Breaking the silence, escaping the violence: domestic abuse survivors share their story to help others
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s an epidemic within the pandemic. In the US, an estimated 10 million people experience physical and psychological abuse each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. However, those numbers are surging due to the stress, job loss and housing insecurity brought on by COVID-19.
The World Population Review shows Arizona is now fifth in the nation for domestic violence, with 43% of women and 33% of men being abused by their partners.
Two women are opening up about their traumatic past, getting vulnerable with KOLD News 13.
“To be a voice,” said Helen Marie McCracken, “and to help other people.”
McCracken one of 10 women featured in the book “#SheWins 2.” She’s a domestic violence survivor.
“From being born into trauma, to being sexually abused by my brother at the age of five, to unhealthy high school relationships, to eventually marrying a narcissistic abusive man,” she said.
McCracken met her ex-husband in 1995 at work. The two got married and quickly started a family. From the outside, they seemed to have it all. Two kids, the perfect suburban life in Illinois. Behind closed doors, though, she says the emotional abuse set in.
“I took my marriage vows very seriously; for better or for worse,” said McCracken. “We had talked about things and we saw counselors, he was in anger management, we saw doctors.”
McCracken says nothing worked, and her ex-husband became increasingly physically violent towards her. When his rage turned to their children, she knew she had to leave.
“He hurt my son. Threw him against a tree, he punched him, hit him. The verbal abuse was absolutely horrible. It took [my daughter] telling me that this was happening outside of when we were all together to leave him,” she said. “That’s when he came at me with a baseball bat in front of the kids, threatening me. I was in a cast at the time, mind you, I had a broken hand, and that was it. I called the police and pressed charges.”
McCracken fled to Southern Arizona with their children. It wasn’t until her divorce was finalized that she learned the full extent of his abuse.
“My son disclosed at school that he was being sexually abused,” said McCracken. “It happened as long as he could remember; from three to nine. To find out seven months [after my divorce] that not only was he abusing them, but to find out he was sexually abusing our son … it was devastating.”
Jessica Korff is a local photographer who connects with McCracken’s story.
“I truly believed that if I could be more perfect, than it wouldn’t trigger him so much,” Korff said.
When Korff left her abusive partner for good it was also for her children.
“We had three young girls at the time, and I realized they were kind of watching,” she said. “I realized I had to do better for them. We let ourselves be treated in ways I don’t think we would ever let our kids.”
McCracken shares her story with words, Korff has captured it with pictures. She photographed McCracken’s transformation for the book.
With family therapy and years of freedom, McCracken says she has come out the other side. She says she went from being a “survivor” to a “thriver.” Now, she wants others who fear judgement to know they are not alone.
“A lot of times, we don’t know how to recognize if we are in a domestic violence situation,” she said. “The questions people will usually ask is, ‘Why did she stay?’ Well, ‘Why is he abusing?’ We are asking the wrong questions.”
Here are some of the things McCracken and Korff warn people to watch for in their partner:
- “Love-bombing” early on in the relationship
- Trying to isolate you
- Withholding affection as punishment
- Making you feel like you need to ask permission for smallest decisions
- Controlling all of your finances
- Extreme jealousy
- Manipulation, gaslighting
- Verbal abuse
- Physical and sexual abuse
- Threatening to hurt you, themselves, or others to keep you from leaving
McCracken started a nonprofit, HM3 Advocate, Inc., to help survivors of domestic abuse. Each year, she lights up her house with Christmas lights and collects donations for those fleeing dangerous situations. She hopes to one day open a ranch to help survivors heal. To help, click HERE.
A local State Farm agent has also launched “Quotes for Good.” This month, for every person who calls Jim Miller’s office at 520-900-7842 and asks for a quote, $10 will be donated to HM3 Advocate, Inc. There’s no obligation to switch.
If you or a loved one needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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