Trigger Warning: 

The following article contains videos, stories, sounds, and images relating to domestic violence. Reader discretion is advised.

If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

- Zora Neale Hurston

It was supposed to be love at first sight.

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Isn't that how these stories go? Boy meets girl and they fall in love for happily-ever-after? You met at an admittedly vulnerable time. You were working at a bar and were going through a breakup. He started coming into said bar more and more frequently because he, too, was going through a breakup and apparently the cute blonde bartender (as well as the alcohol she served) made the hurt go away, if only just for a little bit.

It was a tale as old as time, when this beauty met the beast. A fairy tale in every sense of the term.  But it very quickly turned into something a bit more Grimm.

"The first time he put his hands on me, he was drunk," You said. "He apologized in the morning, saying he didn't remember."

Because it's easy to blame alcohol for bad behavior. Lots of people do.

Take, for instance, these statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • 33.9% of women in Wyoming and 30.5% of men in Wyoming experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.
  • In 2019, 2,037 domestic violence incidents were reported to law enforcement and more than 55% of these incidents resulted in an arrest. Almost 88% of these incidents were classified as assaults.  Many other incidents went unreported. Although this number is comparatively small, it is important to recognize Wyoming is the least populous state in the nation.
  • Of the above incidents in 2019, almost 65% were committed by a current or former spouse or current or former dating partner.
  • On a single day in 2020, Wyoming domestic violence programs served 280 victims and received 108 hotline calls, an average of 5 calls per hour.
  • An estimated 16.3% of Wyoming women are stalked in their lifetimes.
  • In 2015, 8% of Wyoming high school students reported experiencing sexual violence and over 9% reported experiencing physical violence in the previous year.
  • Half of Wyoming domestic violence femicides are committed with firearms.
  • As of December 31, 2020, Wyoming had submitted 58 misdemeanor domestic violence and four active protective orders to the NICS Index.
  • Between 2012 and 2019, there were 38 domestic violence murders in Wyoming.
  • In 2020, there were seven intimate partner homicides/nonnegligent manslaughter cases in Wyoming. 86% of Wyoming homicides/nonnegligent manslaughter cases are committed with firearms.
  • Between 2006 and 2015, there were 1,011 active protection orders in the National Crime Information Center for Wyoming, 718 of which had a disqualifying Brady Indicator.

"During the week of November 15, we had 19 arrests for assault and for family violence violations," said Leslie Fritzler, the Victims Services Coordinator for the Casper Police Department.

Those statistics are chilling, but even more chilling is that those are just the incidents that have been reported. So many others don't. This is due to a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that people don't want to believe this happens to them. "He's just angry," or "It's just this once," or, "It's my fault." These are the thoughts that countless women (and men) have when they're victims of domestic abuse.

"I didn't think it was a big deal at first, but looking back, he grabbed me by the arm and took my phone and threw it into the wall, making a hole," You said. "Then he continued to punch the fridge until his hand was swollen."

I felt scared, but I also was just trying to calm him down because I didn't want anything to escalate.

That happens a lot. Victims of domestic abuse often don't report the abuse out of fear of making things worse.

"That's a pretty common occurrence because they're just trying to always keep the situation calm and they've learned how to do that," Fritzler stated. "By bringing attention, especially law enforcement into the home, they know that's going to escalate the situation and they're going to suffer the reaction from that. So they're just trying to maintain some kind of peace until they can do whatever they're trying to do to get out of that relationship."

And sometimes, it takes a long time to get out of a relationship. Victims convince themselves these were "one time things." But then they happen a second time. And a third. And a fourth.

There's a complexity of emotions involved with domestic violence. On the one hand, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse is bad. On the other...are the good days. There's the smiling and the laughing and the time he made breakfast in bed or you watched the sunset from the back of his truck. There is hate and hurt and anger, but there's love too.

He would tell me that he's depressed and going through a lot with his recent heartbreak, but that he wasn't that type of man...and I believed him so we stayed together. When he wasn't drinking, he was a super sweet man and very thoughtful, so I thought the good outweighed the bad and that everyone deserved second chances.

But what happens when the second chance becomes the third chance? What happens when his touch, first so gentle and loving and kind now makes you recoil in fear or anxiety? What happens when even the sound of the door slamming shut is enough to send your body into a full-blown panic attack?

"Mostly when he was screaming, I would try to just go into the bedroom and go to sleep to diffuse the situation, but that sometimes made him more angry; the fact that he thought I was shutting off and not communicating," You said. "But if I tried to communicate, he would just get more angry. If I said I would call the cops he normally would just leave to the bar and come back either at 3am or in a couple days after what I presume was a bender."

So, why don't you just leave? Why not just pack a bag and stay at a friend's until you find a place of your own?

"I think the biggest misconception about domestic violence is the question of why victim don't leave the situation," Fritzler offered. "It's not an easy situation to leave sometimes, for a variety of reasons. Economical, religious, children, etc. And then there's the obvious emotional piece of that relationship because maybe it hasn't always been violent. They care for the person. So it's a really difficult situation to leave and people may assume it's easy, but they need to understand there are a number of factors that play into it. For the person to be successful in leaving, it's really difficult for them."

You said you'd been involved in a violent relationship before, with your first love. And you were mad that you somehow found yourself in that situation again. You were mad at yourself, disappointed in yourself. But that happens much more often than you would think.

"It happens really quite often," Fritzler said. "When victims leave a relationship, they're vulnerable .And those are the people who domestic violence offenders are usually looking for. They're looking for someone who's really vulnerable and who has needs that maybe they can try and take care of, such as financial needs or having them move in so the victim has a "safe" place to live. Those relationships develop very quickly and then, before she knows it, those characteristics start to come out and she's already to the point where she can't get out."

And isn't that exactly what happened? You moved in with him almost immediately, thinking you had found a safe haven, a Dream House. But all too quickly, that haven became a hell; one you were unable to escape. It also became a bargaining chip. He invited you to live with him and then threatened to kick you out as often as he could, to demonstrate the control he had over your life.

"Get the f*ck out of my house!" he would scream at you at the slightest provocation. This happened night after night after night, much to the chagrin of your neighbors who were trying to sleep. Any time you tried to talk back, any time you tried to stand up for yourself, he would threaten to kick you out. Because that's something he could control. It's something that gave him power. If you didn't like the way he was treating you, he would say, you could just leave.

So finally, you did. You got out. And it took every ounce of strength, resiliency, and self-worth you could muster. But you did it.

"After calling my family and friends crying so many times they were the ones to convince me to leave," You said. "I knew if I stayed around, the cycle would keep happening- especially because he refused to get on medication or see a therapist."

You got out. A lot of people don't. A lot of people would rather stay with the devil they know. Maybe they don't have the financial resources, or the emotional support. Maybe they're scared of jumping into the unknown.

Maybe they just don't think they deserve any better.

Or maybe, they simply don't know how, or where, to ask for help.

"Our department can provide short-term temporary safe housing" Fritzler stated. "We have a safe house in our community. We have Metro Animal Shelter who will keep pets for victims of violence free of charge for a month. We have Casper Housing, the Department of Family Services, the Community Action Project who can help with rent. There's financial help, there are food resources, there are housing resources. There are things for them; it's just about trying to get them connected into it and knowing that it takes time, but reassuring them that they can walk those steps and get through it."

The important thing to remember, and it's something you forgot for a while, was that you don't have to walk those steps by yourself. You are never alone in these types of situations. Whether it's a friend, or a family member, a police officer, or even just a neighbor who's fed up with the noise - you don't have to be afraid to ask for help. More often than not, people are willing to reach out a hand or to pick up a bag to get you somewhere safe.

"If it happens once, it will happen again," You said. "And although he said he had never done it to a girl before, I later found out that wasn’t true. Trust your gut and lean on family and friends- it’s hard to leave the person you love but if it’s at the expense of your emotional and physical health, it will be very hard but very worth it. Find your strength in yourself and lean on the ones who love you!"

When domestic violence occurs, it's far more complicated than "If he/she hits you, then leave." There are so many different factors, so many different emotions involved in those types of situations. Leaving is not an easy decision and, in many cases, victims believe that they deserve the treatment they're receiving. They don't. You don't. Nobody can make the decision for you, but when you finally make the decision, when you finally realize your worth, when you finally decide to take a leap,  Casper has a number of resources designed to act as safety net. You are not alone. You are worthy. You are loved.

Names have been altered in this article for the safety and privacy of the victim, but the quotes are real and the story is true. It's a story that happens far too often. And, more often than not, it's a story that takes place behind closed doors.

For anonymous, confidential help 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-7233 (SAFE). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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