By Marie Y. Lemelle
The global pandemic revealed problems that have been part of our coexistence: systemic racism, health disparities and domestic violence. As the hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 emergencies, women’s shelters around the world were quietly besieged with cries of help.
Social distancing and self-quarantining to slow the spread of the coronavirus has impacted the behaviors of domestic partners to resort to violence, suicide and homicide as a way to deal with their frustrations, depression, anger and hostility.
Experts report that one in three women and one in four men in the United States will experience domestic violence and one in six homicide victims are killed by their partners.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention state the following factors may contribute to the increase in violence, which is a public health problem. Factors include, but are not limited to, social isolation or lack of social support; financial, emotional, or physical stress; lack of time alone or lack of physical and mental space; lack of child care; loss of job or income; depression or anxiety; substance misuse; or reduced access to mental health or substance use services and support.
In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Halle Berry, a Jenesse Center ambassador for 20 years and domestic violence survivor, said, “I want people to know that Jenesse Center and centers like that around the world are fully staffed and ready to go. They have not been shut down.”
As an adult, Jamie Wright was disciplined and focused. She received a Joint Civilian Service Commendation, a NATO Medal of Service Award, and an Expeditionary Medal for Global War on Terrorism. All the accolades did not shield her from becoming a statistic as one in millions of women and girls who are caught off guard by a seemingly harmless romantic partner and hurdled into a cycle of abuse.
“I met a man that everyone thought was perfect, including me,” said Wright who is a single mom of two adult girls. “He slapped me, cursed me out, punched me in the chest, put his knee on my neck and hit me in the head with his fist.” He said, “What are you going to do about it?” After months of abuse, Wright lived through the nightmare to tell her story.
ML: What was life before your relationship turned abusive?
JW: After serving as a civilian employee in Afghanistan for about two years and then returning to the U.S., I thought life couldn’t be any easier. A few years after living and working in Dallas, I met David (not his real name) at a lounge in Houston in 2018. A month later, we were engaged. He lived in Houston, so we had a long-distance relationship until February 2020.
ML: When did the abuse start?
JW: One month after our engagement in October 2018, he shook me by my neck, while hollering and cursing at me. He apologized and said it would never happen again. In December 2018, we were at a Christmas gala when he grabbed my wrist and shook me because, “I didn’t have sense enough to know not to leave him at the table that long by himself to go line dance.”
By January 2019, we signed up for couples counseling with a therapist who specialized in PTSD.
In between a session, he threw and broke my phone during an argument at home. I canceled our next appointment because I thought I was done with our relationship. However, we managed to work things out. He apologized, told me he’d work on himself and promised that we wouldn’t have any other problems.
ML: Why did you accept his abusive ways?
JW: I thought it was normal behavior. I watched my mother go through the same cycle of violence from the time I was a little girl to 11 years old. To avoid witnessing the abuse, my oldest and only sister and I left home. We stayed anywhere we could. It was a rough time. At 13 years old, I was pregnant with my first daughter.
ML: Did you confide in anyone about David?
JW: I spoke to someone in the women’s counseling center and also confided in my girlfriends after I broke off our engagement in February 2019 upon finding out he was cheating. However, three months later, I went back to him because he promised never to hit me again. Unfortunately, I fell for his lies and he continued to abuse me for months. My friends were very supportive in the beginning, and we took a previously planned girl’s trip in September 2019. When I returned from the trip, once again David took out his frustrations on me.
ML: When did you move in with him?
JW: After more promises from David, we got re-engaged and in February 2020. I moved from Dallas to his home in Houston during the week of our wedding date set on Feb. 20. Just prior to our wedding, we discovered he was still married to his first wife. He filed for divorce, but it was not finalized by the time our wedding ceremony was performed. We did not cancel because it was paid for and our guests had purchased their travel arrangements.
ML: How did things change when COVID-19 hit, and stay-at-home rules applied?
JW: In March, David was on administrative leave from his job. We were at home all day, every day. I worked from home. Tensions ran high between us. On April 16, I was in bed reading a book and we began to argue. He knocked the book I was reading out of my hands. When I stood up, he pushed me backwards to the ground by my neck and called me names.
In one way, COVID-19 saved me from legalizing our marriage. When it was finalized in April 2020, COVID-19 has caused the closure of the Houston courthouses. I called the minister, sent him a photo of my bruised face, and begged him not to file the paperwork.
ML: What happened on the night that changed your life:
JW: On April 23, after more abuse, I left the house, called 911 and went to a shelter. The center gave me a clean, safe place to heal. I stayed there for about three months to give me time to get on my feet. When I arrived at the shelter, I didn’t feel judged and felt valued. I was safe. They saved my life and gave me a bigger purpose. I learned that nothing should stop you from staying in an abusive relationship. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for options.
Marie Y. Lemelle is the founder of www.platinumstarpr.com and a film producer. She can be reached at MarieLemelle@platinumstarpr.com. Follow her on Instagram @platinumstarpr.