Alisha cradled her infant daughter in her arms, while trying to hold the door shut against Jesse’s angry attempts to break through it.
“If I allow my daughter to grow up in this home, this is all she’s ever going to expect from a man,” she thought.
Alisha was a typical high schooler. She loved hanging out with her friends, was involved in sports at Pueblo West High School, and though she dated a little, she never really got serious with anyone. But when she turned 18, everything changed.
“I found myself wanting a relationship, mostly because my friends had had long-term boyfriends,” she said.
She met Josh, who she dated until she turned 22. The relationship had its rocky moments, most notably when he got another girl pregnant at the beginning of the relationship. Alisha began to desire a more mature relationship than Josh was providing her with, and that’s when she met Jesse.
“He was a sweet talker, very attractive. He told me everything that I wanted to hear from a man,” Alisha said.
“I finally realized that whether or not he was going to change was up to him, not up to me.”
She ended her relationship with Josh, and immediately started dating Jesse. She knew she should have let herself be alone for a while to heal from her breakup, but ignored the inner warning because she was afraid of being alone.
The relationship moved quickly, and Alisha moved in with Jesse after only three months of dating. Her second thoughts about moving in caused her to leave him several times, but she always ended up coming back.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, this is a pretty common start for many abusive relationships. They seem too good to be true, then move too fast.
“Possessive and controlling behaviors don’t always appear overnight, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows,” the site said.
Although emotional abuse had been occurring on some level for a while already, the first time the physical abuse happened, it took Alisha off guard.
The two of them had been drinking, and got into an argument, so Alisha went outside to escape from it. But when she tried to come back in, she found the door locked. She banged on the door and tried to get back inside for about an hour. It was snowing, and she was cold and angry when he finally let her back in the house. She started yelling at him when something happened that had never happened before.
“He just flipped,” she said.
Jesse grabbed her by the throat and started choking her. She struggled, and finally got away, but when she woke up the next morning and saw the finger marks around her neck, she knew she was in trouble. She was even more disturbed when Jesse hid her phone from her for an entire day so she wouldn’t tell her family about the incident.
Controlling whom a person talks to is another common warning sign of a domestic abuser, according to the NDVH’s list of domestic violence warning signs. They often don’t want the person being abused to see or talk to their family and friends, because the more isolated they are, the less likely they are to leave the person abusing them.
But the manipulation and control often used by abusers like Jesse can make it difficult for the victim to clearly see warning signs and act on them, as was the case for Alisha.
She moved in with some family for about a week to get away from Jesse, but when he called to say he was sorry and would never do it again, she went back to him. About a month later, he proposed. She accepted.
Not long after the proposal, Jesse was stationed in New Jersey through the military, and Alisha moved with him, furthering her isolation from her family.
“My whole family was saying, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ but I believed that I could change him; things would get better,” Alisha said.
But things were far from better after the move.
One day, Alisha could hear him outside, hitting the dog because it had peed inside.
“Of course, being the animal lover that I am, I went outside to stop him,” she said.
But when she confronted him, he “flipped” again. Alisha ran to the bathroom, but he got in, pinned her on the floor, and began hitting her across the face repeatedly.
The next morning she woke up to a nasty black eye and other injuries on her face. He apologized, once again promised it wouldn’t happen ever again, and then offered to take her out to a movie, which she agreed too.
“I can’t even begin to explain a battered woman’s mind,” she said. “He’s a manipulative person, and I fell for the manipulation every time.”
On the way into the movie theater, Jesse made a joke about her black eye. Alisha was 1,700 miles away from her family and friends, and didn’t want to go back and prove that they had been right about her moving to New Jersey with Jesse.
When Alisha discovered she was pregnant, she felt trapped. Thankfully, there was no physical abuse during the pregnancy, but the emotional abuse, cheating and manipulation went on and on.
Her daughter’s birth was ultimately what helped Alisha find the courage to leave Jesse.
“My courage got stronger and stronger because of my daughter,” she said.
The last night that Jess physically abused her, he broke through a locked door to get to her and began choking her. Alisha was scared for her life, and faked passing out in order to get him to stop.
For the first time, she called the police. They arrived within minutes, and put Jesse in the barracks for 72 hours. Because Alisha chose not to press charges, he was allowed to come back home after that amount of time.
“Looking back, I wish I had pressed charges,” she said.
She ended up moving back to Colorado, where being surrounded by family and friends helped her break free of her battered mentality.
“I finally realized that whether or not he was going to change was up to him, not up to me.”
Alisha is now living in Colorado Springs with her daughter, and wants to reach out to other women who are going through struggled similar to what she experienced. She’s thinking about volunteering at a crisis shelter that helps domestic abuse victims, and wants to tell her story to prevent the same thing from happening to others.
There are many choices that Alisha wishes she had made differently, but hopes her experience can help teach other women to recognize danger signs before the situation escalates and becomes dangerous.
Women need to use the resources available to them, she said. Although she never received professional counseling after her ordeal, she would encourage other women to seek out local shelters and services for domestic abuse victims.
“Most of the women have been in that same situation, so it’s a great resource to go in there and just pour your heart out,” she said. “Or, just go to someone you trust the most and tell them everything, because that’s a form of counseling too.”
Such services in Pueblo are available through ACOVA, YWCA and Teresa’s Place. The Pueblo Domestic Violence Community Taskforce is in the process of forming the Domestic Violence Fatality Review team, which will help identify gaps in services available to domestic violence victims in Pueblo.
The team should be chosen and complete a mock training sometime in January or February, and would then meet at times that have not been determined yet, to discuss closed domestic violence cases that have resulted in fatalities.
The purpose of the team will be to review the cases, and see what gaps in services could be fixed.
“Pueblo itself does not have a lot of domestic violence fatalities, but the team would look at how we could prevent fatalities. What are we doing in Pueblo that is done well, and where are there gaps in the coordinated community response?” said Debra Wingfield, who originally brought the idea of the review team to the PDVCT after attending a national conference on the subject.
If the team finds gaps in domestic violence services, or finds a need for a completely new service, they will do their best to figure out how to realistically provide that service in Pueblo, whether that would be through the creation of a new agency, or whether an existing agency could provide the needed service, in order to prevent as many domestic violence incidents and fatalities as possible.
The Pueblo Police Department reported over 1,600 domestic violence related case numbers for 2013 alone, and made 832 domestic violence related arrests in the same year.
One of the most important points that Alisha wanted to stress to women was that they surround themselves with people who care about them, and knew them before that situation. Those are the kind of people who will notice things like emotional abuse, not just bruises on the face.
“A lot of people perceive it (domestic violence) as being punched in the face,” she said. “But even if a woman does not have marks on her body that you can see, a lot of times, there is emotional abuse or something else going on. It doesn’t have to be life threatening to be abuse.”
Editor’s Note: The names in this story were altered to protect the identity of Alisha and her daughter.
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