She remembers well the day he last beat her.
It was Dec. 1. He had beat her before, but this time it was different. He held her down by the neck in a chair and punched her in the cheekbone. She knew she had to leave for the safety of her son.
She was shocked he had punched her close-fisted. Then, he hit her again.
“That’s when it’s like a cartoon. You literally see stars like white, then nothing,” Roxie says. “And when I woke up it was like five hours later and there was a cigarette burn.”
She points to her wrist which is now singed brown.
In 2014, there were 109 domestic violence related deaths in Arizona in 2014, according to the Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Roxie, a battered woman living in the Forgach House in Sierra Vista, is a survivor.
The Forgach House, run through Catholic Community Services, provides shelter for domestic violence survivors, giving them a hideaway from their abusers. According to Violence Policy Center, Arizona ranked eighth in the nation in female homicides per capita for domestic violence in 2012.
The shelter helps with resumes and job applications. They provide self-esteem counseling, supply three meals a day, a place to wash clothes and Christian counselling if they want it. There are 40 beds in the facility, and families can stay up to 45 days which can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
Roxie, whose name has been changed to give her protection, was abused by her boyfriend, a drug dealer, of six years who is the father of her 3-year-old son Jack. She lives in the shelter with her son. She is from Phoenix but spent the last six years in Bisbee with her abuser.
“I remember the investigating officer who testified at my last [hearing] on the 30th; they asked him how many calls he’s been to for domestic violence in the year that he’s been on the force,” she says. “He said 40. That averages out to about one a week. I think that’s a lot for the size of the community.”
Roxie, 40, says she’s still figuring out who she is because she spent the last six years being told who she was.
“There’s a ‘before this time’ and an ‘after this time.’ I know that before this time that I was a very strong and intelligent, articulate, put-together person,” Roxie says.
The closest domestic violence shelter to Bisbee is in Douglas at the House of Hope, which is also run under Catholic Community Services. After Roxie moved to Bisbee and met her abuser, she became the antithesis of who she was before.
“I became very angry and inarticulate and very just withdrawn,” Roxie says. “You just lose yourself. You drown in the constant toxicity of the environment.”
Roxie’s boss at the four-star restaurant she worked at in Bisbee calls her “The Eye,” as in eye of the hurricane. She is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. From pastry innovator to professional chef, cooking is her therapy. It’s where she feels free. She loves the immediate gratification of perfecting a meal that has touched all five senses.
“It was my dream job, and I had to leave it because of him,” she says choking back tears. “It feels like as victims that we’re the ones that have to make the sacrifices to decide to be safe because law won’t do it and judges don’t do it and pieces of paper that say, ‘Stay this many feet away’ don’t do it,” she says taking a deep breath before continuing. “So we have to do it and that means being displaced, losing our homes, our jobs.”
The Turning Point
After being unconscious for five hours, Roxie woke up disoriented with different clothes on. Her hair was wet, bites marks covered her body. Police believe her abuser tried to wash the evidence away in the shower.
She left, picked up her son from her abuser’s parents and filed a police report. She lived feet away from him for three weeks; she did not want to leave her boss short-handed during peak tourist season.
She still had to give her son to him some days because of custodial expectation.
Roxie filed four police reports against her abuser, but one was dismissed because she waited too long to report. Now, he is in jail for 30 days for violating a plea agreement associated with one of the domestic violence charges she filed in January of last year. He could face up to eight years in prison for this latest felony charge.
Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, according to a 1993-2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. About 1-in-3 women and 1-in-4 men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Most women are 18 to 24 years old when they first experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control study. Bisexual women (61 percent) and lesbian women (44 percent) also experience domestic violence along with heterosexual women (35 percent).
Multiracial, Black and American Indian or Alaska Native women are among those most victimized by domestic violence.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, domestic violence has declined 63 percent, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 people aged 12 or older in 1994 to 5.0 per 1,000 in 2012. From 1994 to 2012, violence committed by intimate partners declined at the fastest rate.
There is a long history of domestic violence in the United States.
Men were allowed to punish their wives until 1871 when the court ruled that the “privilege” to hit wives was no longer acknowledged by the law. In 1910, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a wife had no right to charge a husband with assault or battery because it would open the doors to spousal accusations.
The first battered women’s shelter didn’t open until 1973 in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act. It provided funding for domestic violence and rape victims services. It provided training for police and court officials to know how to deal with domestic violence. Again in 2000, this act was passed to reauthorize funding until 2005. In 2013, it was reauthorized by President Barack Obama with new provisions extending the protection of Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ community.
The New Normal
Roxie says the shelter has been incredibly supportive. They helped her feel like a person again. She got her birth certificate, insurance and state identification back.
“One of them told me, ‘I hate to say it because maybe you don’t want to hear it, but this is normal,’ and I was like, ‘You don’t know how desperately I’m clinging to hearing the word normal,’ ” Roxie laughs.
Donna Zborill works as a case manager at the Forgach House.
Zborill, 60, has a Master of Arts in Counseling from Wayland Baptist University in Sierra Vista. She says women cope with domestic violence differently. Some experience anxiety and some blame themselves. She says victim blaming is still a stigma.
She’s experienced domestic violence herself.
“My kid’s dad and I were driving down the road, and he was saying something about what somebody had said at a picnic we had been at. I said, ‘Wait a minute that’s not exactly how he said it,’” Zborill says. “BAM! Right across the mouth! It actually got my face and everything because my glasses ended up broken.”
She says he threatened to kill her if she ever left. So, she stayed until her children were grown and gone. He didn’t hit her anymore, she said, but became mentally abusive by invalidating her thoughts and playing mind games. Almost 40 years later, she left her husband this February. On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“I’m free finally,” Zborill says. However, her husband lives next door with her neighbors. Thankfully, she says, she owns an acre of land, so she doesn’t see him.
A blessing in disguise
Maria Morrill was abused and went to Catholic Community Services for help. She lived in a now-closed shelter in Sierra Vista for 45 days, but decided to stay and work as a program aide. Today, she cooks in the kitchen at the Forgach House where she’s worked for 28 years.
Morrill, 62, is from Jalisco, Mexico, but lived in Bisbee with her family for 30 years. She says everything was fine until her husband developed lung cancer and became verbally and emotionally abusive. “It got to the point that I couldn’t take it no more,” she says.
“It got to the point that I wanted to protect my children from all that fighting, arguing, and stressing, so I made the decision to leave. Even though he was dying I had to leave.”
They had four children when she left. The youngest was five years old. After taking one of them to school, she got help from a teacher who referred her to Catholic Community Services. This is the third house she’s worked at. “It was a blessing in disguise because I’m still here trying to show people that they can do it,” Morrill says.
She says she empowers Latinas to break away from abusive relationships. “The Latina family wants to keep the home together regardless of any abuse. It’s the family unit that we try to accomplish so the children don’t suffer in the streets, and I think the reason we stay is because not to disrupt the family environment,” Morrill says. “Emotionally it hurts [the children] a lot, so I tried to cover that up.
Roxie advises domestic violence survivors to seek advocacy centers. Tell someone, she says. Don’t endure the pain.
Zborill says there is a need for more transition housing in Sierra Vista where domestic violence survivors can live for about 6 months free. They’ve had to turn people away from their shelter when all the beds are full.
Roxie hopes for stability and safety in her future. She’ll never give up cooking. “I will chef ’till I die,” she says proudly. She also wants to volunteer her time at an advocacy or crisis center. “I will give back what’s been given to me.”
To contact the Arizona Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-602-263-8900. You can contact the Forgach House at (520) 458-9096.
Maritza Cruz is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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