Domestic Violence 101 by Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women

Dear #TruePrincesses! Have you ever wondered about domestic abuse and what is domestic violence? Today, you will learn the signs of domestic violence, recognize the cycle of domestic abuse, explore domestic violence resources available to help you survive and thrive, and hear my own domestic violence survivor story.

My story of domestic abuse was featured on WSB TV Channel 2, in a domestic violence short film called “Ensure Our Future,” in a domestic violence documentary for a local Christian help center, on the website of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, on Georgia State University PMBA blog, in RussianTown Magazine, in my award-winning book called “Turn Your Dreams And Wants Into Achievable SMART Goals!” and in my Christian fairytale storybook called “How Princess Lana Developed Faith And Fortitude.”

You can download RussianTown Magazine article below. Please note: the article is an excerpt from the actual magazine, so it contains advertisements endorsed by the magazine and not me.

As a victim of domestic violence, I have a strong opinion on the topic.

I loved my ex-husband very much. He was true Prince Charming, in my eyes, and the one for whom I moved countries.

My genuine dream was for us to have a family, raise children, travel the world like we did before I moved to America, and be happy together forever.

This was my vivid vision for our happily-ever-after.

I ended up in a shelter for battered women, homeless, hopeless, and helpless, in a foreign country, without speaking the language.

I was victimized and it was painful to accept. I was in denial and my terrible unhappily-ever-after seemed to be better for me than safety and peace, so I stayed. I was a victim of domestic violence: sick physically, confused emotionally, brainwashed mentally, and empty spiritually.

By the way, this was the one and only time you heard me call myself a domestic abuse “victim” because I refer to myself typically as a “survivor.”

Being a victim in my own mind confused me, robbed me of my power, and kept me enslaved by my abuser.

“Thinking of myself as a survivor of domestic violence, not a victim, placed the responsibility for my life and future back on me, liberated me mentally from my abuser, and empowered me not only to survive but thrive.” (tweet this)

Anna Szabo

Many times, I was invited to write genuine and thought-provoking articles on the topic of recognizing, escaping, and surviving domestic abuse.

In 2019, I also wrote a spoken word poem called “Domestic Violence” in celebration of my 10th anniversary of domestic violence survivorship.

I escaped my abuser on April 9th, 2009 when three police officers broke in, took me away, and delivered me to a safe house for battered women in Stone Mountain, GA where I lived with many other women.

I did not even speak English.

My poem is shared below. I hope you’ll feel what I feel when you read it. Please understand that this topic is very personal and emotional for me.

"Domestic Violence" #PoemsFromGod

Domestic Violence was my substitute for marriage.
Domestic Violence was what I received as love.
Domestic Violence was why I endured disparage.
Domestic Violence has to end. Today! ENOUGH!

Domestic Violence crushed my happily-ever-after.
Domestic Violence caused my homelessness and pain.
Domestic Violence stole my joy and killed my laughter.
Domestic Violence has to stop. It can’t remain!

Domestic Violence was the reason I sought safety.
Domestic Violence made me victim of abuse.
Domestic Violence is quite ugly and quite nasty.
Domestic Violence is what we MUST all refuse.

4-26-19 © Anna Szabo, JD, MBA

Now you know what domestic abuse means to me personally and why I’m so passionate about it.

I hope that, if you are going through a season of darkness right now in your own life, this article will help you not only see domestic violence for what it is but also understand and escape it.

What is domestic violence? How and why does it enter our lives?

Domestic Violence 101

Let’s now define domestic violence, review its red flags, learn about the cycle of domestic abuse, explore domestic violence resources available to help victims, and also take a look at some thought-provoking films about domestic abuse featuring real-life domestic violence survivor stories.

Domestic Violence Definition

What is domestic violence? It’s important to know because of two reasons.

First, defining domestic abuse helps us recognize it and deal with it effectively. Second, without understanding that the behaviors specified here are violent, people may mistake abuse for love.

I was raised in Soviet Russia by an abusive narcissistic mother who taught me that if a person cares for you, they’ll express their genuine love violently because that’s what true love is and if there’s no “passion” in the relationship (that’s what my mother called physical abuse), then it’s not true love.

According to her own definition of love, my mother loved me truly and dearly, because she violently abused me regularly.

Domestic abuse is not love.

Let’s explore a few definitions of domestic violence.

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws.

Justice.gov

Domestic violence – also called dating violence, intimate partner abuse, spousal abuse, intimate partner violence (IPV), and domestic abuse – takes many forms, including emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or economic abuse and is defined as one person in an intimate relationship using any means to put down or otherwise control the other.

Stalking and cyber-stalking are also forms of intimate partner abuse.

Medicinenet.com

Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, humiliate, or wound a person.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, or other abusive behavior as a part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another.

Domestic violence can result in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Now that we established the answer to the question “What Is Domestic Violence?” let’s review some mind-boggling domestic violence statistics.

The 18 Domestic Violence Statistics To Get You Thinking

I conducted extensive research to gather and share with you the following domestic violence facts, which I hope will convey what a widespread and dangerous societal disaster domestic abuse is in America.

Domestic Violence Facts:

  • Every 9 seconds a woman is beaten in the United States
  • Between 3 and 4 million women are battered each year
  • Among all domestic violence victims, 85% to 95% are women
  • Women ages 20 to 34 endure the highest rates of domestic violence
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women
  • Women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know than by a stranger
  • Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, which means that during one year this equates to more than 10 million women and men just in America
  • Intimate partner violence is experienced by 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men
  • Victimized by an intimate partner in their lifetime through severe physical violence (beating, burning, strangling) are 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men
  • Stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed are 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide
  • In the United States, 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men have been stalked in their lifetime, also, 60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%
  • In fact, 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder-suicides are women
  • The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.6
    Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse
  • Domestic victimization is correlated with a higher rate of depression and suicidal behavior

“Whoever Brings Blessing Will be Enriched” Proverbs 11:25

Bless Online Discipleship For Women

Additional Domestic Violence Facts (links):

View Domestic Violence Statistics State by State (Click Here)

1-800-799-7233

National Domestic Violence Hotline

To conclude our review of domestic violence statistics, I’d like to mention that we mostly focus on women in this article only because Online Discipleship For Women is a Christian ministry for women. This doesn’t mean that women are the only victims of domestic abuse.

Next, let’s talk about the signs of domestic violence.

The 46 Warning Signs of Domestic Violence (Domestic Abuse Red Flags)

We will now study the 46 warning signs of domestic abuse in detail. The goal is to learn to recognize and differentiate the various violent behaviors so we can increase domestic violence awareness and alleviate its devastating effects on victims, their families, and our society as a whole.

Here’s the power and control wheel for your quick reference as we begin the conversation about domestic violence red flags.

Domestic Violence Power and Control Wheel

Now, let’s review 46 of domestic violence signs categorized per the type of abuse.

12 Signs of Physical Abuse: hitting, biting, slapping, battering, shoving, punching, pulling hair, burning, cutting, pinching, and any type of violent behavior inflicted on the victim, including the denying a victim medical treatment and forcing drug/alcohol use on a victim.

6 Signs of Sexual Abuse: coerces or attempts to coerce a victim into having sexual contact or sexual behavior without the victim’s consent, includes marital rape, attacking sexual body parts, physical violence that is followed by forcing sex, sexually demeaning the victim, or even telling sexual jokes at the victim’s expense.

6 Signs of Emotional Abuse: invalidating or deflating the victim’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem, including constant criticism, name-calling, injuring the victim’s relationship with family members, or interfering with the victim’s abilities.

3 Signs of Economic Abuse: making or trying to make the victim financially reliant by seeking to maintain total control over financial resources, withholding the victim’s access to funds, or preventing the victim from going to school or to work using financial manipulation.

6 Signs of Psychological Abuse: invoking fear through intimidation; threatening to physically hurt oneself, the victim, children, the victim’s family or friends, or the pets; destruction of property; injuring pets; isolating the victim from loved ones; prohibiting the victim from going to school or work using psychological manipulation.

9 Signs of Stalking Abuse (stalking crime): following the victim, spying, watching, harassing, showing up at the victim’s home or work, sending unwanted gifts, collecting personal information, making unwanted phone calls, and leaving unwanted written messages.

4 Signs of Cyberstalking Abuse: repeated harassing online action, such as emailing, texting, social media messaging or posting, intended to inflict substantial emotional distress in the victim.

Now you know and understand the 46 red flags of domestic violence. Share this list with others who need this information right now.

Let’s next discuss the cycle of domestic abuse, which includes different dynamics in different stages of the relationship.

The 3 Predictable Dynamics of Domestic Violence

We will now review the Cycle-of-Violence by Dr. Lenore Walker.

American psychologist Lenore Edna Walker founded the Domestic Violence Institute, documented the cycle of abuse, and wrote “The Battered Woman,” for which she won the Distinguished Media Award in 1979. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987.

Lenore Walker’s Cycle of Abuse

Phase One (Tension Builds)

  • Tension begins to accumulate and slowly escalates into his explosive rage
  • He becomes easily irritated
  • He is argumentative and verbally abusive
  • He may use the “silent treatment”

Phase Two (Physical Violence Occurs)

  • An explosion of anger and violence, lasting from a few hours to a few days or up to several weeks
  • During this phase, women are seriously injured
  • The most dangerous phase
  • Women should be encouraged to seek refuge during this time
  • Violence stops when the victim leaves
  • Police must be called

Phase Three (Honeymoon)

  • He asks for reconciliation
  • He may be apologetic, he begs for forgiveness, makes promises to change his violent behavior, and becomes more attentive and romantic
  • He tries to convince the victim that he truly loves her and that he will change
  • He showers the victim with gifts and declarations of devotion

Domestic Violence Cycle of Abuse

The cycle of violence is characterized by increased frequency (the more times the cycle is completed, the less time it takes to complete) and increased severity (the longer the cycle when uninterrupted, the worse the violence gets).

This is the exact cycle my marriage followed.

I emigrated to America from Russia in 2008 and endured multiple cycles of abuse during my eight months of marriage. Four of the explosions were well-documented by the police who rescued me on April 9th, 2009.

Upon my escape from captivity, I was able to obtain a Temporary Restraining Order (TPO) and go on to rebuild my life from the ruins caused by violence.

I was a mail-ordered bride and didn’t even know it.

Here’s is my domestic violence survivor story as a recipient of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immigration protection:

I’ll explain the details of the aspects of domestic violence related to women immigrants in general and me specifically as an immigrant and I’ll provide domestic violence resources later in this article.

In fact, let’s talk about the resources right now.

I think understanding what help is available to you if you’re in an abusive relationship will liberate you from the vicious mindset of being trapped by your batterer.

Domestic Violence Help

Domestic violence help comes in many forms, depending on your situation.

When I escaped domestic abuse, I needed a free safe place to stay, free food and food stamps, free medical care because I was sick from all the violence I endured, free legal help obtaining a temporary protective order (TPO), free legal help with our divorce, free legal help with my immigration status which expired since my abuser who had brought me to America never actually filed for my status update after our wedding, free car rides, and free English lessons because in 2009 I didn’t speak any English.

I also needed mental health help, so I sought some free therapy as well.

Additionally, I needed an advocate to spend a long time listening to my story and walking me through my options.

Ayonna Johnson from the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence was my advocate. She spent a very long time listening to me cry, speak broken English, go through all my evidence of what took place in my abusive marriage, and pointing me in the right direction.

Let me share with you the 15 helpful domestic violence resources I used on my journey of escaping, surviving, and thriving after domestic abuse.

The 15 Domestic Violence Resources That Helped Me Survive and Thrive

1. National Domestic Violence Hotline

Before I tried to escape, I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This was the first helpful resource I used. I was going back and forth, wanting to leave and wanting to stay all at the same time.

2. Dunwoody Police Department

Then, I called 911 when things got really bad. My clothes were torn already and I was locked up in the bathroom. Three Dunwoody police officers broke in and rescued me. So, this was the second helpful resource I used.

3. Domestic Violence Shelter

The officers made all the calls to different shelters right on the parking lot of the hotel where my abuser was held to the wall hands-down and I was escorted by the police. Now, I was safe with them.

But where would they take me?

They called and called but no one had a place for me. To get into a domestic violence shelter, you need to either be pregnant or severely injured. I wasn’t pregnant, severely injured, or a mom to any kids. Kids are another factor positively influencing your chances to get a bed at a safe house.

After many calls, the officer found a place for me in Stone Mountain, GA. It was the International Women’s House. So, this was the third helpful resource I used.

I drove myself to the shelter in the old Ford Explorer the officers had taken from my abuser. He surrendered the keys. I followed the officer from Dunwoody to Stone Mountain. We arrived and he left.

I was shaking and weeping. I felt so hurt, confused, lonely, and devastated.

What happened to Prince Charming? I couldn’t comprehend the scope of the drama I was facing. And I wasn’t ready to admit all the trauma just yet.

4. Domestic Violence Support Group

The shelter manager showed me where the bathroom was and I changed my torn clothes. She walked me to my room, assigned a bed to me, gave me some essentials so I could take a shower, and I immediately started attending a domestic violence support group at the International Women’s House in Stone Mountain, GA.

I also enrolled in another support group for domestic abuse survivors at the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence in Decatur, GA.

Domestic violence support groups were the fourth helpful resource I used.

5. Pro-Bono Domestic Violence Advocate

I was stalked by my abuser and needed a temporary protective order (TPO). The Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence on 115 East Maple Street in Decatur, GA offered advocacy services.

This was the fifth helpful resource I used.

I met with Ayona Johnson who offered me attention, comfort, and support. She explained to me my steps. She was in court for my TPO petitioning.

It all started with Ayona understanding my situation, though I hardly spoke any English.

Ayonna was also the one who told me about the weekly legal clinic and a possibility to get a free attorney there, which I did eventually.

6. Pro-Bono TPO Attorney

The shelter’s caseworker helped me find a free TPO lawyer and after a lot of work, I was granted the restraining order against my abuser, which was helpful. So, this was the sixth helpful resource I used.

7. Pro-Bono Interpreter

In the TPO court, I was assigned a free Russian-English interpreter. She was only supposed to help me there but, out of the goodness of her heart, she helped me way beyond TPO.

She attended the meeting with the divorce attorney, helped me with my immigration petition, and she gave me free rides to the social security office, DDS, and even jobs. She was the seventh helpful resource I used.

8. Pro-Bono Divorce Attorney

I made about 300 calls a day to find a free divorce lawyer and an immigration attorney. Many people would hang up and say “Call back when you can speak English!” I never got turned off. I kept pushing through. Atlanta Legal Aid Society took on my divorce case. So, this was the eighth helpful resource I used. I was divorced within a year.

9. Pro-Bono Immigration Attorney

Immigration Legal Services of Catholic Charities took on my immigration case. They helped me obtain the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immigration protection, under which I received the Work Authorization Document within a few months and started working legally.

Within a year, I received my Greencard.

I then was eligible for citizenship naturalization test within three years.

Today, I’m a proud and grateful citizen of the United States of America. So, this was the ninth helpful resource I used.

10. Free Health Care

In 2009, I was very sick and had free healthcare through Grady. I had to meet with their special department and apply for this service, which I did.

Additionally, right after I was admitted to the domestic violence shelter, my two wisdom teeth started pulling my head in two different directions.

A kind dentist in Downtown Atlanta removed my wisdom teeth for free. The two free healthcare providers I described here were the tenth helpful resource I used.

11. Food Stamps

I also had food stamps, for which I had to apply, which was also a process. This was the eleventh helpful resource I used.

12. Free Cellphone

There was a government program that I enrolled on for a free cellphone. They mailed me the phone with a certain set number of minutes already pre-paid. It was the twelfth helpful resource I used.

13. Work Opportunities

I had no legal right to work, so I worked for cash.

I cleaned houses for $8/hour and nannied for $10. I walked dogs and gave them a massage, also for $10/hour. I also pet sat cats for $20 a visit.

I even drove cars for sale from lot to lot for a car dealer. I got paid $25 per car.

I worked as a hostess at Rio Grande and The Fish Market in Buckhead and Fogo De Chão Brazilian Steakhouse in Marietta.

Those gigs from kind people willing to help me out were the thirteenth helpful resource I used on my journey.

14. Pro-Bono Trauma Counseling

I went to free trauma counseling at a local homeless shelter at 173 Boulevard in Downtown Atlanta. It was very helpful because I had physical, emotional, sexual, mental, and spiritual trauma.

Counseling was the fourteenth helpful resource I used.

15. University Scholarships

I then taught myself English and passed the Academic English Test on January 24th, 2011. Below I share with you my MBA essays from February of 2011.

In less than two years from the day of my escape, I was accepted to the Professional MBA program at GA State University.

The multiple scholarships I received helped me on my journey.

Some scholarships were offered to me, others I had to find and apply for, which I did.

That was the fifteenth resource that helped me on my journey of surviving domestic violence and thriving.

I hope that the short description of the 15 resources, which helped me on my journey of surviving domestic abuse, was also helpful in some way for you in your current situation.

Now, let’s review what domestic violence help YOU may consider on your own journey of surviving and thriving.

The Top 5 Domestic Violence Resources for You

1. Domestic Violence Hotline

I called domestic violence hotline many times. It was hard for them to help me because not only was I hardly speaking Englished, I was also brainwashed and extremely traumatized.

They had a Russian-English interpreter for me. They walked me through my options, explained that I needed to get my documents together and hide away some money. They tried to help me come up with a plan but I loved my abuser and, while I wanted the abuse to stop, I didn’t want to leave my husband for whom I moved countries.

I was genuinely committed to making things work in my marriage, and my denial made it hard for the National Domestic Violence Hotline to figure out how to help me.

On our last day together, I called Domestic Violence Hotline a few times. They were willing to help me, but I would back out every time we talked. Until things got really bad that afternoon and I called 911. I got scared of the police taking my husband to jail. I wanted us to work things out.

I hung up. The police called me back.

They persuaded me to tell them where I was, promising that they would simply talk to both of us calmly and help us figure things out.

I didn’t want them to take him to jail. Their promises of a simple conversation relaxed me. I told them where I was. The help arrived almost immediately and the 911 operator stayed on the phone with me until the officers were inside.

If the police didn’t break-in, I’m not so sure I’d be alive to write this blog for you right now.

So call National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 911, and accept help.

1−800−799−7233

Domestic Violence Hotline

Of course, you must always call 911 if you’re in an unsafe situation but that goes without saying. Right?

I know calling 911 can be hard, yet, it’s your responsibility to protect yourself. Asking for help is ok.

I praise God that the 911 lady called me back on April 9th, 2009.

Those three Dunwoody Police Department officers who rescued me now are God’s angels in the new Christian fairytale book I wrote this year.

It’s called “How Princess Lana Developed Faith And Fortitude” and it’s a collection of three autobiographical bedtime stories for girls about my actual journey from a mail-ordered bride to a child of God.

I want to mention here that you are a child of God, and it’s so important to remember this every single day. You’re precious, special, valuable, made by God for His divine purpose, and loved unconditionally. That’s what the Bible says about you.

Find out what else God says about you. Download my FREE BOOK OF DEVOTIONALS called #52Devotionals now.

Understand and remember the truth about who you are in Christ. Your identity as a child of the king of the universe is royal. You are a Princess.

2. Domestic Violence Shelter

A shelter for victims of domestic violence is a safe house. It’s typically hidden behind the gate and surrounded by video cameras. Domestic violence shelters are places to escape into when you need safety and order.

Once you arrive, there will be a rigid schedule of chores, including cleaning the floors, the stove, the fridge, the bathrooms, etc. You won’t be bored or having insomnia – you’ll work physically and get tired.

The safe house will give you gas or subway money: if you have a car, you’ll get gas money, if you take a subway, you’ll get money for the passes.

You’ll be assigned a caseworker who’ll conduct regular meetings with you to help you achieve your goals. That’s another thing: you will need to know what you want in order for the domestic violence shelter to help you move on with life.

I had no idea what I wanted. I wanted to be married to the man I loved. I wanted to stay away from him, too, to avoid abuse. I wanted to think my own thoughts but his brainwashing taught me to rely on him for thinking.

My caseworker had a difficult time with me because I was confused about everything and I didn’t speak any English. I hardly understood her and I could barely explain myself. Worst of all, I didn’t have my own thoughts.

My abuser used to persuade me that everyone who tried to talk to me actually wanted to rape me and that the only person I could ever trust was he.

Also, he’d monitor my phone and email and social media. He’d literally stand behind my back as I tried to go online. He bullied me and persuaded me that I was stupid. He lied to me about the Americal culture so I was scared of people. He used and abused me as if I were a commodity.

He was jealous and angry. I was so scared of him.

If anyone texted me, he’d question me regarding who the person was, how I knew them, what they wanted, what they said, what I said, why I said what I said, and how the person knew my number.

He even changed my number one time without my knowledge.

The phone was on his name. I had nothing on my name because I had no SSN. To get SSN, I needed my updated immigration papers. He promised me that they were all properly prepared, he gave them to me to sign, he signed them, too, and months later I found them in the garage of our rental house in Bainbridge, GA. They were on the floor under many boxes, hidden and, of course, never filed with the USCIS.

The shelter helped me re-discover my ability to think on my own two feet. My caseworker repeatedly insisted that I figure out what I want, which was hard because I was brainwashed. Under her influence, I woke up to reality and figured out what I wanted.

I made a list of ambitious goals and immediately begun enthusiastically working on accomplishing them.

The domestic violence shelter was my first step to liberation in every sense of the word: physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual.

Click Here To Search For A Domestic Violence Shelter Near You

Most importantly, when you live in a safe house, you have a special letter to protect you. You must always carry it with you.

Your caseworker from the safehouse will go to court with you, give you rides or pay a taxi to take you places, she’ll guide you toward the resources you need in your specific situation, and she’ll monitor your progress.

Domestic violence shelter is not a forever place. You stay there briefly to get back on your feet and move forward with your life.

3. Domestic Violence Lawyer

My domestic violence lawyer helped me obtain a temporary restraining order (TPO). To do that, I had to put together a huge box of abuse evidence. We went to court. My lawyer and my caseworker were with me in Dekalb County courthouse. I was shaking and weeping when I saw my abuser.

Because I didn’t speak any English, I had a court-appointed Russian-English interpreter. All of us were there together during my intimidating TPO petitioning.

You can find a domestic violence lawyer for free through your caseworker in the shelter or by searching for pro-bono law firms near you using the resources I put together for you below.

Click Here to Read about Domestic Violence Pro Bono Law to Help You Find a Free Domestic Violence Lawyer

Click Here to Contact Battered Women’s Justice Project

Click Here to Connect with National Crime Victim Bar Association

800-FYI-CALL

National Crime Victim Bar Association

Click Here to Contact the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women

Click Here to Connect with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Click Here to Search WomensLaw.org for Additional Pro-bono Resources and a Free Domestic Violence Lawyer

4. Domestic Violence Movies

This domestic violence shortfilm features many heartbreaking domestic violence survivor stories, including mine. The house you see is the actual safehouse here in Georgia, so you can get a quick glimpse at a domestic violence shelter from the inside, which is very rare because of the very nature of these homes. No random people enter there aimlessly, I promise you. This shortfilm is called “Ensure Our Future” and runs for 8.5 minutes.

The next domestic violence survivor story was featured on WSB TV Channel 2 and zeroed in on the details of what happened to me as a domestic abuse survivor. It addresses some of the domestic violence myths, such as that only black men can be abusers. My abuser was a high-level financial exec with an MBA and an annual salary of $380,000. It also demystifies the persona of a victim of domestic violence believed to be an uneducated black woman with no opportunities. I have a doctorate in criminal justice and I graduated with honors from multiple universities. I’m white, Russian, and convinced that a victim of domestic violence can be anyone, of any age, national origin, skin color, or social status. Domestic abuse is all-inclusive and non-discriminative. This is my story, it’s 5.5 minutes long.

This third domestic abuse story was filmed in my home last year, on July 28th, 2018. Its goal was to showcase the vital role different agencies play in helping a victim of domestic violence survive and thrive. This domestic violence shortfilm is 5 minutes long and focuses on The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), of which I am an honored beneficiary, forever grateful for the protection offered to me by the American government.

Here’s also a TedX talk sharing one domestic violence survivor’s story called “I broke my Silence” and it’s 12.5 minutes long.

Additionally, I found this HBO domestic abuse documentary for you and hope it will be 1 hour well-spent if you watch it.

My hope is that these real-life domestic violence movies will encourage and empower you. Your freedom is in your hands. You are not helpless. You are a child of God. He is the king of the universe.

You are a Princess.

Remember this simple yet powerful truth.

Always.

5. Domestic Violence Help in Georgia

Below is a list of agencies that helped me personally. They are here in Atlanta, so this resource is for my local sisters.

That being said, calling these agencies and asking them to help you find a similar agency in your state is a good strategy for getting domestic violence help fast.

Click Here to Free Housing, Closet, and Food Pantry

Click Here for Free Legal Help with Divorce in GA

Click Here for Free Legal Help with Immigration and The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Click Here for Free Medical Care

When I lived in a domestic violence shelter called International Women’s House in Stone Mountain, GA, I had two wisdom teeth pulling my head apart and I was in so much pain, it was unbearable.

By conducting Google research and calling different agencies, I found a pro-bono dentist who pulled those two troublemakers out. So make sure that you do your research if the resources you need haven’t been mentioned in my blog.

If you’d like to share helpful resources, comment below and thank you.

Battered Woman Syndrome

Domestic violence has a terrible impact on women.

What Is Battered Woman Syndrome?

Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is a psychological condition and describes a pattern of behavior that develops in victims of domestic violence as a result of serious, long-term abuse. It can lead to “learned helplessness” — or psychological paralysis — where the victim becomes so depressed, defeated, and passive that she believes she is incapable of leaving her abuser or doing anything about the abuse. Feeling weak, the victim remains in the abusive situation. This continues the cycle of domestic violence and strengthens her BWS.

How Does Battered Woman Syndrome Develop?


Battered Woman Syndrome begins as an abusive cycle with three stages, as we previously discussed and as demonstrated on the image above. The abuser engages in behaviors that create relationship tension. The tension explodes when the abuser commits some form of abuse: physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, or otherwise. The abuser tries to fix his wrongdoing and honeymoon-like deception begins, including abuser’s efforts to make amends for his bad behavior. During the honeymoon stage, the abuser is forgiven, and the cycle starts all over again. It continues, and the victim starts to feel that the abuse is her own fault. In fact, the abuser persuades her that it indeed is her own fault. When the victim takes responsibility for her own abuse, this develops into “learned helplessness.” The victim feels helpless because she’s been convinced that the abuse is her fault, yet she cannot understand why the abuse continues or what she is doing to cause it repeatedly. She feels trapped in the cycle of violence and believes that the abuse cannot be escaped. She develops BWS.

What Are Battered Woman Syndrome Symptoms?


Women suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome share certain observable characteristics, aka symptoms. The woman takes full responsibility for the abuse and finds it difficult or impossible to blame the abuser himself. She fears for her safety and livelihood. She deeply believes that the abuser is all-powerful and will hurt her if she contacts the authorities and seeks help. She frequently will show signs of depression and anxiety attacks. She is likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with domestic violence. She might see suicide as the only way out of her terrifying relationship situation. Suicide rates among women increased by 50% between 2000 and 2016 (NPR, 2018).

Is Battered Woman Syndrome Linked to Suicide?


There’s a strong relationship between exposure to violence and suicide. Also, hopelessness and helplessness lead to depression and depression often leads to suicide.

Learn How Exposure to Violence is Linked to Suicidal Behavior (Click Here).

Learn More About Battered Woman Syndrome from Lenore E. Walker, EdD (Click Here).
Narcissistic Mother Daughter Relationship Explained by Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women

Domestic Violence Quiz (Abuse Quiz)

Many women endure domestic violence in a state of either ignorance or denial. Ignorance first AND denial later were my own coping tools when I was being abused by my Prince Charming.

I was ignorant because I didn’t know that his behaviors were abusive.

I loved him with all my heart and justified everything he did to me. I explained the violence toward me with his unbearable levels of stress and even the economic challenges of our country, which he had to deal with as a high-level financial executive for a well-known bank.

I was later in denial because, though multiple times the police gave me brochures on the topic of domestic violence AND I recognized that I was abused, I chose to hold on to my illusions of true love with Prince Charming.

I loved him and didn’t want to let go of my dreams, so I chose denial.

That is not to say that I was also a brainwashed immigrant with no papers, no money, no SSN, no friends, no language skills, and no idea where to turn for help. Plus, I had developed the Battered Woman Syndrome already.

My situation was really devastating, and denial was less painful than facing all that what I just shared.

There was another component to it: my narcissistic mother. She raised me in an extremely violent environment and taught me that true love is “passionate,” which was her word for “abusive.”

If you are a victim of abuse and do not know it, I can relate. I understand your situation.

It’s all very confusing because sometimes he is nice and sometimes he is evil. Most of the time, you believe that he loves you but some other times he literally tries to kill you. But you think he doesn’t really mean it.

Yet, he actually does really mean it.

That’s why I published domestic violence statistics here so you can see what is likely to happen next in your relationship’s cycle of abuse.

Here’s a domestic abuse quiz to help you answer the vital question: “How Do I Know If I am Being Abused?”

How Do I Know If I am Being Abused?

Q 1. Is your partner hitting, biting, slapping, battering, shoving, punching, burning, cutting, pinching you, or pulling your hair? Is he denying you medical treatment or forcing drug/alcohol use on you?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of physical abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 2. Does your partner coerce or attempt to coerce you into having sexual contact or sexual behavior without your consent? Does he rape you, attack your sexual body parts, force sex on you, sexually demean you, or tell sexual jokes at your expense?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of sexual abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 3. Is your partner invalidating or deflating your sense of self-worth and self-esteem? Does he criticize you, call you names, injure your relationship with your family members, or interfere with your abilities?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of emotional abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 4. Does your partner invoke your fear through intimidation; threaten you to physically hurt himself, children, pets, or others in order to manipulate you; destroy property; injure your pets; isolate you from loved ones; prohibit you from going to school or work using psychological manipulation?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of psychological abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 5. Is your partner making or trying to make you financially reliant on him by seeking to maintain total control over financial resources, withholding your access to funds, or preventing you from going to school or to work using financial manipulation?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of economic abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 6. Does your partner follow you, spy on you, harass you, show up at your home or work uninvited, send you unwanted gifts, collect your personal information, call you despite your request to stop, and leave you unwanted written or voicemail messages?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of stalking abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Q 7. Is your partner repeatedly harassing you with his online actions, such as emailing, texting, social media messaging or posting, with the intention to inflict substantial emotional distress upon you?

If you said “yes” to any of the above statements, you are a victim of cyberstalking abuse and your relationship dynamic is referred to as “domestic violence.”

Ask yourself all seven of the above questions and answer honestly. Once you do, you step out of ignorance (not knowing) and maybe into denial or hopefully awareness. When you are aware, you can choose to change your situation because you no longer don’t understand it, you understand it precisely. And that is powerful.

You are powerful, that’s what God says about you.

Spiritual Warfare - Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women
I can do all things through Christ!

Awareness is the antidote to ignorance. Though my mother taught me that abuse is love, though I was ignorant and didn’t understand the difference, I now know that love is not abuse and abuse is not love. I am aware, so I’m not ignorant anymore.

Now that I’m no longer ignorant, I choose what to do with my life based on my new awareness. That’s why awareness is the key to a better future.

We must learn to recognize domestic abuse and its effects. Once we recognize domestic violence red flags, we must also know what do do and where to turn for help. Once we ask for help, we must do the work required to heal and to move forward with life.

In the next section, I will share my answers to some domestic abuse related questions and then you’ll hear my own story.

The section will be expanded over time as I receive new questions and provide new answers, so consider bookmarking this page to check it often for helpful information.

By the way, if this content is helpful, you may express your gratitude now:

Domestic Violence Awareness

In this section, I will answer the questions sent to me either here in the comments box below, on my YouTube channel, or via email.

“Is My Relationship Abusive?”

The fact that you’re asking such questions as “Is My Relationship Abusive?” or “How Do I Know If I am Being Abused?” is the first helpful sign of your journey as a survivor of domestic abuse. You want to know, and knowledge is power, as long as you take action according to your knowledge.

Examine your relationship dynamics using the seven-part domestic violence quiz above. If you say “yes” to any of the seven questions, you are in an abusive relationship.

Read my story below to see real-life examples of what domestic violence looks like, so you are aware of what’s going on in your own relationship.

“My Colleague Occasionally Shows Up to Work with Significant Bruising on Her Upper Arms. When Is It Appropriate to Ask a Colleague If She Needs Personal Help? How Can I Approach Her Sensitively and Without Putting Her Defenses Up?”

What a great question! I deeply believe that it is everyone’s social responsibility to ask such questions in similar situations. 

There are many reasons for having bruises.

I must admit my knees are bruised all over right now. My furniture is bigger than what the room can fit in. There’s not enough space to walk around my furniture, and I hit stuff all the time with my knees.

The reasons may be innocent but they might also be very serious and even lead to terrible circumstances if you don’t interfere.

Interfering with domestic violence is tricky because the victim lives in denial or maybe ignorance. The typical reaction to interference with the cycle of abuse is the victim’s defensiveness and withdrawal.

The victim never wants you to express what you see, though she might very much understand that the elephant is obvious to everyone in the room.

It is my hope that once you approach your colleague, you’ll find out that she just moved recently into her new apartment and has a bunch of furniture out of place, innocently hitting it with her arms daily before work. 

But what if that is not the case? There are two possible scenarios.

Scenario 1. She may open up and accept your help.

Scenario 2. She may tell you that it’s none of your business and start avoiding you in hallways and meetings.

I lived in a domestic violence situation for eight months, and no matter how much he would beat me up, I wouldn’t leave. Why? Because I loved him.

When people would tell me over the phone that my situation was called “abuse” and that tomorrow may not happen for me, I would hang up and never answer the phone calls from them again.

They would e-mail me the domestic violence hotline information and other resources which they thought I would need in order to escape. I’d review the information but still choose to remain in denial and suffer violence.

Love is blind.

There’s an important thing I want you to take into consideration right now as you plan your course of action in regards to your colleague’s condition.

When the time came and I did finally realize that it was a “run or die” kind of situation, I already had those resources people sent me and so the seeds they planted in my mind gave fruit and I escaped into safety.

Because they planted the seeds of domestic violence awareness in my mind through careful conversations, I luckily had a plan.

Dunwoody police rescued me on April 9th, 2009. I left with the officers and lived in a shelter for battered women after that. I cleaned houses to survive and every day I thanked those people who planted the seeds of awareness in my mind. They had not feared my anger. Despite my defensiveness, they supplied me with the information that was critical to my ultimate escape. 

My advice to you is this. Set your goal first. Is it to not upset your colleague and not to put her defenses up or is it to help her escape an abusive situation and possibly save her life?

Approach her in a private setting and have domestic violence hotline information ready and available, print it. Print also information about local domestic violence shelters.

Start the conversation with a joke: “Hey, did you just move to a new place? Is this what’s causing this bruise on your arm?“ See what the reaction will be: she might avoid eye contact or burst into tears. She may rush out of the room, or she may become defensive and even angry.

Give her the prints you prepared and tell her in a very friendly manner that you do care about her and, if she decides to talk, you are there for her.

This might make a big difference in the long run, if not immediately.

Escaping domestic violence is a process, not an event.

It takes information (about the resources available to help her), education (she may simply think that abuse is normal), preparation (she needs to put together a plan), support of friends and family (emotional and often even financial), and either very powerful will or strong fear.

For me, it was fear. I knew my days were numbered if I stayed with him.

Providing her with relevant information and asserting your positive intention, you’ll make a big difference in how she feels in her heart.

If you are a senior executive, you may want to arrange a training session on the topic of domestic violence in your organization.

“My Friend Is in an Abusive Relationship. What Can I Do To Help Her?”

When your friend is in an abusive relationship, it breaks your heart. I know it because right now my own friend is in an abusive marriage.

Her husband abandoned their marital residence, filed for divorce and used it to manipulate her financially, emotionally, and psychologically. He now claims that the divorce is dismissed and that he wants to stay married, yet, he calls her names, forces sex on her against her consent, and tries to stir up a conflict between her and her child, insisting that he is more important than her daughter. He is jealous of the daughter’s father and makes every situation about himself.

I personally had never witnessed any of the behaviors she reports to me.

In public, they display togetherness, affection, and happiness.

Of course, I know from experience how deceiving these happy smiles can be, covering up genuine despair and confusion.

One day she tells me they are going to marriage counseling and are doing great, she shares how he took her to get a couple’s massage and showered her with compliments, but the next day she is calling me to report his abusive outrage and calling her a “bitch” multiple times.

I don’t know whether she is in a state of ignorance or denial.

It’s obvious from what she says, that their relationship follows the cycle of abuse explained here earlier. However, she doesn’t like calling things what they are. Instead, she feels like forgiveness is necessary in any situation, which is true but it takes time to reflect and gain wisdom. Also, she believes that forgiveness and reconciliation are the same thing, so she doesn’t belive in boundaries.

She exposes herself to his abuse, and it is painful to hear her describe the abuse she endures.

You can help your friend by planting small seeds of domestic violence awareness in her mind.

By increasing her awareness that her relationship meets all the red flags of the cycle-of-violence explained above, you may be able to influence her thinking, little-by-little.

However, don’t get your hopes up.

When people tried to tell me I was a victim of abuse and my marriage was domestic violence 101 book-perfect case, I would refuse to listen or block those people.

I would think that they are jealous of my happiness.

Of course, neither was true; I wasn’t happy at all, not were the people who tried to wake me up to reality jealous.

On the day of my escape, all those seeds, which people planted in my mind over the course of eight months, gave fruit and I woke up to reality.

I stepped out of denial and was rescued by the police.

Share with your friend gently and be prepared for your friendship to end due to her immediate withdrawal from you.

Perhaps, a few months or years later, on the day of her escape from her abuser, what you share with her now will have saved her life.

What Is Faith - Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women
Increase Domestic Violence Awareness to Save a Life

My Domestic Violence Survivor Story

Enduring Domestic Violence in My Marriage

It was April 14, 2006. I received the first e-mail from him who seemed to be just right for me: blond hair, blue eyes, well fit, very athletic, smart, romantic and caring, no children and he had never been married (so he told me).

Later, when I had already emigrated to America, was abused repeatedly by him, rescued by the police, and lived in the shelter for victims of domestic violence, I discovered that I was his FOURTH wife.

In fact, I found out from his first wife and the mother of his daughter, that they were hiding from him because he was extremely abusive to them.

She and I talked on the phone in the shelter.

I was informed that he was always abusive to all his wives.

Another thing I found out from his friend and former colleague, who talked to me on the phone in the shelter, was that he was STILL MARRIED to his third wife when he proposed marriage to me in 2006.

He worked as a Chief Credit Officer at a well-known financial institution, made a good living, and at the same time had a high level of social responsibility fulfilling it by taking care of sick children who were dying from cancer (so he told me in his letters).

I finally met my Mister Right, the true Prince Charming! That’s what I wholeheartedly believed from day one.

Our relationship was warm and romantic. He came to Kursk, Russia multiple times during the three years we were dating. At the time, I was finishing my law school and business school simultaneously.

He showered me with buckets of roses, diamonds, and exotic international vacations. We went to Bali, Jamaica, Singapore, Barbados, and traveled within Russia, as well.

Prince Charming proposed to me in 2006 at the most beautiful hotel in Saint Petersburg called Astoria.

I had arrived in Atlanta, GA on July 31, 2008.

I entered on K1 (bride) visa.

Here I was, ready to live my happily-ever-after with my very own Prince Charming! There were fireworks going off in my heart, and my mind was filled with rainbows, unicorns, and pink glitter.

Not really. I was smart and grounded but madly in love with my husband. It was true love and a dream come true. The excitement I felt was indescribable.

On August 5th, 2008 we were married.

I spoke no English. I had no friends, and no family here. I moved my entire being and life into an entirely new country for this man.

Soon, I found myself totally dependent on my American husband who, I believed, truly loved me and had my best interest in mind.

My married life was far from what I expected.

Prince Charming kept me enslaved for eight months: no money, no people to communicate with, no phone available to me to freely talk to anyone because it was in his name and fully monitored, no documents or SSN because he never filed my immigration papers, no driver’s license, no car for me to get around, no Skype to connect with my community in Russia, no English lessons to allow me to learn the language and the culture of my new country, no help adjusting to the unfamiliar environment, and no recognition of my even most basic needs.

I was a sex slave, a housekeeper, an entertainer, and a punching bag.

My purpose was to cook, clean, do laundry for Prince Charming, and sit by his side in front of a TV whenever he wanted. I do not watch TV at all and don’t even have it in my own home today.

Watching TV for hours on a couch was torture.

When on September 8th, 2008 he was trying to kill me on a highway in Bainbridge, GA and a kind woman following us behind called the police, I told the officer to not take my Prince Charming to jail because I loved him.

What a mistake that was!

He did it again in October and November of that same year.

Our relationship was strange, from my perspective, but I was persuaded it was all my own fault. The relationship followed a clear vicious cycle.

He would begin getting angry with me, call me names and yell, then he’d violently abuse me physically, after which he’d bring me flowers and tell me how much he loved me, we’d reconcile, but soon the whole vicious cycle would repeat again.

With time, the abuse escalated and the cycle shortened.

The violence was becoming unjustifiable even for me who was willing to endure a lot. The honeymoon seasons became shorter and shorter. I saw what was happening.

I called the National Domestic Violence Hotline many times but I didn’t want to hear about leaving my Prince Charming. I loved him and wanted him to go to therapy. He promised me that he would but he never did.

Things got worse every day.

I felt confused and torn.

I loved him but my safety was also important to me.

I felt deceived by him. I felt tortured by his violence. I felt so stressed, my body was coping but I had constant rectal bleeding, lost 10 lb, and had no energy.

I was shaking all the time from fear. I struggled with insomnia. I felt trapped and hopeless. I didn’t understand what I did wrong to get us there.

I blamed myself for everything because I regarded Prince Charming as superior and myself as inferior.

I was sacrificing myself for him.

Escaping from My Abusive Husband

April 9th, 2009 could have been the last day of my life. But God saved me, and the police rescued me from Prince Charming. I was taken to a domestic violence shelter that afternoon.

It was the beginning of a new journey, facing the legal issues of modern society as it relates to domestic violence in America.

The Vulnerability of Abused Women-Immigrants

Women with children, I discovered on that sunny and warm afternoon while police officers were planning where to take me, have the priority over single young women, like I was, when it comes to obtaining a bed in a domestic violence shelter, which was why the officer could not find me a safehouse for over two hours, calling all over GA.

When he found me a bed at the International Women’s House in Stone Mountain, GA, I was grateful. I lived there with over a dozen victims of domestic violence, as well as their children.

We had one big kitchen, a playroom for kids, a TV room, and a laundry room. Everything was scheduled. Each of us had lots of chores in the shelter. The food was provided by the safehouse and supplemented by our food stamps.

I had two roommates, a small bathroom, a small bed near the window, a small pillow, and a little bit of closet space.

On April 16th, just a week later, on Hwy 78, my Ford Explorer was repossessed by the car dealer after my husband stopped paying for it. I kidnapped a black man who was just sitting in his white sedan right where my car was repossessed. I jumped into the stranger’s car and screamed at him asking to chase my SUV. He was devastated and shocked but he did chase and caught my Explorer. The dealer agreed to talk about possibly giving it back to me, so I went with him to the dealership.

There, I found out that my driver’s license was expired, the registration on my car was suspended, and so was the car insurance.

Prince Charming cut it all off that very day I was rescued by the police.

I soon had five traffic citations. How?

I was able to get a cash job at Rio Grande in Buckhead, so I paid off the $900 on my Explorer and got it back from the car dealer.

However, without my immigration papers, I couldn’t renew my driver’s license or obtain registration. I wasn’t able to get car insurance either.

My driving was bad because Prince Charming never allowed me to practice, so driving to work was my practice, and that’s why I got pulled over again and again. Every time, a ticket was issued to me.

I had to appear before the judge in a court trial and defend myself. In English. In America… It felt intimidating and overwhelming. Yet, those were the very things that helped me develop faith and fortitude.

It took humility and kindness of the judge in Cobb county to dismiss my traffic case when she heard my story and saw my letter from the shelter. She also reviewed my letter from the psychiatrist who treated me as soon as I was delivered to the safe house. The judge was a woman and she said to me: “Go! God bless you but do not come back here again!”

I was grateful.

The law in this area is not fully developed in the United States and does not anticipate such situations as the one I just described.

Women-immigrants who become victims of domestic violence get trapped in the vicious cycle of the poorly-designed bureaucratic legal system. Often, they are forced by circumstantial hopelessness to go back to their batterers and lose their lives to either murder or suicide.

Anna Szabo

The entanglement of my immigration status, driver’s license, car insurance, and registration was at the mercy of Prince Charming as my immigration sponsor.

He brought me here on K1 visa as his bride. Now I was his wife but he never filed the proper paperwork.

The power was all his, and I was trapped in the vicious cycle of the legal issues, which victimized me even more, though I escaped already my abuser’s physical captivity.

Other judges did not dismiss my traffic citations.

I had to pay fines many times but in Sandy Springs I requested a jury trial. It was 2009. My case was transferred to Fulton county a year later.

I attended the hearing and was ordered to perform 16 hours of community service as a court clerk helper in Magistrate Court of Fulton County. I did my service. They hired full-time as a court clerk there. God truly uses all things together for good.

This is a story of His glory.

Temporary Protective Order (TPO)

Prince Charming was now looking for me everywhere and stalking me on the phone, e-mail, voicemail, and text-messaging.

Not only was I fearful and concerned about my safety and life, but it also negatively affected my mental condition.

Between April 9th and May 2nd, 2009 I had received 242 e-mails, 234 text-messages, 56 calls, and 28 voicemails from my abuser.

On May 2nd, 2009 a lady-police-officer arrived at the domestic violence shelter where I lived. She observed Prince Charming’s harassment first-hand. The officer answered his call on my phone and informed him that we were petitioning for a restraining order against him.

Temporary Protective Order (TPO) is a legal document issued by a court to help victims obtain protection from persons abusing, harassing, or stalking them. A TPO will generally prohibit contact between parties and may remove or restrict someone from a certain place or residence.

GAFamilyLaw.com

Based on the police reports from the four documented instances of domestic abuse and the proof of the stalking harassment I described above, I was awarded a TPO against my abuser.

It’s been exactly ten years since I escaped and survived domestic abuse as a mail-ordered bride who didn’t even speak any English in America.

I am loved - Daily Devotional for Women by Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women
Domestic Violence Taught Me Faith and Fortitude

The Violence Against Women Act

From May to August of 2009, I was looking for a pro-bono immigration attorney to assist me with my expired paperwork, since the documents Prince Charming was supposed to file with the USCIS were found under the boxes in the garage of our former home in Bainbridge, GA.

Prince Charming never filed the proper documentation to update my immigration status after we got married. My status was “out of status.”

I now faced the legal issues of modern society again.

Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services was the agency I discovered and visited on May 21st, 2009. They informed me about VAWA – The Violence Against Women Act that could offer me some protection from my abuser in terms of immigration independence.

I was asked to prove my good faith in which I entered our marriage. I was asked to prove the fact of the actual marital relationship. I was asked to prove my good moral character by providing references from people who knew me in America. I had a huge box of documents, letters, and pictures, all divided and properly filed.

After three months of waiting, Catholic Charity’s Immigration Legal Services accepted my VAWA case in August of 2009.

That gave me an opportunity to finally renew my driver’s license and car registration based on my updated immigration status and I was able to get around without being fined on every corner.

The car dealer who had initially repossessed my Explorer was now helpful and kind. He assisted me in getting my own car insurance.

I was able to work (still cash-only, though, because I had no Work Authorization Document yet). I met new people, made friends, volunteered, worked as a nanny, housekeeper, and dogwalker, earned a living, learned English, and put my life back together. 

Who Is Jesus Christ? Answer to the question Who Is Jesus To Me?
I Give God All The Glory for My Domestic Abuse Story

As soon as I received my Work Authorization Document, I was hired to work for Magistrate Court of Fulton County, which allowed me to move into my own apartment and even adopt Bruno from Fulton County Animal Services.

The challenge of the journey was that the law in the United States of America does not help connect the dots for abused women-immigrants.

The law is like “catch 22” game: you need your abuser for every single step of the legal process but you also can’t be with him because you’d lose your life. So, not having the relationship with your abuser makes you instantly incapable of participating in the legal process, and you feel trapped, yet, to get documents and opportunities, you need your abuser.

Governmental bureaucracy causes hopeless.

Hopeless causes suicide.

300 women committed suicide in 2008 in GA due to domestic violence: they had no hope and knew that the law would play against them if they broke free.

Anna Szabo

Without an SSN, I was not allowed to work. To obtain an SSN, I had to have my immigration status current. To have my immigration status current, my abuser would need to file the paperwork. The abuser would never do it because his ultimate goal was to enslave me and continue keeping me in his captivity.

Working without Work Authorization Document was illegal but to obtain Work Authorization Document, I needed my abuser, from whom the police rescued me so I could be independent.

I wasn’t able to be with my immigration sponsor because he was violent, yet the hurdles of the governmental bureaucracy were designed in the way that I’d need to surrender myself to my abuser just to get a social security number.

Working without an SSN, I could have been pressed with legal charges against me, which would prevent me from obtaining my legal status. Not obtaining proper legal immigration status, I would not have been able to obtain an SSN.

How does this governmental bureaucracy even make any sense?

Yet, this was my everyday life.

Dozens of hours were spent at the Social Security office, DFCS office, Tag office, DDS office, etc. I was sent from one bureaucratic entity to the next, being pushed around, feeling confused and hopeless.

It was unimaginable!

Many women who experience abuse do not leave their violent partners because they know that the legal system will not protect them but, in fact, may do just the opposite.

Some of my American friends wouldn’t even believe me about the legal vicious cycle and the catch 22 game I just described. They’d go with me to witness it. They’d think that perhaps I was mistreated due to my accent or maybe I misunderstood the situation due to my limited English.

I remember one lady who was sophisticated and well-educated, had a great career, and wore a suit, came with me to one of those government agencies.

When my ticket was called, my friend came to the window with me and asked to speak with the supervisor.

She asked them to bring out their written manual and show to her that, indeed, this bureaucratic insanity was even legal.

She saw for herself that the legal issues of modern society weren’t a misunderstanding on my part. They were real, and they made the immigrants who suffered domestic violence feel trapped and hopeless.

Marriage Annulment vs Divorce

Prince Charming and I met in court for the TPO hearing.

The moment my caseworker from the domestic violence shelter and I exited Dekalb County Courthouse, a process server served me with the marriage annulment summons.

Prince Charming declared that we weren’t actually married and petitioned for our marriage to be annulled, as well as for me to be deported from the United States of America.

In Georgia, your marriage can be annulled if it is “void,” meaning that it is prohibited by law or never had the potential to be valid.

Prince Charming filed for an annulment of our marriage in May of 2009, and a process server served me right outside the parking garage of the courthouse where I appeared to petition for a restraining order.

Not only did Prince Charming request the annulment of our marriage, but he also asked for a compensation of $80,000 from me and my departure from the United States.

While in the shelter, I had to call and visit many attorneys only to find out that I’d need to pay thousands of dollars upfront for them to take on my marriage/divorce/annulment case.

At the legal clinic of the Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence on 115 East Maple Street in Decatur, GA, I met with an attorney from Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

I had 30 minutes and a huge box of documents. My friend interpreter came along to help me communicate my domestic violence story.

Later that month, I received an announcement that, after hearing about my story and seeing my evidence, Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorneys voted to accept my case.

I felt grateful. I felt hopeful. I felt encouraged and empowered.

I am Righteous - Daily Devotionals for Women by Anna Szabo of Online Discipleship for Women
Anything is Possible! God Fights Domestic Abuse for You

After a long-long battle, I was divorced in March of 2010. The challenge here was tremendous.

I am forever grateful for the help and support of Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Legal Clinic for victims of domestic abuse at the WRCDV.

I dealt with many of the legal issues of modern society.

The law only provides some protection for victims of domestic violence. Women-immigrants cannot defend themselves during the divorce process, so they are always in need of legal assistance, even interpreters, which require financial resources that abused women usually do not have.

If Atlanta Legal Aid did not accept my annulment summons to defend me, within 30 days, my abuser would have annulled our marriage.

According to the Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, when trying to exit a violent situation and obtain services and protections for themselves, many survivors of domestic abuse report that the processes and procedures they navigate, while seeking legal protection and support services, are fragmented, confusing and not user-friendly.

Anna Szabo

I can attest to that. The process was confusing for me and very stressful.

Every step of the journey implied that I’d need the help of my abuser to fight his abuse against me. It was a vicious cycle, and I’m grateful for the help of all the agencies that assisted me with the TPO, divorce, and VAWA.

Rebuilding My Life After Domestic Abuse

Writing about all this ten years later makes me feel very emotional. I feel sad about what I had to endure. I feel confident in God. I feel thankful for every agency and person who chose to help me on my journey as a mail-ordered bride fighting domestic abuse in America without even speaking any English.

I’m grateful for all the help offered to me by the different agencies and people. I feel in awe from the courage Anna Stevens (that was my name) exhibited every step of the way. I feel inspired and encouraged because I see that God’s plan is good and He never takes a nap or goes on vacation.

God never failed me. He stood against domestic violence for me and helped me fight it every step of the way. God is bigger than domestic abuse. He protected me and led me to freedom.

Anna Szabo

This is a story of God’s amazing grace and glory.

To show you the state of mind Anna Stevens had while recovering from such drama and trauma as described above, I want to share the essays submitted by Anna Stevens (again, that was me back then) to Georgia State University as a part of an application for Professional MBA in 2011.

By the way, if this content is helpful, you may express your gratitude now:

To give you some context: Anna Stevens taught herself English while living in the domestic violence shelter by listening to Frank Sinatra. Between the escape date of April 9th, 2009 and the Academic English Test date of January 24th, 2011 there were only 21 months.

I (Anna Stevens) passed the English test with a high score, and a month later wrote the essays you can read below. They showcase the importance of dreaming for all victims of domestic abuse as they go on to rebuild their lives from the ruins of domestic abuse.

Let’s talk about the key components of a successful recovery journey when it comes to domestic violence.

1. Dreaming: My GSU PMBA Essays

Dreaming and visualizing the future is the first step to recovery from domestic abuse. Dreams and goals help us become future-oriented instead of getting stuck in the devastating past.

Below are the MBA essays. They were written by Anna Stevens (me back in 2011). They express her (my) dreams and goals.

Considering that I do not have the questions themselves and it’s been over eight years ago that I was submitting my MBA application to GSU, I am publishing my answers to the questions identified by numbers, as they were on the actual MBA application, which you can download below as well, if you’re curious.

The author of the MBA essays is me. My last name was Stevens. They were written just a few days following the Academic English Test I passed after teaching myself English.

The essays below are presented to you unedited so you can experience the big dreams of a violated immigrant striving to build a future for herself in a foreign country after enduring domestic abuse.

I hope these essays will inspire YOU to dream big as you’re thinking about your domestic violence situation and planning your escape into safety.

Have big dreams. Build an exciting future in your own mind.

Be bold with what you envision and desire.

Anything is possible!

Anna Stevens’ GSU MBA Essays

Question A

I have always been an achievement-orientated person and prefer an organized way of living life. Planning in advance in order to be able to see clearly where I am going and how to get there, I have established short-term and long-term career goals. 

My short-term goals are focused on gaining new knowledge and experience, and include enrolling in an MBA program at Georgia State University and graduating within next 2 years; improving my language skills, critical and creative thinking skills; learning new tools and technologies; and finding new ways to challenge myself in order to prepare for the new career.

My long-term, ten-year career goals include becoming a successful business-person, working in upper management of a world-class international forward-moving company with true commitment to the highest ethical standards, and contributing in the company’s growth and well-being, maximizing my career potential.

I know these goals will be achieved because of my ability to work assertively and persuasively, to stay focused, and to constantly evaluate and improve myself.

I truly believe that my career goals and characteristics I posses make me a great fit for the PMBA program! 

Anna Stevens, February 28th, 2011

Question B2

Everyone has a desire to be happy, healthy, and successful, but only a few people have goals that guide them to achieve those objectives. I consider myself one of those people. I follow my plans with effective actions and always keep an overview of the situation. What makes me unique is my ability to assess myself, strong desire to succeed, and balance of work and leisure.

The ability to know and understand myself at the deepest level helps me to make changes that are necessary for my personal and professional growth. Being aware of what my financial, spiritual, career and health goals are, I can make decisions on what actions are more important than others, and in what order to take them.

My burning desire to succeed is what empowers me in many different ways. My strong will helps me pursue my objectives. Positive, inspiring beliefs keep me enthusiastic about life and my career.  

Balance of hard, intensive work and quality leisure allows me to stay invigorated. Activities like swimming, riding a helicopter, skiing, ice skating, hiking, and traveling abroad bring a great deal pleasure into my life. In addition, I have also learned how to truly enjoy such simple things as walking in the park and watching children chasing one another, looking at the high blue sky and thinking of all the beautiful countries I have been to, reading an educational book to a friend and having a good discussion about it, eating a healthy breakfast with my loved ones while sitting at the table and talking, and so forth. The right balance of work and leisure rewards me with new energy and creative ideas.

I believe that these three unique qualities I possess will perfectly assist me with pursuing my education through the MBA program, becoming successful, and building an excellent career.    

Anna Stevens, February 28th, 2011

I graduated from Georgia State University Professional MBA in 2013 with a GPA of 3.74! Anything is possible when we pursue big dreams by setting and achieving specific, measurable goals.

Domestic violence survivor Anna Szabo graduates from Georgia  State University PMBA in 2013
I Graduated from GSU PMBA in 2013 with a GPA of 3.74

2. Writing: My SMART Goals Book

On the journey to rebuilding my life from the ruins of domestic abuse, the habit of writing proved to be really helpful. I wrote in Russian until I committed 100% to teaching myself English.

Then, I wrote in English.

As you saw from my GSU PMBA essays, my writing wasn’t perfect or even grammatically accurate.

But who cares? I wrote!

And I even produced articles for different publications which were accepted and read by thousands of people.

Writing doesn’t have to be perfect.

In 2013, I published my award-winning book about goals called “Turn Your Dreams And Wants Into Achievable SMART Goals!

My Award-Winning SMART Goals Book

I encourage you to write fearlessly and passionately. Write every day and see what happens in ten years.

You might become a speaker and a published author, too! You might inspire people with your story and help them persevere through challenges in life.

Start writing today. It’s really good for you.

3. Working: My Meaningful and Challenging Career

Work is a privilege. It’s the truth I realized after not being able to work, drive, be with people, earn money, etc. After I had been enslaved and imprisoned by my abuser, I was eager to work.

Work provided me with an opportunity to earn a living and be independent. In my first job, I made $26,000 a year. Two years later, my salary was $55,000 and five months after that I made $70,000 a year, which progressed to $91,000 a few months later. I was able to move to my own apartment and even get a new car, which I’m still driving today.

Work provided me with a new identity. Everywhere I went after my escape from domestic violence, I was looked at as a victim. When I began working, hosting workshops all over Atlanta on the topic of Emotional Intelligence, and later built a career in marketing, I was looked at as a capable human being.

I needed that identity shift.

The human brain needs to strive for something exciting. We feel alive when we make progress. Work allows us to make consistent progress toward meaningful goals, and it’s good for the human brain.

Work also allowed me to socialize and share my message of hope and perseverance.

Here’s just one example of the impact people experienced from the workshops I conducted to inspire and motivate people.

Work helps you with your self-actualization. You can dream about what you want to make of your own life, where you want to be in five years, what skills you want to develop, and what goals you want to pursue.

Work forces you to follow a routine. The routine helps you organize your life. Organized order helps you recover from the chaos of domestic violence and become grounded and balanced.

I recommend work highly. If you’re recovering from domestic violence trying to rebuild your life from the ruins of abuse, I encourage you to get a job, save money, set goals, and go after them!

4. Connecting: My Supportive Community

As you’re making progress building a new life for yourself after domestic abuse, having a strong and supportive community is key. Join a small group at your local church so you can have meaningful fellowship with other women.

If drugs or alcohol were involved in your relationship with your batterer, join your local “Celebrate Recovery” community to have people who’ve been in your shoes walk with you right now and help you.

Join professional networking groups to challenge yourself mentally so you can grow and evolve on your journey of recovery and healing.

Connect with those people who enrich your life and make it better. A safe and supportive community is important for victims of abuse.

Make sure you connect in-person, not just digitally.

You need a real-life human connection. Your soul needs to be with people in-person, in a physical realm.

Build your community of wise counsel, too. Seek out people who are grounded and wise.

Wise, genuine people are good for you.

5. Living: My Healthy Habits and Hobbies

My final word is about living. Live your life alive – don’t drift into the depressing and hopeless world of dead zombies. Don’t waste your time. Don’t scroll aimlessly through social media feeds lettings hours pass by without making progress toward your important goals.

YOU matter! Your future and dreams matter!

Eat good food that nourishes your body and doesn’t kill you by causing diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Eat fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and ancient grains. Drink water.

Exercise to keep your body healthy. It’s the only one you have, so make sure you take good care of it.

You don’t need an expensive gym membership or complicated paid apps. Simply wake up and do some squats for a few minutes, a plank, and other simple things that will strengthen your body and mind and take just a few minutes every day.

Here’s an example of my 5-min routine.

Read good books that help you develop your perspective on life, people, and yourself. Grow in faith and improve your brain’s capabilities as you read inspiring biographies of people you admire.

Sleep well. Make sure you get in your 7-8 hours of sleep. Domestic violence causes justifiable anxiety and insomnia, but don’t watch TV all night or be on Facebook scrolling aimlessly. Your brain needs to rest. Sleep is critical to your wellbeing.

Try this meditation once you’re in bed and your phone is on “do not disturb.”

Last but not least, develop some exciting healthy hobbies. I write poetry, and it helps me process life events. Cooking is a great hobby of mine, as well, helping me eat well, stay in great shape, experiment with my creative ideas in the kitchen, save money on food, and develop helpful hacks to share with other people to make their lives easier as well.

I want to share with you this poem I wrote.

"Empowering Women"  #PoemsFromGod

Empowerment is a concept of persevering,
No matter what life offers to you at times.
It's a decision to refuse fearing
Narcissists, abusers, and executors of other crimes.

Empowerment is the antidote for violence.
It's a way of saying: "No more from now on!"
It's the path to get you beyond survivance 
To where you can thrive and finally move on.

I myself need empowerment daily. 
And I support other women to share empowerment.
Sometimes, from abuse we can even think barely...
And no one can help us, not even the government.

Police, courts, judges, jurors, and attorneys
Get deceived by our abusers often times.
When there's no help on our survival journeys,
Empowerment is the only way to confront crimes.

Get empowered from knowing who you are in Christ!
He loves and accepts you. He made you a masterpiece.
To liberate you, His life He sacrificed.
He set you free so you can be from abuse released. 

Raise up! Speak up! Stand up for yourself!
Get empowered and empower others!
You are worthy of the love of Jesus Himself!
So, take no more of this abuse nonsense!

10-14-17 © Anna Szabo, JD, MBA

I hope this poem encouraged and empowered you. You are a child of God, so don’t let anyone mistreat you and do not tolerate abuse from anyone.

I want to summarize what I shared about my own domestic violence experiences in the 10-step plan below called “How To Survive Domestic Violence.”

Summary

To summarize everything we discussed, I’m providing you with a 10-step guide to help you survive domestic abuse and thrive forever.

This comprehensive 10-step plan called “How To Survive Domestic Violence” reflects my personal experience of surviving domestic abuse as a mail-ordered bride in America.

I hope my plan will help you envision an exciting future for yourself, set ambitious goals, and take steps daily toward your biggest dreams.

How To Survive Domestic Violence

  1. Realize that you’re in an abusive relationship


    Review the 46 warning signs of domestic violence listed above. Take the 7-part domestic violence quiz I created for you. Realize what’s happening to you and step out of denial into a better future where you can be safe, peaceful, joyful, and free from abuse.

  2. Decide to leave, make a plan, and prepare for its execution


    Make up your mind, choose your safety, decide to leave your abuser because he will never change. The 3-stage cycle of abuse shown above will always continue and escalate with intensity. Review the many intimidating domestic violence statistics shared here to understand that domestic abuse is serious and often results in death.

  3. Consult National Domestic Violence Hotline


    Call 1-800-799-7233 and share about your situation. Ask for help and inquire regarding the resources available to support you on your journey of escaping abuse and surviving domestic violence.

  4. Get your local police involved


    Call 911 and talk to them about your best course of action. Ask for help and make sure they understand the seriousness of your intentions to escape. Inquire how they can rescue you and assist you in getting into a domestic violence shelter.

  5. Do not tell your abuser that you plan to leave


    Keep your plans to yourself. I shared my plans to leave with my batterer and things got worse from there. The police had to break in to rescue me and it could have been too late. So, cooperate with your abuser until you can escape or be resued. Do not provoke him.

  6. Escape to a domestic violence shelter so you’re safe


    Once you’re rescued or escape on your own, go to a local domestic violence shelter. Your safety is your first priority. Do not escape into parents’ or friends’ homes: it will put all of you at risk of being harmed or killed.

  7. Document what needs to be done to rebuild your life


    Your situation is chaos and you need order, so make a list. Write out what you need: immigration, divorce, your own car, phone, health or auto insurance. Once you document exactly what you need to re-establish your life, get started on your list and don’t stop until your life is in order and you’re back on your feet.

  8. Do what needs to be done to rebuild your life


    Do what you need to do. No one will come and do it for you. Don’t waste any time on social media comparing yourself to others or aimlessly scrolling through nothingness there to pass time. Your time is valuable, so use it wisely. Work, exercise, get your life together, and thrive on your own. Make a plan and follow it to avoid confusion and procrastination. Leverage every second to progress to your next step.

  9. Develop healthy habits and follow an orderly routine


    Wake up early and read, work out, journal, create art, write a book, give birth to poetry, cook nutritious food to stay healthy, listen to podcasts that inform and inspire you, and network with people who can enrich your life.

  10. Go to school, get a job, set goals, and pursue your dreams


    If you need to go to school in order to advance your opportunities for independence, go to school. Get a job, work passionately, add value, and save money. Use your creativity. Set ambitious SMART goals and go after them courageously and purposefully. Your dreams matter, so pursue them!

Start by getting to a safe place where you can breathe and think clearly.

Your safety is important. You are valuable.

Your life matters. God created you for His divine purpose.

You are a child of God. You are precious, special, and chosen.

You are light in God’s kingdom. He prepared good works in advance for you to do.

You matter. Your safety matters. Your mental health matters. Your freedom to pursue God’s calling on your life matters.

Don’t allow anyone to abuse you.

Lean on Jesus and count on Him.

Read Who Is Jesus to understand how Christ can help you. Practice faith and fortitude.

Read What Is Faith to discover how to grow and expand your faith on this tough journey of surviving domestic abuse.

I hope the story I shared here shows you how difficult yet possible it is to survive domestic violence and thrive after abuse.

All things are truly possible with Christ.

God is merciful and gracious. He sent His only son to redeem us at a high price because He loves us so much. God loves you unconditionally for eternity.

Reach out for help today and end domestic violence.

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