Three words. Three words are all it took to set her free. Three words to end the yearlong saga of violence, abuse, demeaning and controlling behavior. Three words that ended a year of covering up to family and friends. Three words that transformed this young woman from a victim into a survivor. Three words to start her on a path of growth. Three words that convinced her to stop lying to herself.

“It’s all true.” Those were the words blurted out by a young woman to her mother after a year of strangulation, suffocation, assaults, threats and insults.

I met this young woman recently through my normal case investigation. I was pleasantly surprised by her strength and honesty, as she held nothing back when describing the abuse she had suffered for the past year. Not only did my respect for her grow as she continued to stand tall at the necessary court appearances, but I saw her grow as a person who now believed in herself for the first time in a long time.

This young woman had endured a year of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by a guy who professed to love her and who she believed she loved as well. The power and control inflicted by this guy on her were as pervasive as I recall occurring in such a short period of time. She admitted to actually apologizing to him after having been assaulted by him, as he had been able to convince her it was her fault. Yes, it happens.

Many of you will be shocked by that revelation, but sadly it is often the norm in many of my cases. “Power and control” are the watchwords expressed by domestic violence prevention agencies, describing the core issue of domestic abuse and violence. Many, if not most, cases of domestic violence are built on power and control with a plethora of tactics utilized by perpetrators to maintain that control.

In so many of my cases I hear from victims of these very tactics used by the abusers. It is uncanny how familiar and consistent they all sound. It is as if they are all using the same playbook. Sadly, they don’t need a playbook, as most abusers come to this naturally.

A factor worth mentioning that was not lost on her or me – and that played a key role in her survival – is that at no time did her family or friends abandon her. Despite her attempts at covering for his conduct with false stories explaining bruising and depression, those closest to her continued their support and encouragement and were ultimately responsible for reporting the abuse to law enforcement.

One cannot underestimate the power and control many of these abusers are able to maintain over their victims. I have long ago ceased being surprised anymore at the horrid stories I hear from the many victims I encounter. Domestic violence comes from a place deep inside a person where logic, common sense, fear of sanctions or an expectation of accountability cannot be reached. Despite the abuse everyone else sees, victims continue to look for the good that once existed in their partner in hopes it will resurface.

The public, along with domestic violence victims, needs to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Acknowledgement and embarrassment are small hurdles to overcome when lives are at stake.

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