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Domestic violence has variety of forms

October is the 12th annual Domestic Violence Prevention Month, the designation a means to raise awareness, break the silence and prevent abuse.

More than two million Americans - women and men - are victims of domestic violence each year. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of all families experience some form of it. While the majority of cases are considered mild, they can have lasting effects.

Here in Hubbard County, 255 females and 55 males reported some form of domestic violence in 2009.

Domestic violence comes in a variety of forms - physical, sexual and psychological. Victims may experience threats or actual physical harm, intimidation, keeping a partner from friends and family, name calling, sexual assault, stalking, stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job, talking down or withholding money.

"I think I preferred the physical over the verbal violence," said "Eleanor," a former Park Rapids area resident who was the victim of domestic violence.

"Physical wounds heal. Words don't," she said of the vulgarity and degradation she endured during her marriage.

"No one should have to live with any kind of abuse."

But that was a revelation that was long in coming.

The physical abuse began before Eleanor (a fictitious name to ensure anonymity) was married. She confided in her mother, who accused her of lying, creating an added sense of isolation.

"I remember going to the grocery store, crying," telling someone who offered sympathy it was allergies. But she'd just had a vacuum cleaner thrown at her.

"Any little thing. If the food wasn't right..." would trigger the untenable anger. A casserole dish was thrown at her on one occasion. She was locked in her house on another.

But at the same time, Eleanor said she fought for her marriage. "I wanted it to work."

Members of her church, to whom she confided, discouraged divorce.

Eleanor now attributes her reluctance to leave to low self-esteem, which she developed at a young age.

And because of strong Christian beliefs, she felt obliged to maintain her marriage vows.

But the abuse continued, and in the 1990s, she knocked on the door of the Headwaters Intervention Center. She filled out the application for an apartment, resolving to leave.

"I was going to." But her husband's promise to change made her reconsider, now with regrets.

"He changed from the physical abuse. But he became controlling, manipulative. It was a different form of abuse.

"I wasn't making my own decisions. My life was at a standstill," she said.

Meanwhile, paradoxically, she became an advocate at the Headwaters Intervention Center.

She saw women whose spirit - physical and emotional - had been battered, but they stayed in the relationship.

"I saw low self-esteem, that they needed to learn they were worth something."

"As an advocate, I was laying out options, but it's up to the individual to make decisions," she said of her role.

Eleanor's turning point came at the prompting of a co-volunteer. "I was complaining about my marriage," she said. "And her reply had been, 'what would you tell your clients?'"

"It hit me. I was giving them advice I wasn't taking myself. I saw myself in their eyes."

The option she'd offered clients - "you can live with it or get out" - had become her own reckoning.

"It was time to get out. I wanted to like myself."

Leaving wasn't a hasty decision. She turned to the Bible for answers.

"I finally realized I couldn't be whom God wanted me to be if I stayed," she said of unfulfilled aspirations and ongoing intimidation. "I was living for a husband, instead of God."

"It's okay to get out of a relationship," said Eleanor, who's now divorced. She's engaged to marry a "wonderful friend" who'd been a companion before her first marriage.

The decision came with a price. She's estranged from her children, who've taken a polarized view of their parents' marriage - and its dissolution.

"When I decided to leave, it was like a weight had been lifted. I felt free.

"No one should have to live with any kind of abuse.

"I like myself now."

Headwaters Intervention Center director Becci Leonard reports October to be "busy."

"The demand for services is constant and continuous," which has led to a call for additional volunteers.

For more information, contact the center at 732-8386.