Why I cannot stay silent after John Mara’s callous comments about domestic violence
"He admitted to us he’d abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that." – Giants owner John Mara on kicker Josh Brown
When you fall in love it’s supposed to be a wonderful time in your life. It’s the time when you want to brag to your girlfriends about how wonderful your man is and how great he treats you and how well he protects you and how safe you feel when you’re with him. But for millions of women suffering abuse by someone they love, life is a daily nightmare. Domestic violence is anything but domesticated. It’s a brutal, savage attack on the body, soul and psyche of the victim. I don’t know one woman who signed up to be the face of domestic violence. It’s not something women like to talk about or relive. Reading about Molly Brown’s nightmare, it grips you in a way I can’t ignore. Being beaten, assaulted and abused by the man you love is a horror no one should have to endure. But every day millions of women live this daily nightmare.
We have a tendency to throw a ribbon or a T-shirt slogan on ugly things to hide their ugliness. Domestic violence is hideous. Money has been raised but compassion remains lowered. For those who have survived the horrors of physical, psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of men they thought loved them, domestic violence isn’t an amusement park attraction or haunted ride you take at an amusement park. Domestic violence is a real, living nightmare. Victims are judged for not leaving, but the abuser isn’t criminalized.
The comments made by the owner of the New York football Giants were insensitive, dismissive and callous. How are you a so-called champion of domestic violence but lack basic compassion for a victim? Yes, this man signs my son’s checks as I’ve been reminded on Twitter. Mr. Mara owns the New York Giants. He doesn’t own Annie Apple. Wrong is wrong. And Mr. Mara’s comments were unapologetically wrong and hit at a raw place.
I am a domestic violence survivor.
About 10 months after I had my son at age 16, I started going out with this charismatic guy. He was tall, about 6′ 2", 225 pounds. I remember those stats because he loved that he was tall and fit. He was funny. I was flattered that he took an interest in me with a kid and all. He told me how beautiful I was. But insisted that I only wear skirts when I was with him because he said I really looked great in skirts and he didn’t want other guys looking at me, especially when he’s not around. I thought the compliments coupled with jealously meant that he truly loved me. I didn’t see it as control.
About three months into the relationship, it started. I’d come over to his apartment to see him one night. When I walked through the door, he asked where I was a couple of days prior. I couldn’t understand what he was talking about or why he was so angry. Before I could even respond he hit me so hard I fell to the ground. He stood over me and began hitting me some more. His roommate came and told him to stop. But he didn’t. He said one of his barbershop clients said he’d seen me walking down the street with some guy. He called me horrible names, dragged me by my shirt and threw me out of his apartment. I went to the neighbor and asked if I could use the phone. I called my girlfriend to please come and get me.
When my friend picked me up, she could see I was upset. But I couldn’t tell her he’d just hit me, and that while dragging me outside he’d pulled out some of my hair. I just said that he was upset because someone told him they’d seen me walking with another guy. I didn’t say much else but I was shaken. I kept playing it all in my head. Was I walking down the street with some guy and I just couldn’t recall? Was it a classmate? My almost 17-year-old brain couldn’t understand that I wasn’t the problem.
Two days later he called and asked to see me. He was apologetic and asked if we could talk. I agreed. He picked me up. He was so sincere in his apology. He said his client came back for a cut and admitted I wasn’t the girl he’d seen. He’d gotten me mixed up with someone else. It was a case of mistaken identity.
A few months later he was abusive again. Months later I learned I was pregnant. He insisted I have an abortion. He said after the mistaken identity incident he’d said some bad things about me to his family so no one would believe the baby was his. I was devastated. I had the abortion, and soon after I was depressed. I had lost myself in this idea of love and the overpowering control of this man.
The abuse continued, but by this time I’d learned to compartmentalize my emotions and daily experiences. At school I was outgoing; school was my happy place. It was the one place where I was in control of my life, how well I did. I graduated high school as president of the national honor society and had a scholarship offer to LaSalle University. I’d always wanted to become a journalist and this would be my start. But he didn’t want me to go and after summer semester, I stopped.
Since the abortion, he had felt badly and now wanted to have a child together. I got pregnant and what should’ve been a wonderful time, became even more terrifying. He was more abusive during my pregnancy. I couldn’t understand because he wanted to have this baby. I remember going to the emergency room about three times during my pregnancy. The reasons why he became angry and physically abusive no longer stuck with me. Unlike the first time, I no longer tried to understand it.
I remember we lived on the second floor of an apartment building. While six months pregnant, we got into an argument and he’d hit me so badly I called the police. He snatched the phone from me. I went outside the door of the apartment, he kicked me and I fell down the stairs. He quickly came down the stairs to beg me not to say anything to the police. I was in so much pain. I asked him to please take me to the hospital because I wanted to make sure my baby was okay. He was crying and apologizing. When the officers came, I told them I was fine. I just needed to go to the hospital and that he would take me. They asked me again if I was okay. I said I was. I wasn’t.
There was so much trauma during that pregnancy, I still can’t believe both me and my baby boy survived. He was born a day after another violent night. We were having lunch when my placenta erupted. I lost so much blood and had to have a c-section and a blood transfusion. The c-section came with stomach staples and days after going home with the baby, he kicked me in my stomach, removing the staples and some stitches.
I left. But then I came back to him after a marriage proposal and heartfelt apology. I married him but nothing changed. I knew I had to somehow make a change. He decided he wanted to have another child. I became pregnant with a third child. I was finally hopeful things would change. When things were good, they were okay and he was charming. When things were bad, it was terror. After I found out I was pregnant, he decided he didn’t want another child anymore. He’d changed his mind. He insisted I have another abortion. I refused. I couldn’t go through that again. The physical violence escalated for random things and reasons. He told me he’d keep doing this until I got rid of the baby.
I may not recall all the many other violent episodes of abuse but I will never forget the day I finally left: Sunday, February 12, 1995. I got my two boys ready for church and I was waiting on a ride. One of the ministers from church was picking me up so I sat in the living room waiting with my two boys, now ages four and two. The chair I sat in was against the wall and the boys were playing next to me. He was upstairs being verbally abusive; so I decided to come downstairs to wait on my ride. When he came downstairs, he said something to me and I did not respond. I didn’t want to say anything that would set him off because you’re made to feel you’re the cause of your own suffering. He grabbed my head and banged it against the wall, leaving a dent in the drywall. I saw my two little boys looking at me with fear in their eyes. It tore my soul to the core. Something in me broke. I knew today would be the last day. I didn’t know what life would be like with two little boys and a baby on the way, but I knew this was no life. Even if I didn’t know I deserved better, I knew my kids did. I held in my tears because I didn’t want them to see me break for fear it would break them.
My ride came and I got my boys in the car. I hadn’t shared what was happening with people. I didn’t tell my mom until I had ended up in the emergency room two years prior, but no one could make me stop going back to this man. Now I got in the car and poured my heart to this woman; I was still in my first trimester so not many people knew I was pregnant. I told this female minister what was happening to me, that I was leaving him. I will never forget her response. She told me I was lucky to have a man and who else would want me with three kids. I asked her to take me to my mom’s house. She did. I ran up to my old room and I cried. Six months later I had Eli. I never looked back. I never went back.
Usually by the time you hear of a domestic violence victim, she’s either dead or barely alive; the rest of us survivors have lived in terror and millions of victims continue to live in terror. Domestic violence is not about love; it’s about control. If you’re in a violent relationship, please get out and get help. It never gets better when you stay.
What victims need is for someone to stand up for them and defend them because they live defenseless lives; they need someone who will take a stand and say the violence suffered was wrong and criminal. One of the worst things you can do to a domestic violence victim or survivor is to defend the abuser. These abusive men aren’t abusing the women in their lives because they’re sick. These abusers are not the victims. They’re abusing women because they can. These men are not beating their co-workers, neighbors, priests, doctors and teammates. They’re abusing their wives and girlfriends because they can.
To some with whom I’ve shared my story, the response is usually: "How could that have happened to you? You’re so smart, strong, bubbly and outgoing." Domestic violence is perpetrated on strong women, smart women, poor women, rich women, even bubbly women. It happened to me, and every day it happens to millions of others just like me.
Some have called me a distraction because speaking up for a cause the Giants have reportedly championed for years makes me a distraction. Others have called me a hero for speaking up. Honestly, I’m not a hero. I’m not special. I just know that in life, there are times when certain things are more important than your personal comfort or the game of football. This is one of those times.