How Does Abuse Grow?

About Sarah Stewart:

Sarah is a domestic abuse survivor, mom, attorney, author, and speaker. She lives in the U.S. where she strives to change the narrative and culture surrounding domestic violence. Her first book, The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil, was published in October 2022 and chronicles her own experience with domestic violence and teaches others how to avoid or leave abusive relationships

I was raised on fairytales.  I learned about the knight in shining armor at a young age.  I consumed the movies and books that showed unwavering pursuit and refusal to accept rejection as a desirable trait and a display of true love and affection.  My perspectives of romance and true love were warped by society and the lack of strong, healthy relationship role models from the time I was a young girl. 

Though inwardly, I had no desire to marry or have children, I felt the outward pressure of family and friends to have a relationship.  They questioned me, seemingly innocently, in my teenage years and early twenties about my romantic relationships. Was I dating? Had I found a partner? How many kids did I want to have? When would I have children?  I didn’t know the answers.  And, my lack of answers to these questions made me feel insecure and inadequate.

So, I found someone.  Or, rather, he found me. He found me when I was 22. I wasn’t initially interested in him.  But, he continued to pursue me—you know, like they did in the movies—and I eventually gave in.  It took me a few dates to really become interested in him.  But, when I was, he rushed our relationship. I felt it then, but I didn’t listen to myself.  

He showered me with attention and affection.  He complimented me constantly.  He wanted to spend every free moment he had talking, texting, or spending time together.  We were on the phone most nights until the black, cold, early morning hours.  He shared his deepest, darkest secrets with me and only me- so he said.  He wanted to know mine too.  He wanted to know everything about me to understand every thought and breath I made-so he said.

By the end of the first month, his belongings started showing up in my home.  Every time he came over, a new item appeared.  I noticed.  I pretended I didn’t.  His affection and attention were all-consuming. It felt good to feel wanted.

By the end of the sixth week, he told me he loved me.  I remember how odd it seemed.  He blurted it out, in the middle of a spat about a male friend of mine.  His words stopped me cold in my tracks.  “You didn’t expect me to say that, did you?” he chuckled.

I caught my breath.  “No. No, I definitely didn’t.”

“I know.  It’s a little fast.  But, you’re it for me.  I know.  It’s ok if you don’t love me yet.” He said.

And, I didn’t.  I knew I didn’t, but I rolled the words over and over in my mind.  It felt good to be loved.  And, the way he loved me then was like the movies.  He was kind, understanding, affectionate.  He really seemed to know me and understand me on a level I hadn’t experienced before.  Though, I sometimes wondered how someone could feel that way so quickly, I often got validation from my friends that this relationship was ok.  It was how it was supposed to work, right? That’s what most of us thought anyway.

By the end of our second month together, he proposed.  I was confused.  I felt rushed.  But, here was this man that I was starting to think I might love, kneeling in front of me.  I didn’t want to lose him.  I didn’t want to hurt him.  But, I wasn’t sure about marriage- not to him necessarily, just in general. I said “yes” anyway.  I asked him not to let anyone now just yet because it seemed so fast to me.  At this point, he hadn’t left my house in weeks.  By the end of that week, he openly moved everything in.

Our relationship slowly began to change over the course of the next few years.  He started with jealousy.  He questioned any male friendship I had.  He texted me constantly when I was out with my friends.  He’d become irritated if he wasn’t invited to go or if I didn’t respond to him quickly.  At the time, he couched his jealousy in concern for my safety.

His “concern” for my relationships with others grew.  Eventually, he accused me of cheating on him with my male friends.  So, to prove my love for him, I had to stop hanging out with them.  Then, he started in on my female friends.  If they weren’t hitting on him, they were saying horrible things about me behind my back. He was very detailed in relaying their betrayals.  He could repeat every word. I pulled back from a lot of my friendships. The betrayals weren’t the reason.  Something inside me didn’t fully believe him but pulling away was still easier than battling the barrage of word vomit about how monstrous my friends were and what I must be doing while I was out every time I came home.

Then, he began going through my texts and social media messages.  He’d find messages from months or years before we met and use them against me.  He’d tell me how horrible I was for having these messages in my inbox.  Messages with friends, people I had dated, or just messages from strangers I hadn’t even responded to.  But any sort of insinuation of attraction in these messages somehow cheapened me in his eyes.  He was teaching me that his love and affection were conditioned on how I responded to him and his needs.

I wound up marrying him, despite nagging doubts. The bad times were really bad, but the good times were really good.  I still had glimpses of this storybook fictional romance and I held out hope that I’d eventually get back to that. But I never did. The storybook tale was just a fantasy.

After the wedding, he constantly devalued me.  He’d bring up the old texts and social media messages.  When I tried to leave, he’d bear-hug me until I promised I wouldn’t go, tears streaming down his face. So, after a year of fighting and trying to talk him into getting control of his jealousy and anger, I packed my bags and left while he was at work.

That’s when he threatened to kill himself.  He said he couldn’t live without me.  He was so terribly sorry, and he was going to do better.  He agreed to go to counseling.  We went to counseling for a few months, and he did get better.  So, I moved back in.  Our relationship was the best it had been since the beginning for several months.  He convinced me he had chosen to change.  So, we planned to have a child.

During my pregnancy, things got bad again.  They continued to get worse and worse until the day I left almost four years later.  And they didn’t end there.  After our separation, his abuse continued to escalate.  He seemed completely out-of-control.  But it seemed like no one else could see it.  No one would listen to me.  He presented himself so well outwardly that no one could believe how dangerous he was to me, my children, and his future partners.

The narrative didn’t change for me until after his arrest for several violent offenses against his girlfriend at the time.  Though, a couple years after his arrest, a jury still found him not guilty of the offense- despite his admissions on the stand of abuse.  A week after his release from jail, he was arrested again.  This time for first-degree rape.  

About nine months after that arrest, the District Attorney dropped the charges.  In that time, I got no contact orders for me and my children.  But he’s still out there.  Now, he’s on his fourth protective order and wears an ankle monitor to prevent him from contacting his victims, but he’s still out there.  He’s still hunting his prey.

Amid my struggles with the ex, I needed to clear my trauma-clouded thoughts.  So, I started a journal.  My journal separated my realities from his fictions.  As I navigated the family and criminal court systems, finding myself continually let down and re-traumatized, I realized my experiences could help someone else.  So, I turned my journal into The Monster in My Home: Surviving Evil to share my experience, and what I’ve learned over the years.  I hope that my words can help protect and empower others.

And now, I am honored to join No More as a guest blogger. My goal is to explore the multitude of issues domestic violence survivors the world over experience and give tips, advice, and education to help survivors navigate the systems and traumas that hold us back.  I want to change the cultural perspectives around domestic violence, hold abusers accountable, and empower victims to break free from their abusers and the chains of their traumas.  I hope you will join me on this journey.

 

If you or someone you know experienced domestic violence, help is available.

Find your local support service at NOMOREDirectory.org

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Commonwealth International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women Ending Violence Against Women and Girls in the Commonwealth – Actions and Inspiration

NO MORE joined forces with our partners at the Commonwealth of Nations to celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls on 2 December and spotlight the actions and inspirational work across the 56 member countries.  

 

The event aimed to highlight cross-sectoral good practices, including legal, judicial, health and education measures, to tackle one of the most pervasive human rights violations. Ministers, senior policymakers in Commonwealth member countries, High Commissioners, representatives from partner organisations and activist groups joined this unique conversation.

 

Participants from across the Commonwealth heard from dynamic speakers about the need and reality of ending violence against women and girls while showcasing the work of NO MORE chapters throughout the member nations.

 

A highlight of the event was a conversation between the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC and Jude Kelly CBE, Founder and Chief Executive of the Women of the World (WOW) Foundation (https://thewowfoundation.com/). During this intimate exchange, the Secretary-General stated: 

 

“Around the world, women and girls suffer from lifelong trauma due to physical and sexual violence. Yet this cruel reality is preventable. Each of us must choose to take personal responsibility to bring an end to the hidden epidemic.”

 

The Secretary-General invited everyone to join the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign, which offers a series of culturally sensitive toolkits to businesses, non-profits and grassroots leaders to engage whole communities in addressing the root causes of violence. Patrick Ryan, CEO of Hestia, shared the work of UK Says NO MORE, highlighting the particular emphasis on supporting key legislation on domestic and sexual abuse prevention.  

 

Lyndsey Dearlove, Global Director of Operations at NO MORE, inspired the audience to take positive action to end violence against women and girls. Ms. Dearlove spoke of the need for civil society to participate in the whole system approach and work collaboratively to save lives.

 

Pamela Zaballa, Global CEO of NO MORE, joined the panel conversation. She shared her perspective of collaborative working and inspired audience members to consider the work of local NO MORE chapters in all Commonwealth member countries. Reminding everyone of the consequences of violence, Ms. Zaballa joined the Secretary-General in a call to action of now being the time for coordinated effort at the individual, local, national and global levels.

 

Moderating the panel discussion with speakers from the event, Jude Kelly CBE said the Commonwealth’s top-down leadership on this issue shows that it is not afraid to raise the carpet on previously hidden violations. She continued: “That truthfulness, that candidness and that clarity about a systemic problem will give people the courage and the stamina to move forward.” 

 

At the NO MORE Foundation we look forward to continuing our partnership work into 2023 engaging in finding local solutions for this global problem.

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KNOW MORE – Global Dialogue on Ending Domestic and Sexual Violence

KNOW MORE

Global Dialogue on Ending Domestic & Sexual Violence During NO MORE Week 2023

Throughout NO MORE Week 2023, NO MORE chapters and partners from around the world will participate in the second annual KNOW MORE Global Dialogue series. Stay tuned to see the full list of webinars and events.

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16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls

Like many 23-year-olds, she left on a once-in-a-lifetime trip through Europe with only a backpack, her phone, and an Instagram account to share her adventure. She had planned her trip carefully, but also knew that any question she might have or new arrangement she might make could easily be answered by the myriad of available travel apps. It was all going as planned until the unthinkable happened — she was sexually assaulted in a foreign country whose language she did not speak. Terrified and alone, the information, and crowd-sourced and expert recommendations she had at her fingertips, could not help her find the aid and advice she really needed. While once true, that is no longer the case thanks to the NO MORE Global Directory

This first-of-its-kind, comprehensive international directory of domestic violence and sexual assault resources in every UN-recognized country and territory in the world is intended to serve as a global hub of information and resources for victims and their loved ones.

It’s a lifeboat in a flood of pain and emotion, and the epitome of what NO MORE was meant to be when it was founded nearly a decade ago.

November 25th marked the first day of UN Women’s annual global campaign “16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls.” Running through December 10th, “16 Days..” brings organizations like NO MORE together from around the world to highlight and raise awareness of the continued challenges women and girls face globally — challenges including limits on education, free movement and economic freedom to domestic and sexual violence, restricted reproductive rights, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). 

From the start, NO MORE has had a dual purpose — to be a voice for survivors and their families, and to educate and engage those of us who have not been directly impacted by violence and abuse to help prevent it going forward.

Our many tools, like the Global Directory, do both, letting victims, survivors and their family and friends know there are people by their side, ready to help. 

And through its broad adoption and availability by partners like The World Bank, UN Women, Trip Advisor, Avon, and more, the Global Directory serves as a symbol that though there is more to do, there is a common thread connecting everyone working to end domestic and sexual violence.

At NO MORE, we continue to focus our efforts on ending domestic and sexual violence. Alongside our 1400 allies, supporters and survivors, we raise awareness and create useful tools that provide education for friends, family members, colleagues and first responders to help improve the response to domestic and sexual violence. We want to be sure that if and when someone they know discloses domestic or sexual violence to them, they feel confident responding and empowered to find the services needed.

 

With your support, we can continue to help survivors of domestic or sexual violence around the world access specialist information that is regularly updated and checked for accuracy.  This includes 24-hour helplines, shelters and emergency contacts.

Click here to support NO MORE

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