take her out to lunch, always picking up the check. Consumed by this whirlwind romance, Jennifer began spending all of her free time with her new partner. When he asked her to move in with him just two months into their relationship, there was little doubt in her mind when she enthusiastically agreed, “I thought it was a little soon, but I was so excited to build a home with him that I didn’t mind.”
After living together for a few months, Jennifer was starting to realize she hadn’t seen much of her friends or family since entering into this relationship. One day, she invited a male coworker to grab lunch with her to catch up. While out at lunch, her phone started buzzing with a call from her partner. Not wanting to be rude to her coworker, she ignored the call. Her partner called back repeatedly until Jennifer answered, and when she finally did, he accused her of cheating on him. He had stopped by the office for a surprise lunch date, but the receptionist told him Jennifer was already out with her colleague. Her boyfriend told Jennifer he knew what they were “really” doing.
Jennifer was horrified her partner thought she was being unfaithful. She didn’t think she had done anything wrong. She felt so guilty for the pain she had caused him, and how inconsiderate she had been. She immediately went to find her partner, not returning to work, and apologized profusely for having been so disrespectful. She even volunteered to show him her text history with her colleague to prove there was nothing between them. After that, her partner forgave her, but said that it was only fair that she agree to never spend time alone with other men, stop talking to her coworker, and let her boyfriend approve what she wore to work and to check her phone every day. “I thought that was kind of a harsh punishment,” Jennifer said, “but I felt so bad. I wanted him to forgive me completely, and I wanted the whole thing to be over, so I agreed.”
Three years into their relationship, after living daily life further and further under her partner’s control, Jennifer found out she was pregnant. She had been worried this might happen since her partner forced her to stop taking birth control pills. When she finally broke the news to him, he was overjoyed. “Now you can quit your job!” he said. Jennifer was confused—she loved her job and had no intention of quitting, even if she was going to have a baby. Her boyfriend became enraged, yelling, throwing things, and telling her she would be a terrible mother if working was more important than spending time with her child. She had never seen him this violent before, and she was scared of what he might do. She agreed to quit her job and did so the following day.
One day, six months into her pregnancy, Jennifer wanted to get a haircut. Her partner now had full control of their finances, so she asked for some money to see her stylist. Her boyfriend refused, asking her who she was trying to look good for. Jennifer fought back, and explained to us, “I was starting to see that I wasn’t the problem, his insecurity was. I called him out on it and it was like I flipped a switch.” Her boyfriend slapped her across the face so hard that she fell onto the ground and was left with a black eye. At her prenatal visit the following week, Jennifer’s doctor told her that her baby was in perfect health, but asked about her eye. Her boyfriend, who now insisted on being present at every check-up, told the doctor that Jennifer had hit it on their kitchen cabinet. Too scared to tell her doctor the truth behind her injury, Jennifer went along with his story.
After their daughter was born, things between Jennifer and her boyfriend seemed to be improving. “We were so in love with her,” Jennifer said, “We agreed to put the past behind us and look forward to the future.” However, three months later, her boyfriend once again became violent, pushing Jennifer into a wall and choking her during an argument. She broke away and tried to call 911, but her partner slapped her phone out of her hand, smashed it with his foot and sexually assaulted her. Unfortunately, this pattern of violence continued in their relationship for years.
Two years later, their daughter was throwing a tantrum and would not stop crying. Her boyfriend began yelling, and when Jennifer yelled back, her partner beat her so severely that she had to go to the emergency room. Their little girl saw the whole thing. “My daughter watched me get stitches that night,” Jennifer said. “I thought about the example I was setting for her if I stayed.” She decided enough was enough, and told her boyfriend she was leaving him. He threatened to hire a lawyer and sue her for sole custody, and promised that Jennifer, having no money to afford a lawyer of her own, would never see her daughter again. Terrified at the possibility of losing her daughter, Jennifer made the choice to stay in her relationship, and gave up hope that she would ever be free of abuse.
Six months ago, Jennifer was reading an article that referenced The Hotline, and she decided to reach out while her boyfriend was away at a conference. Through tears, she told our advocate how embarrassed and ashamed she was that she hadn’t been able to protect herself or her daughter, “I tried so hard to protect her,” she explained. “I never wanted her to see the way he treats me behind closed doors. I didn’t report him because I was sure he would kill me or kidnap my daughter if I ever said anything.”
Our advocate reassured Jennifer that the abuse she was experiencing was not her fault, and identified the emotional, physical, sexual, digital and financial tactics her partner was using to maintain power and control over her in their relationship. Together, they explored options for Jennifer’s physical safety and emotional well-being as she decided to leave her abuser. They eventually came up with a plan for Jennifer to pack up her things and take her daughter to her sister’s house nearby, reach out to a local legal resource that offered free services for survivors, gather documentation of her abuse, and start going to a local support group for survivors. At the end of her conversation, Jennifer told her advocate, “Thank you so much for sharing these resources and for being there to listen to me. I finally feel like my head is clear. I know what is happening, I know it is abuse, and I’m not as scared anymore. Thank you.”
Recently, Jennifer reached back out to The Hotline, saying, “I just wanted to thank you all. Six months ago I was in a domestic violence situation. I spoke with one of your advocates and they gave me a plan and some resources in my area to reach out to. I followed the plan and although I am still fighting my ex for custody, I am safe and happy. Until I came here, I thought I was alone and that no one would believe me. Your organization saved my life.”
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*Names and details have been changed to protect identities. Jennifer’s story is compiled from real experiences of survivors who have contacted The Hotline. To protect survivors’ safety, we never publish a survivor’s full story without their express permission.