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Some scars still remain

Editor's note: The following contributed article tells the story of a local woman's struggle with the aftermath of a domestic assault that occurred in 2010. October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month.

"The bruises, scratches and bumps on my head where it was rammed into a wall or the floor - those have all long since healed. But it's the emotional/mental scars, I think they will be a long time coming in healing, if that ever happens."

These are the words of Teri (not her real name), a domestic abuse survivor who moved to a Douglas County community shortly after her abuser was jailed two years ago.

She wanted her story told to give hope to others who might be in an abusive relationship.

Teri said the effects resulting from that attack have included anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress syndrome and hyper-awareness to the world around her. The worst effects were felt right away after the final attack.

"I had flashbacks of the beatings all the time," she said. "I'd be at work and all of a sudden felt feverish, my heart racing and a little sick to my stomach. I'd see his angry face in my mind as he was hurting me and it was hard to breathe."

These memories came back frequently in the first year after he was locked up, Teri said.

Now, she still gets random flashbacks out of the blue, but not as often and without all the physical symptoms.

Still, the memories of being bullied, threatened and the actual physical fights in the last several months prior to the final attack are crystal clear.

"You don't forget experiences like that overnight," Teri said. "He made my life, and that of my child, a living hell for several months. I don't think the prison sentence he got was near long enough, but it's what I felt had to be settled for as a plea bargain at the time.

"It's been a long journey to try to feel 'normal'," she added. "Most days I think I'm progressing well, and then there will be some kind of reminder that may set me back a little, though only temporarily."

She has talked to friends, family, the pastor at the church she formerly attended and been to counseling. She repeatedly sought advice from advocates at Someplace Safe, an agency that assists domestic violence victims, both in her previous county of residence and in Douglas County.

"In the beginning, an advocate was with me at the police station when I made the report," Teri said. "She attended all of his hearings and kept me updated on what was happening.

"That was an incredibly stressful time for me, the threat he could be released on bail, but luckily that never happened," she added. "[The advocate] was just an angel and I'm so thankful for her help."

When her abuser was released from prison last November she again sought help from Someplace Safe.

"Knowing he was out on the street did not sit well. I feared retaliation, not only against myself but, heaven forbid, against my child."

On the advice of an advocate, Teri filed for and received an order for protection (OFP). It specifies the abuser cannot go near her home nor the building or grounds where she works.

"A friend of mine said it's just a piece of paper, and I said, 'Yeah, but at least it's something.' "

The copy of the OFP she received in the mail included the original police reports, in which she received a message that the officer she reported to was possibly skeptical about her story.

"That hurt," Teri said. "I was a total mess when I made the report, had the bruises, was crying my eyes out. And he didn't believe me? I was shocked.

"At the time he seemed so sympathetic and sensitive to my feelings and situation. And then I read how he wrote the report and felt betrayed in a way. I put it down to some of the archaic attitudes some people still hold about domestic violence, but knowing this is a police officer who I assume has seen this time and again, well, it plunged me into deep sadness for a while."

Teri spoke to officers at her local police department, giving them the OFP. Several copies were made, which she was told to keep in her car, give to the human resources person at work and keep in her home.

She was told the law provides for protection statewide and across state lines, too.

Because the abuser is now a free man - Teri has no idea where he might be - she said she has this compulsion to "always look around me when I leave for work, and I am always scanning the parking lot at work when leaving for the day."

She has received some peace of mind from having the OFP, but knows she has to do what she can to help protect herself.

Though healing the remaining scars will take time, Teri continues doing what needs to be done to move toward a "normal" life.

Her abuser left some clothes and household items at her house when he went to jail. Teri recently donated everything - as well as several items of her own and her child's - to the Someplace Safe Thrift Store in Alexandria.

She said these items were a constant reminder of the man who left them there and she wanted them out of her home.

"I figured this was a way he could pay back the people who helped me feel safe when he didn't," she said. "I think in a way it's part of the debt he owes to society."