Leaving a batterer does not necessarily end a woman's suffering. Just ask Janet, a Connecticut woman whose last name does not appear here because of continuing concern about her safety.
About three years ago, Janet moved in with her new boyfriend and soon became pregnant. At first, he was sober and hard-working, a “sweetheart who would give his shirt off his back for you,” Janet says. But then he began drinking.
“When he drank, he was physically and verbally abusive,” Janet recalls. “I almost lost my child three times because of the beatings. He tried to rape me when I was pregnant.”
Sometimes the injuries were severe: “He had this head thing where he would smash my head on the floor as hard as he could,” Janet says. “Sometimes I passed out. One time I had an epileptic seizure.”
After four months, Janet threw her boyfriend out of the house. Then he started harassing her over the phone, threatening to have her killed. He broke into her house twice and would go on day-and-night binges of threatening calls. “He said he'd come after me with guns, knives and gangs,” Janet says.
When Janet entered the hospital to give birth, police were put on 24-hour alert because he had threatened to take the baby.
Now married, Janet has moved and changed her phone number. Her former boyfriend is currently in jail for the fourth time in three years on domestic violence charges, awaiting sentencing on a harassment charge brought by Janet.
But Janet doubts he will serve much time because his waiting time in jail is credited against his sentence, and domestic violence sentences are short to begin with. And when he gets out, the threatening phone calls usually start again with new intensity. “He has threatened to kidnap my son and kill my husband,” Janet says.
Despite Janet's request for secrecy, her old boyfriend discovered her new address when the court mistakenly printed it on the protection order it served him with. But Janet says she can't afford to move again.
So she lives as a virtual prisoner in her house when her former boyfriend is free on the streets. She keeps windows locked, curtains drawn and does not take her 2 1/2-year-old son out to play. “I live in fear,” she says, sobbing. “When he comes out [of jail], what am I going to do?”
Janet's 7 1/2-year-old daughter by another man witnessed the beatings her mother suffered. Janet's concern over the effect the battering was having on her daughter finally gave her the courage to break up with her boyfriend.
When the batterings started, “I was terrified,” she says. “I thought maybe if I let him alone and kept my mouth shut, things would stop. As he did it more and more often, I realized that wouldn't happen.”
Janet's daughter would leave school in the middle of the day and run home to make sure her mother was safe. “I couldn't take the battering anymore,” Janet says. “I couldn't take the way my daughter was cowering all the time. When she was home, she was always sitting down beside me with her arms wrapped around me. She was not a child anymore.”
After the boyfriend moved out, her daughter showed a tendency to lash out physically at other people and was temporarily placed in a psychiatric inpatient facility. But Janet worries that the beatings have left her daughter with lasting psychological wounds.
Janet's perception squares with research showing that children from violent families are more likely than most to become abusive later.
“My daughter is a violent little girl and has been since this started -- and guess where she learned? He taught her well.”