AREA — “I never thought that I would have to ask myself, ‘should I call the police?’,” and yet that’s what Nichole did, time after time, year after year. Eventually, the abuse became her normal. And she loved the guy.

“… It doesn’t make for a simple answer,” she wrote in her victim’s statement.

He was her best friend, says the 35-year-old, “and we worked together for eight years.”

The abuser-victim relationship is complex and while to those on the outside it would appear a simple question of “why not just leave?”, it is never that simple. Most abusers are cleverly manipulative, she explains, and usually, their victims love them or need them and hope they will change or that maybe it will be the last time or that one day they will stop.

“He was the one who would hurt me and the one who would mend me.”

Further, she admitted, she was often more worried about what everyone would think. “We would be on a walk and he would get angry and start ‘choking’ me and I would be most afraid that someone would see this.”

This may be, in part, because he had convinced her that these abusive episodes were actually all her fault.

“There is a lot of deceit and manipulation,” she says. “He would never leave marks that I couldn’t cover [with clothing].” He would accuse her of seeing other people, of causing his anger, of planning to leave him. He told her if she did leave him, he would kill her and her family. She stayed.

However, she says, she stayed more for the belief that she could “fix” him than out of fear, although she was afraid. But she also knew another side of the man. A good, kind and loving side and this, she thought, is who he really is and she could help him through the abusive tendencies. Part of the reason she didn’t want to call the police, she says, was because she didn’t want something to happen to him. He would tell her, “I’ll change! I love you!”

“He would split my head open then bandage it up … he would cry and feel so bad … he was good at talking and very smooth – he could talk his way out of anything.”

So, for years she put up with mental, emotional and physical abuse. “I wanted so badly to be happy and I convinced myself I was.”

“Women don’t always stay because they’re scared … it becomes normal,” she explains.

She does think that her fellow employees where they both worked may have known or at least suspected. “He could be a verbal bully but then turn it around [within the same conversation] and become a mentor.”

At one point, she managed to leave him. Having gone to meet her family in Portland for the day, he was hounding her with texts and she broke down and admitted to her sister and parents what had been going on. The hustled her back to their home (a few hours away). Within a short while, he had convinced her to come back and she, in turn, convinced her family things had changed. They weren’t local so they couldn’t see first hand. “I wanted to be with him so much because of who he could be and the bond we had,” she struggles to explain. With tears running down her face she adds, “sometimes you can’t explain why.”

“I held on to the good and would block out the bad,” she says.

Further, he had told her he had a “horrible childhood” and was in and out of foster care and abused. “But he is a liar and so I’m not sure what was true. At work, he would tell them the reason for something he had done was because his mother had died [she had not] … who does that?”

Then she got hurt on the job and ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and a severe knee injury. He got let go from his job. Promising to take good care of her, he took her home from the hospital when she was released and continued the physical abuse in spite of her ribs and knee injuries. When she was healed, he wouldn’t let her go back to work because he no longer worked there and he was angry with the company. So she got another job.

At the new job she was working with mostly women so there was no reason for him to be jealous.

Then one day, after an argument over finances, which led to what she calls “roughing up” – shaking, screaming, shoving her face into the carpet, striking her in the head, pulling her hair out, holding his forearm across her throat so she couldn’t breathe and throwing his body weight on her – she went to work. “He almost killed me, but that day, with marks on my neck and mouth bruises … it’s almost as if I was ready … I went to work.”

The women she worked with spoke to her as a group. “They told me if I don’t call the cops, they would.”

She called.

And so began another chapter of “abuse” that was, she thinks, as bad as that she had been living with.

Court, newspaper

The cops were wonderful and supportive, she recalls. Detective Michael Halacy and Deputy Matthew Noyes got her a VARDA (Voice Activated Radio Dispatch Alarm) alarm, made the arrest on charges of domestic violence terrorizing, domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening and aggravated assault. Her abuser did not post bail and stayed in jail until his court date.

However, the day after his arrest, she opened a local paper to read a story about his arrest that gave her street address, identified her as “the woman he lived with” and quoted her police statement in detail.

“That newspaper article identified me in every way except for my name,” she says. She was scared. “If [he] sees this article, I know it will just fuel him,” she told her sister at the time, terrified he would get out of jail on bail and come for her.

But it wasn’t only that, she says, it was the humiliation of being publicly recognizable. “I got texts and social media messages from people I hadn’t heard from in years,” she recalls. “Everyone knew it was me. The cops were upset, Safe Voices was upset … .” Her sister wrote the paper but never got a response, she says. She and her sister worry that such publicity and easy identification of victims will hinder other women from feeling it is safe to come forward and report their abuse. “It was almost worse than what I had been living with.”

After laboring over a victim’s statement, she says, the court did not allow it to be read. She had spent days preparing it and had arranged to have it read as she knew she could not face her abuser yet … she wasn’t strong enough. “I thought having that read would give me closure but the judge said there wasn’t time to read it.”

And although there were prior convictions for terrorizing and violating a protection order, her abuser – who was facing up to 10 years in prison for aggravated assault and a year each on the other charges, was sentenced to only four months. She got a two-year order of protection. “I was so disappointed with the whole process,” she recalls.

She also discovered that people felt they needed to tell her all the bad things they knew about her abuser. “But I didn’t want to know,” she says. She put distance between herself and former friends of the two of them. “I had to protect myself,” she says, “especially if those friends were still in touch with him.”

She doesn’t know for sure where he is these days. “Safe Voices tried to find out for me but all they could find out was southern Maine.”

“Once you do it [call the cops] there’s no going back,” she says. “It’s scary but nobody can live like that … it will take me a long while to find out what a good relationship is like.” A year after the arrest, she says she is no where near ready to try a new relationship.

“Counseling has helped,” she says, “I’ve come a long way although talking about it brings it all back.

“He was broken and I couldn’t fix him.”

Nichole is not a victim of domestic violence, she is very much a survivor. She volunteered to share her story to help people understand the complexity of domestic violence situations.

She blows her nose and wipes her eyes. “If this story will help even one person,” she says, “it is worth it.”


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