These are stories from survivors of abuse that will inspire and educate others about the realities of domestic violence and sexual assault. It is our hope that survivors will find strength and healing by sharing their story and that these stories will bring hope to others.
Jane called the hotline at Open Arms multiple times to learn about services, safety plan, and just talk to an Advocate. Jane disclosed her husband of 10 years was emotionally and physically abusive to her. Jane talked about how their relationship was not always bad, and she still loved him, but when the name-calling, intimidation, threats, and physical abuse occurred she was really scared. Jane had left her husband several times in the past, but he would promise the violence would stop, so she would go back to him.
One morning after a very violent incident, Jane decided to leave. Her husband went to work, and Jane called the hotline. An Advocate met Jane at the OA Outreach Office, and she decided to file for a Protection Order. The Advocate provided Jane with Civil Protection Order assistance, and the emergency order was granted. Jane decided to come for Shelter until the Order was served against her husband. During the time Jane was at the Shelter she received support and education about Domestic Violence, and most of all she felt safe. Jane was very thankful she had a safe place to go. Jane continues to meet with her Advocate and is no longer living in fear.
There was one client I had, who when I first met her, was very quiet and reserved. She did not want to talk a lot about anything that had happened nor really much about herself, but she wanted support for her full hearing. I told her I would support her through the entire process, however long it took. I explained to her some of the resources within the community that could help her as well as at Open Arms like our support group.
Throughout the days of waiting for her full hearing, we exchanged phone calls and emails to make sure all her questions about the day were answered. On the day of the full hearing, she was overwhelmed with anxiety so we worked on some coping mechanisms to make sure she felt better when she went into the courtroom. In the full hearing, it was decided by both parties that the protection order was fine to be in place so they signed agreements to it. After they signed the paperwork, my client seemed to be a new person. I saw her smile for the first time, she was laughing, and all the worry she had, seemed to go away.
A couple weeks went by and I called her to see how she was doing. She told me that she had gotten a couple new pets, found a job, and was in the works of going back to college. She said she had a lot keeping her busy and life was good. She thanked me for being there to support her and helping her get her confidence back. I told her that she could reach out at any time as my support for her did not end at the result of the full hearing.
I worked with a client that was leaving an abusive relationship from her significant other and utilized our emergency, confidential shelter. In addition to worrying for her own safety, she also had a kitten that she feared for if she left it at the residence. We reassured her that we would be able to provide a safe place for her kitten to go while she stayed at the shelter. Throughout her stay, we arranged and scheduled Vet appointments, to ensure her kitten was in good health and up to date on everything. We also coordinated visitation times for them to spend time with one another.
Through hard work and dedication to accomplishing her goals, she moved into a new, safe, independent housing situation, where she was reunited with her kitten. She was so excited and happy to finally be back together. Statistics show that approximately 50% of domestic violence victims have delayed leaving their abuser out of fear for their animals. Often times, a victim of domestic violence is faced with the difficult decision and worry that if they leave the home, their pet is in danger. There comes the challenges of finding safe housing for their animals as well.
Unfortunately, most shelters do not have the means or resources to be able to take in family pets. Fortunately, Open Arms partners with a few other community members to offer confidential shelter and veterinarian care to family pets when their owners are fleeing dangerous situations, through what is called the Frosty Fund organization. “I am doing great and I am loving my apartment! Thank you ladies for everything!”
There are rare moments that we receive a phone call from a Detective in another city seeking shelter for someone. A detective from another city here in Ohio, contacted our hotline, in search for shelter, for a woman who had been sexually assaulted. The detective said he has never done this before, but he needed to get this woman away from the city she was in, and in a safe house. Fortunately, we had room for this woman, and the detective drove her to Findlay to meet one of our advocates.
When bringing Hadley back to shelter, she was still in shock as to all of the events that had recently taken place, and she was completely exhausted. Hadley had just been uprooted from her home and taken to a new place, where she knew absolutely nobody. One of our Family Advocates sat down with Hadley and was able to get her settled comfortably in our shelter. That evening, Hadley decided to join our support group for those who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Hadley attended group and joined in with participation. After the support group, Hadley mentioned how much she enjoyed it, and was glad to be here. After a few days, Hadley determined she wanted to relocate to Findlay. Hadley was so determined that it took only about a week to get all of her services she was seeking in the last city she was living in switched to Findlay. She was motivated, as this doesn’t ever seem to happen that often. Hadley soon began a new routine and was becoming fonder of Findlay.
Throughout Hadley’s stay at our residential shelter, she worked with her case manager, in order to obtain housing and start her new journey in a new city. Hadley was accepted into transitional housing, has options for assistance once she finds her own place, and continues to seek all of her normal services while she’s maintaining sobriety. Hadley has experienced many challenges in her life and this is just one more. She often says, “This will be a challenge, but I like a challenge.” She continues to strive for success in hopes for a continued successful future!
Open Arms offers a 26 week Domestic Violence Class to victims who have had their children removed from their home by Child Protective Services (CPS). Typically when CPS is involved, there could be numerous reasons as to why, however when they refer clients to our Domestic Violence Class, typically there has been some type of Domestic Violence reported.
I am educated with knowledge about domestic violence through my Social Work degree at both a Bachelor’s and Master’s level. When I was ordered to attend this group, my professional brain rejected the idea because, “I knew too much about this” and “why should I have to participate?” I felt like I was above the other group members because of my education, but then I realized the denial of my own trauma. One day, I learned something that I had not been taught in any of my professional courses. I learned that when your partner threatens suicide as a way to get you to stay with them, that is a form of domestic violence. I had encountered this on numerous occasions and it always led me back to my partner, which paved the way for more physical and verbal abuse to occur. My mind was clouded with the thoughts of how our children would manage their way through life without their parent. I fell for it. Every. Time.
Education through personal experience, has been more valuable than anything I have ever been taught in an academic setting. It was during the process of these groups that I was able to learn a great deal from the other members. These members shared their real life testimonies and I realized how I could relate to each and every one of them to some degree. These class members supported me more than they probably ever realized. There were many times that my emotions felt uncontrollable but their relatable experiences, funny comments, etc. during our classes made me smile or laugh with them. Those experiences authentically uplifted my mood and I realized I had the right to feel happy with them, even if it was only during that one-hour class. For that time, I am forever grateful to each and every one of them.
I remember at one time, dreading the length of this course. TWENTY SIX WEEKS! SIX MONTHS! I remember an inability for my mind to grasp ever making it through. Looking back now, I am able to realize why it was necessary to attend this class for that long. The curriculum facilitated accountability throughout my journey of accepting the reality of my own domestic violence experiences. I was able to truly process the seriousness of the events that led me to this class and it provided me the support that I required to process my trauma. This class provided me with the foundation to reflect on what I had control of then and what I have control of now.
“I want to help because I had tons of people helping me”. Barb explains her reason for sharing the story of domestic violence and survival.
She grew up as a “tough girl”, attended catholic school, and helped to run the family business. She was planning to be a veterinarian, but her father insisted she go to school to be a nurse and she pursued that in her native Mexico. She got married young. Barb began working in the local hospital, mixing medications for cancer patients. Her husband started to get jealous of her doing well. He was unsupportive and starting charging her for the family bills.
They moved from Mexico to the USA in hopes of better opportunities. It was here that his drinking got worse, and she learned of his multiple affairs. Barb decided leaving him was the best answer and hoped that this would make him realize how much he was losing. It didn’t work out that way for Barb. Her husband moved back to his native Mexico, and on his way, called their landlord and gave him permission to throw out all the things in the house, her things, and he did so, leaving Barb with next to nothing.
To pick herself up from this point, she began cleaning houses. The owners of one of the homes, allowed her to stay there for free in exchange for cleaning their house. They took good care of her, supported her, and eventually the owner, a man 18 years her senior, told her he was in love with her. She was still reeling from the split with her husband, but thought she could fall in love with this new man because he treated her so well. Eight months later and pregnant, she learned he had a family and wife of 28 years back home in Mexico. Barb found the wife’s phone number and informed her. Her boyfriend denied it all, and became very controlling and aggressive. He began punching her, pushing her, and was aggressive towards her other children. This man continued to visit his other family 4-5 times a year and go back and forth with his double life.
He made Barb afraid for her family’s safety. He put the fear in her mind, that if she went to the police, he would hurt her family and she would get sent back to Mexico. She continued the life she knew, slowly becoming a different version of herself.
Barb worked up the courage to go to leave him and go to the shelter, and at that point he seemed to have changed. He began to be very kind and convinced her to move into a home he owned. His kindness didn’t last long, and he was back to controlling who was at her house, even stopping by. The end of everything came when he attacked her young son, and punched her while she was seven months pregnant with their second baby. They left the house and stayed at the shelter for 2 months. Barb says “all the good things happened to me in the shelter”.
The prior twelve years had been filled with abuse, and now finally a fresh start for Barb and her family. “Open Arms is part of me, they are my family!” She began to work on her immigration paperwork, which previously he stole, and now she has a green card. She also has her temporary driver’s license, a house she’s renting, with plans to buy her own home in a year. She’s also just started a new job. Everything is going in a positive direction and as she explains “I started loving myself”.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
“Dawn” is an intelligent, hardworking, kind hearted woman, who fell under the wrong man’s influence. Dawn grew up near Findlay, moved away to Cleveland area after school, enjoying life with great jobs and experiences. After 12 years living in Cleveland it wasn’t quite what she was looking for anymore, she felt a bit lost and decided to move back to her hometown. It was here that an old high school acquaintance, “Bill” came into her life.
Dawn was at a restaurant when handsome Bill came up to her. They started catching up, learning that both of them had decided to move back to their hometown. He mentioned having seen her around town for a few months, and just now was getting the chance to talk with her. They seemed to hit it off very well!
Two months later, they were living together and Dawn had the family she had always wanted. Bill had minor children, a son and two daughters, and his son lived with them. They soon got engaged and even added a puppy to the family.
Dawn continued to try to grow the relationship with Bill, though the red flags were mounting, she did love him and loved having a family. After one incident she threatened to call the police and he picked her up by her neck, with a knife in the other hand. He told her if she ever went to the police, he’d kill her, stabbing the knife into the wall just behind her head. In the early years he bought her gifts to smooth things over and the promise he would change. Dawn explains now, “I didn’t respect myself the way I should have.”
He soon began to be a lot more controlling, calling her repeatedly when she was visiting with friends, and in 2011 Bill decided to move Dawn and his son to Findlay, resulting in less contact with friends and family. Along with the physical abuse, he would continually build her up, then beat her back down. He was narcissistic, all the while telling others she was crazy and unstable. Dawn couldn’t bear to leave the family she had grown to love even though Bill’s alcoholism became severe, resulting in multiple DUI’s and a gambling addiction, which made him even more violent.
Bill went to the VA rehabilitation in 2015 for 30 days, after getting out he did not follow the court order follow up care, which was a probation violation so he was put in jail for 60 days. Dawn visited him in jail telling him she needed to move on for a while but he cried and begged her to stay. It was a vicious cycle. “I was a shell of who I used to be.” After the stay in jail, Bill was under the control of the court and a SCRAM unit placed on his ankle. This would stop the drinking usage for a while and Dawn felt he could change. They adopted two puppies from an abuse & neglect situation but Bill resorted back to the same bad behavior of drinking, gambling, cheating, and abuse.
November 2017 Bill was in the VA Rehabilitation for the 2nd time for 30 days. Dawn had been with Bill for nearly a decade and decided she had had enough and ended the relationship while he was still in rehab telling him it was over and she wanted him to move out and stay away from her. Bill refused and still returned to their home after rehab in December 2017.
Dawn confronted him and asked why he did all the horrible things to her, his response, “You’re a bad person.” Dawn said she continued to plead with Bill to leave their home but he refused. One afternoon Bill began yelling at Dawn so much that his son sent him a text message refusing to come over to watch football with his dad and told him to “leave the house and to leave Dawn alone.” Dawn said this just made Bill angrier and he stated “as long as you live in this house, I will come and go as I please.” After many weeks of living in fear of Bill, January 2018, Dawn found the courage to file for a Protection Order for herself and her 3 dogs. She then sought out help with First Step & Open Arms.
There was a temporary protective order granted and he was removed from their home. She felt embarrassed and ashamed to open up and admit she allowed a man to abuse and use her for so long. Dawn said there was a court date in February for a full hearing of the CPO. At a meeting with her attorney, she was shown a court document stating that Bill wanted possession of one of the dogs. Dawn refused, stating he just got out of rehab, had no job, and was not capable of caring for the dog. She decided that she would put it in the judge’s hands to decide what was best. In February 2018, Dawn had to face her abuser one last time in court. The protection order was granted for a full 5 years, which is the maximum time allowed. Dawn was also granted possession of all three dogs.
Dawn was very happy she could now have a chance to have a better life, free of terror, but Dawn also had to deal with the aftermath. The years of abuse have taken a toll on her mentally and physically. She now suffers with PTSD.
Dawn has now decided to survive and thrive, and started to look at her options for changing her life. Dawn was approved for a home loan and has been able to rebuild a happy and safe place for herself as well as her dogs. Dawn has had support through Open Arms, gaining strength from their groups, where she has met a community of amazing strong women like herself who are survivors. Dawn finds healing in helping others with advice and understanding. She feels blessed to have such loving and supportive friends and family, who have all stood by her and believe in her. She knew she had the choice to fall apart or be better, Dawn chose the latter.
Now, Dawn has a great place for her dogs to roam. Her crew of three dogs wake up with the sun, pull her blankets off, and nudge her out of bed every morning. The children she helped raise are all grown now and Dawn has maintained a close relationship with all of them including the grandchildren.
Dawn shares, “My life is so peaceful, I’m not lost anymore, I love my life, and I love my house”. She’s looking into ways to do more in the community and to give back. Her last thoughts are that people can “let life happen to you, or make life happen”, and she is making life happen!
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
“Abuse was normal” Ellen says, as she reflects on her childhood. Her parents divorced early on, and she lived with her mom and grandma until at age five, she was taken to live with her father and his new wife. This move was devastating for Ellen, because her grandmother was the only person who had ever been consistent in her life.
Ellen’s father would use a belt on her, his fist, and even a willow stick, while her stepmother would hit her with a broom and pull her hair. At age of seven, her step brother began to sexually abuse her. He even threatened to hurt her mom and grandma if she ever told anyone. This continued until age 16, when she ran away from home. Ellen was found by her father who promised to take her to her mom’s. He didn’t take her to live with her mom. He took her home, beat her for running away, and she was sent to school the next day. At school, one of her teachers noticed her markings, and tried to help Ellen, but she was scared to disclose too much of her personal life.
Later that summer, Ellen was allowed to visit her mom for a few weeks. When it was time to go back to her father’s, Ellen told her half-brother that she was not going back there. She insisted that she would get off the bus and never go back. It was then that her half-brother went to their mom and told her what was going on. He loaned her mother the court costs to get custody of Ellen. The court ruled in her favor. Ellen’s father was not happy with the outcome. He told her, “As far as I am concerned, I never had a daughter, she was dead. You will never amount to anything.” Out of all the abuse Ellen had ever experienced, this verbal abuse was the worst.
When Ellen was 17 and had just barely started 10th grade, she quit school. She then got a job. Ellen then turned 18, anxiety and depression took over, and she attempted suicide. Between the ages 18 - 24, Ellen dated a very manipulative man who she had her oldest daughter with. Ellen shared that he lied to her about so many things, including his name. Ellen states that he has continued his manipulation and lies over the years to herself and their daughter. At the age of 24 was when Ellen met and married her (now) ex-husband. He had 2 children and she had her daughter, from her previous relationship.
Ellen worked very hard to keep her life on the right track, even earning her GED. Her husband was abusive not faithful, and even forced sexual abuse. Ellen says she had a lot of support to help her get through and they were divorced after 10 years of marriage. After another failed relationship, Ellen did have one more daughter as well. It was at that moment that Ellen realized not only had she experienced verbal and emotional abuse, so had her daughters. Since her daughters have grown, that is the one thing that Ellen regrets most, is allowing her daughters to go through that abuse as well.
Ellen eventually met another man, who she became engaged to. Everything was going great until they were engaged, and then he changed. He became controlling and Ellen began to have flashbacks to the little girl she once was with no boundaries. He isolated Ellen in his home one night, not allowing her to leave. He threatened to give her an “uppercut” like the military would do – hitting her in the nose so it would kill her. He threatened to, “blow his brains out.” He even went as far as putting a knife up to her head. It was then that she broke off the engagement, which angered him. Ellen was forced to stay the night at his home, because he would not allow her to leave. She even attempted to give him her ring back 3 times. It wasn’t until the next day, that one of his family members was able to convince him to let her go home.
“I’ve had other relationships, but in every one there was abuse” Ellen recalls. Her mom was an alcoholic, who was married multiple times and many of them abused Ellen as well. Throughout all Ellen has been dealt in life, she has always clung to the idea of hope, and that tomorrow will be better. “You have to have hope,” Ellen insists.
Going forward, Ellen wants to continue to make a difference in the world. Ellen mentions that in her childhood the only thing she had to cling on to were the animals that were at her father’s home. She said that has followed her in her adult life – as she loves to help rescue animals. Ellen states, “I know what it’s like to not have a voice. I feel like I can be that voice for animals when I help rescue them.”
Ellen continues to go to the meetings at Open Arms, to give and receive support as well. It was Open Arms, which Ellen has been coming to for years, which first helped Ellen to feel safe. Ellen states, “Open Arms has been a life line. It’s my safe place. I’ve gone there more than one time for help. Their staff is available 24/7, they are loving and caring, always continue to educate their clients, and are always there for support.”
Ellen has great advice to anyone else who is in a domestic violence situation; “Tell somebody, retell them, people care.”
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
“Addy” is our next survivor’s story. She grew up near Dayton, Ohio. She was raised by her Grandma and Grandpa. Her mom is estranged and psychologically unwell. Addy is hoping to someday find her birth father. Addy moved to northwest Ohio after graduating high school to be with her boyfriend.
Once they were together for a while, he became abusive, controlling, and even manipulated her into an engagement. She was blind to the red flags. Addy thought she could change him. “I didn’t think anything like that could happen to me.” After he raped her, she knew it was time to leave.
The first time Addy tried to leave, it was horrible; she thought he was going to kill her as he choked her, and she ended up right back in his arms again. She thought there were no other options, and that she had no other place to go. While back together, she got pregnant with her daughter. They ended up together for one more year in total. When he hit their daughter, it was the last straw. A friend from work, whom she’d confided in, was willing to provide her and her daughter a safe haven. She stayed there for two years before getting back on her own feet.
“My daughter saved me”. The opportunity to leave may have come from a coworker, but the strength to leave came from her baby girl. Addy is focused on making sure her daughter knows that she deserves better in life, and that what she’s seen her mom go through, is not the norm. Addy wishes she would’ve known about the resources that are available to women in her situation sooner than she did. When friends were telling her “just leave”, it wasn’t that simple. It was a life threatening, life changing move.
When she was finally able to contact the police, they filed a restraining order against her fiancé. While under the safe cover of a friend’s house, and protected by the restraining order, her phone was constantly blowing up with messages from her abuser. It took the support of that group to help her through.
Addy advises others who are in similar situations not to ignore the red flags. “Don’t think you can change them, you can’t” she encourages others. Red flags for her were; being dictated which friends she could and could not see, forced isolation, him getting between her and her family, false affection, and offering to always tag along when she was allowed out with friends and family.
After approximately nine years of bad relationships, Addy is still trying to recover from all her trials, and she’s staying strong and is on the right track. She’s going through a divorce right now, from a husband who psychologically abused her daughter, and looking towards a fresh start, recently finding help through Open Arms.
In addition to spending time with her daughter, Addy is focusing on healing and dealing with the past trauma. She plans to overcome some unhealthy coping mechanisms, while moving forward for her and her daughter.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
“I never looked forward to birthdays.”
”Sarah’s” story begins on the east coast. She grew up as an only child and her mom and dad divorced when she was 18, two months before she moved to Ohio to study at the University of Findlay’s excellent equestrian program.
From age five until she was thirteen, it was her pediatrician. Every time her mom brought her in, whether it be an annual checkup the week before her birthday or because she wasn't feeling well, she would be asked by the doctor to leave the room to “complete paperwork.” It was during this time that he would take advantage of her. Sarah told her mom what was going on when she was seven or eight years old, but she didn't believe her and kept taking her to the same doctor. Sarah wants parents to know to always stay with their children, and to believe them when they say something’s not right.
“Seven year old's generally don’t have a reason to lie about sexual assault, and gathering the courage to tell a trusted adult that someone is hurting you only to be brushed off is almost as bad as the attack itself.” This doctor had come highly recommended from some of Sarah’s family and had worked with some of her aunts for years, and this still happened repeatedly to her. It can happen to anyone.
Sarah didn't tell her dad about the assaults at the pediatrician’s office until about 3 years ago. When her mom didn’t believe her about the assaults as a little girl, she didn't see the point in trying to tell anyone else. When she finally told her dad, they cried together for hours.
When she was 15, she was again sexually assaulted, this time by a classmate at a pool party. She fought back and he held her under the water for doing so. The splashing caught the attention of others, who were able to help her. This time, she told both parents right away as she was older and better understood what was going on.
Most people don't know Sarah’s story, for a few reasons. She tends to internalize it because she recognizes that the topic makes people uncomfortable and doesn't often come up in conversation. The fear of not being believed is also an issue for many survivors, as she experienced as a young child, but she doesn’t personally carry this fear anymore because she knows what happened and is no longer so worried about what others believe.
As with many victims of sexual assault, Sarah still experiences fears and triggers. She’s getting better, but she still struggles with an intense fear of doctors and medical settings, as well as more obscure triggers that can lead to panic attacks or flashbacks. She explains that not all triggers lead to flashbacks, but she has to always be aware of the possibility.
She wants to share the wisdom that she has gained through her trials, that being, “You're going to have a lot of people tell you to stop blaming yourself, and that it’s not your fault, which is 100% true. There is no world in which an assault is the victim's fault. But shame is also a normal part of the process, and getting told to stop blaming yourself over and over again can feel kind of accusatory after awhile, like there's something wrong with you for feeling that way. It’s important to get to a point where you can realize you have nothing to be ashamed of, but you can't stop blaming yourself for the assault until you stop blaming yourself for blaming yourself.”
Sarah suggests to tell someone you trust, if you can. “It's extremely difficult to bare that part of your soul to another person, especially if the assault is fresh. But you can’t do this (heal) alone. I know because I did one alone and one not alone, and as hard as it is to tell someone, it's even harder to get through it on your own. However, if you don't feel safe or comfortable telling anyone, that's your choice. You get to decide who to tell and how much to tell them. It’s your story, and you don’t owe anyone anything.”
Looking toward the future, Sarah wants to work in equine assisted therapy for people suffering with PTSD, as horses have helped her immensely.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
Local college student, “Jessie” has found it to be a slow, but steady healing process, since she was assaulted about 18 months ago by her former best friend.
It happened about 2 hours away from home, and she chose to file a report. She had to go through the process of dealing with prosecutors from another town, which was terribly difficult, to the point that she began to have anxiety about phone calls. In the end, no charges were pressed due to a number of reasons. Unfortunately, proof was washed away in the shower after the assault, and evidence laundered away in the washing machine. Perhaps going to the hospital right away would’ve also helped her case, but that did not cross her mind.
Jessie’s family does not know about the assault to this day. She explains that chose not to tell them because it's her story and she is in charge of who knows. “It’s not healthy to hide it all away” Jessie realizes as she continues to work through processing her trauma. Her small group of close friends and support group have provided a much needed outlet. After keeping the assault from her family, she started to feel alone and it was then that she sought out help through a weekly support group.
Jessie is feeling steady progress through the help of her group. As new girls join the group, she’s explained her feelings for them as “sad, but glad that they are coming” along with happiness that she’s able to give the newer attendees some advice that she has realized through her personal ordeal.
In addition to the group of survivors that Jessie continues to confide in, she has found strength in friends, Open Arms, wonderful advocates, counseling, and by focusing on self-care. To others who are on the same journey as her, Jessie would say “Don’t be afraid to talk, let your voice be heard. There will be rough patches. You’ll learn things about yourself. You’ll be pushed past all your comfort zones. You’ll move on. You’ll leave things behind, you’ll grow. You’ll come out stronger. You’ll gain. There is hope. There is a future. There is understanding. You will be okay again.”
As Jessie continues to move on, and reach for her goals, she plans to complete her degree. She is working on having healthy relationships, and wants to be a good life partner to someone. Lastly, she wants to be a more understanding person and continue to be there for people when they need someone.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County.
From the time Harmony was a little girl, she experienced domestic violence in her home, as her dad would abuse her mom. It was the norm for her and unfortunately adulthood held some of the same.
Four years ago, she met a man and it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, soon after they began dating, things started to go downhill. It started with verbal abuse. He would tell her she amounted to nothing. This then turned to physical abuse, first shoving, then pushing and hitting. When she tried to leave, he instilled fear in her by saying that she would never find anyone else to care for her and her children. “I woke up every day, being afraid to be myself. I felt like I was walking on eggshells” Harmony explains.
The turning point in Harmony’s story came when she realized just how much she had changed, due to his actions. She would do something as simple as run errands around town, happy and enjoying her day, then walk in the house, and just the sight of her boyfriend caused her demeanor to change. Harmony just had to figure out how to leave and where to go.
In the meantime, one of the scariest episodes yet happened. After a day spent with friends, she was driving home as he had been drinking alcohol. Harmony was honest with him and told him she didn’t like who he became when he was drunk. He didn’t care to be told that, and grabbed the wheel, crashing them into a guard rail. He made her run in the snow and hide, however the cops eventually were called. She had cuts and bruises, but otherwise was physically ok, and her boyfriend was sent to a mental hospital for a short while.
The final straw came when he abused her in front of her kids. He pushed her while she was holding her son who had a broken leg at the time. He told Harmony’s young son that his mom was “no good”. Harmony explains at this moment, “What kind of mother would I be to allow him to do that sort of thing to my kids?” She ended up hitting rock bottom and losing everything, which unfortunately was what it took to get a fresh start in life.
Fast forward a very long year, and Harmony is in a much better place. She’s much happier, she has a new boyfriend who treats her exceptionally well. They have a healthy relationship, and she is building confidence. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, you have to decide whether to stay down or get up”.
Harmony hopes to reach and help others who are in the same situation that she was in. Her words to anyone who is in the same situation would be “You are worth so much more than you’re given. Believe in yourself, have the will to love yourself. It’s hard now, but it will be better, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
Growing up in a small town, well liked, and for the most part having healthy relationships was the norm for Bayah. She mentions that being a teenager she dated here and there and on at least two occasions she remembers experiencing unwanted touching from trusted friends/boyfriends. Bayah remembers being at school one day and another trusted friend bringing one of these situations up and being mortified. It was as if they were minimizing what happened to her.
Bayah graduated high school, attended some college, and found work. She found a job at a local bar as a bartender and became close with one of the regulars. They began a relationship, and all was well. It wasn’t until Bayah and her significant other moved in together that she realized just how bad his drinking problem really was. Bayah noticed the emotional, mental, and verbal abuse a lot more, but she had become pregnant and was willing to do anything to keep her family together.
It was after their son was born that she realized she no longer wanted to deal with this abuse, but she especially knew that she didn’t want her son to witness it either. She left his father and instantly became a single mother. Her son’s father would only take time with his son when it was convenient for him. Bayah was okay with this though, as she would never forget about his drinking problem. She was fearful that he would drink and not be able to take care of their son and/or drink and drive with him. Bayah moved on and focused on raising her son when one day she ran into an old high school friend.
They began to spend time together and began to become really interested in each other. She enjoyed their time together, and he treated her son like his own. They began a relationship and not much time had passed before she became pregnant again. They went away and got married. He promised her the world, all of the best things, and Bayah was happier than she had ever been. Once they were married, her husband told her that she no longer needed to work. He told her that she should stay home and take care of the kids, and he would take care of the rest. Bayah did just that, but she still picked up some hours at her old job, just to get out of the house from time to time. After they began to build their life together, Bayah noticed some changes in their relationship. She ended up finding out that her husband was being unfaithful.
Bayah was broken. Her husband, who she thought she was building this beautiful life with, was leaving her for another woman. Bayah remembers looking back on their relationship and realizing there were many red flags that she didn’t see at the time. She was too caught up in the fairytale that she had always wanted, but she didn’t realize that not working and raising her children would one day only leave her with only $80 in her bank account and a full tank of gas. She now realizes just how isolated her (now) ex-husband had kept her. Bayah even remembers being fearful during their break-up, keeping a packed bag and baseball bat beside her bedroom door, in case she needed to get out of her home quickly and safely.
Bayah is now in a safe place, her boys are growing up, and she has recently graduated from college following one of her biggest dreams! She’s put her passion into action and is now working in the field she’s always wanted to work in and is feeling pretty successful.
Bayah said that the one thing that has always gotten her through all her tough times and past domestic violence is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Bayah wants anyone who has experienced or is experiencing domestic violence to, “Utilize your support system, then pay it forward when you’re in a better position.”
“Emily” grew up near Columbus, Ohio in a moderate sized town. Life was good and relatively normal growing up. She went to a Catholic school until eighth grade, then transferred to public school, where she excelled.
Swimming brought Emily to the University of Findlay, where it was a bit of a difficult transition. As a new Freshman, Emily hadn’t made many friends yet when one of the “superstars” of the swim team started to take interest in her. They would go out for coffee together, talk, and hang out. One night after a party with friends, things changed.
After leaving the party, they walked Emily’s friend back to her house and continued to his house. He invited Emily in, and she obliged, perhaps naively, thinking innocently of the invitation. In her mind, just out of high school, this would be time to sit, talk, hang out, not anything sexual. Once inside, he began to assault her, only stopping when she began to cry. “The absence of no, doesn’t mean yes” Emily explains.
After this occurrence, Emily became even more lonely, broken down, began suffering from panic attacks and withdrawn from other friends. She ended up staying with the boyfriend about one more month. He was manipulative and controlling. The months of turmoil continued, as Emily tried to focus on her studies.
It wasn't until 2 years later, when he tried to come back into her life and Emily felt threatened again that she decided to file a police report. This typically 60 day long process ended up taking five excruciating months, and in the end, no charges were filed.
Emily was discouraged that she reported the incident, only to have no charges brought against him. The stress of the assault, and the investigation did help Emily to learn a few things she wants to share with others. She advises those who might be in the same situation that, “some people will be there for you, some won’t, and it might not always be family”. She also advises to not isolate yourself, and to try to find positive in the negative.
Looking ahead, Emily says she is “ok” now, thanks to Bethany and Open Arms. She has a healthy relationship with a new boyfriend and is looking forward to graduating in May 2020.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
Over her Twenty-Five years of life, “Lillian” has had more than her fair share of trials and bumps in the road. Lillian was born in the Findlay Ohio area, in Forest, and raised with her younger brother, by their mom as their dad was in prison. Their mom moved them to Marysville for a short while, to a new place while she got back on her feet, then back to Findlay area when she was 10.
On a regular evening almost 3 months ago, Lillian was hanging out at a friend, and coworker’s house. It was in the middle of the night, that she was awoken to him sexually assaulting her. They had previously dated, but were not currently dating and he did not have consent. It was assault. Lillian pressed charges and the case is currently open.
Before the assault, Lillian was no stranger to the legal system. Lillian had become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and was selling them to support a false lifestyle. The drug money provided a house, car and other nice things, but “they didn’t mean anything because of how I got them” she explains. This time of living well on money provided by illegal activity came to a screeching halt one evening in 2017 when her house was raided and felony charges were brought against her, after finding drugs and drug paraphernalia. This resulted in her two children being taken away, jail time, and then rehabilitation.
The trauma from the assault sent her into a brief relapse that she’s totally accountable for. However, she is now moving forward at the Hope House where she is completing an awesome program. It is very goal oriented. She has completed the IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). Lillian works as a supervisor at her current job and plans to continue doing so. She is saving up money for a vehicle and plans to get her own place when this program is complete. But, even more exciting than those successes, is the very recently granted unsupervised visits with her boys, who are one and four years old, visits which have not been allowed in one year.
In her spare time, Lillian finds relaxation and strength by walking and listening to music. She also enjoys spending time with her peer support groups, which she intends to be life long. She is doing well, and will continue to do so, with the greatest goal of being full time mom again once she is able.
Photo Credit: Humans of Findlay & Hancock County
“I am who I am today because of it” sums up the story, bravely told to us by Mara. Mara is not using a pseudonym, and wants her face to be shown.
Mara’s story begins in Hartville, Ohio. Her father’s job brought her family to Findlay when she was 1, and she’s lived here ever since. She is 21 now, and is a Junior studying graphic design at BGSU.
It was Spring of 2018, when a really close friend of several years, was home on leave from the Marine Corps. She went over to his house to visit, and he started to assault her. Coercion and manipulation led to unwanted touching and oral sex. She was crying, terrified and trying to get him to stop by repeatedly telling him no. Eventually he did, and he was angry. “He kept screaming and pounding his fist against the countertops and he kicked me out.” She left and went home and sat in her garage for hours trying to process what happened.
It took awhile for what really happened to soak in. She was ashamed and confused. Mara was already seeing a counselor for unrelated things, and mentioned the event to her, who was able to confirm it was rape. A police report was made, and family was told, who were a big support for Mara.
Everyone’s story’s different, and the police report aspect can be very intimidating. In the end, there was not enough evidence to bring charges for the assault, mostly because her clothing was washed right after the attack. Mara is glad that she reported the incident because they investigated it thoroughly, and through that process, helped her feel like she regained some power.
“I wanted him to know he did something wrong, he took a piece of me away that I can’t take back.” She adds, “I forgave him a long time ago. I don’t dwell on it, I don’t hate him, I just don’t care about him any more.” Not everyone was supportive through this trauma. A best friend though she was lying, and left her life for good. Mara now has a good support system and says she “did a complete 180”, mostly by changing who she surrounded herself with and cutting toxic people out of her life.
The assault is not the only traumatic event Mara has overcome. She had been dating someone for over a year, and thought the relationship was very serious. One day, they were skyping each other and he dropped the bomb that he got married the day prior. This was extremely hard on Mara and she tried to commit suicide twice, and spent two days in the psych ward.
Mara explains “I want people to know these things happened to me, so they know I can be there for them.” She also explains “It (rape) doesn’t have to be cut and dry like being drunk and being attacked by a stranger, it’s not in a box. And, most assaults are from people we know.”
Talking about the assault and it’s effects have greatly helped Mara to this point. Not all of her friends are aware, but those that know have been super helpful. Also helping was a bible study she began shortly after the attack, as well as going to the gym and doing more things for herself. She’s come a long way in figuring out who she is. Her mindset is that “even through bad things, the outcomes have been more good than bad”.
Mara is in a good place now. She has a wonderful boyfriend. She wants to use her design skills to help other victims, and wants to continue being a positive presence in the world, along with being a resource and advocate for others who are going through similar trials.
Mara offers the following advice to others, “Always report an assault, don’t be afraid. Be aware of where your mind is going. Don’t be self destructive, and don’t isolate yourself. Write out what happened shortly after it happens. Self care is so important! Lastly, remember how strong you are and keep moving forward."