The face of domestic violence has no specific look, success level, ethnicity, economic background, or age. This harsh reality hit Carl Bryant like a ton of bricks in 2012 when he got the call that his aunt, Johnette Pratt, was missing. Later he found out she was murdered by her boyfriend at 44 years old.
She was found in the church parking lot in her car set on fire. The autopsy report would later find that she was strangled to death from behind. It was difficult for him to understand how his aunt, a smart, successful woman, could die at the hands of a man she loved and trusted.
“My aunt was an independent woman, she had her own car, bought her own house, always supported herself and her daughter, and was very strong. When she passed the way she did I was upset,” Bryant said.
Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of domestic violence than White women, making up 22% of the homicides that result from domestic violence. It’s for that reason that domestic violence is the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35, a report from TIME pointed out last year. Pratt’s life ended tragically at the hands of a man she was dating for only eight months while out of town for a church convention where her killer was being ordained a minister.
Elaine Evelyn, 56, knew her abuser from her hometown in Georgetown, Guyana, and reconnected with him during a visit to Canada. Soon after he came to New York a relationship between the two blossomed.
“I didn’t see any initial signs or red flags in the relationship. He was a slickster with an ulterior motive and it wasn’t until that motive was threatened when I really saw the signs of abuse,” Evelyn said about realizing her boyfriend was only with her to get a green card into the United States.
She almost lost her daughter and her own life to her daughter’s father after deciding not to get an abortion when the man she was preparing to marry attempted to stomp her baby dead inside of her. Fortunately, the baby survived, but both mother and daughter were put back in harm’s way when Evelyn’s mother told her not to call the police and slowly moved her back in with her abuser.
“My mom didn’t want me to stay with her and she would invite him over to see my daughter which I was totally against,” Evelyn said, recalling how her mother, who was also almost murdered by the father of her children, pushed her back into the arms of her abuser. “He found a place and set us up in the Bronx where I almost lost my life.”
Once again her abuser attempted to kill her daughter by throwing her out of a window. “While trying to save my daughter’s life I ended up having my face rearranged and having to get surgery to have my nose put back onto my face.”
Evelyn’s daughter did fall out of the window, but thankfully landed in a chair outside next to it. Because the father had her daughter while she was hospitalized Evelyn was too afraid to tell doctors or police what really happened. Instead, she told them she fell.
“He threatened me and said if I told anyone what really happened I wasn’t going to see her anymore and that he was going to make sure I didn’t breathe anymore.”
Even after getting away from her abuser Evelyn experienced stalking for a number of years. Her abuser would appear at the train station threatening to push her onto the train tracks and she was afraid to walk down the street with her child. The harassment didn’t stop until he met another woman.
“I got out of that situation, but lived in constant fear of my life and my daughter,” Evelyn recalled.
The statistic that 1 out of every 4 women has been in a violent relationship leaves out the many women like Evelyn who don’t report abuse. Kandee Lewis, CEO of The Positive Results Corporation, a nonprofit which teaches leadership, character development, and healthy relationships to youth, young adults, and their families, has found the numbers are much higher in communities of color.
“During my work I found out that, especially in communities of color, [that number’s] almost closer to 2 or 3 out of 4,” said Lewis. Through her work in domestic violence prevention among teens she notes that violence often starts in the womb with 36% of pregnant women being beat.
“I’m not talking about slapped. I’m not talking about cussed out. I’m talking about pushed in the stomach, pushed down stairs, burned, beat up, and hurt in a very devastating way,” she said. “If a person is beat while pregnant their child is also beat.”
For some women having children causes them to stay in abusive relationships; for others their children becomes their motive to leave, much like Evelyn and Madeline McCray, co-founder of New Legacy Leaders Project, a wellness initiative that expanded to include domestic violence in 2012.
“For me, my mind was made up for my children that I cannot have them growing up feeling that this is who they’re supposed to be,” McCray said. “I loved their father and I knew that their father loved me and loved his children but the bottom line was he had problems that he needed to deal with and it wasn’t up to me to do those things for him.”
Watching someone you know endure abuse can be a painfully frustrating experience, but it’s important that loved ones are approached delicately due to the embarrassment and shame the victim likely already has about their situation. Reminding them that you love them, how great they are, and that you are willing to help are ways to go about assisting victims leave their abusers.
“It’s important to empower people and give them understanding of the right language to use, how to stay supportive, and how to stay safe because it can be very dangerous if you’re intervening,” said McCray. “It requires a great deal of patience and understanding. Domestic violence is very, very complicated.”
Jackie* a successful woman in media and the music industry has been married to her abuser for 13 years and suffers from emotional and mental abuse more than physical. As the relationship continued to grow she admitted that she became scared of how he would treat her day-to-day.
“I got used to the back and forth, and became hot and cold because I was scared of where he was coming from,” Jackie said referring to the time when she and her partner first decided to move in together. “We got into an argument one day and he called me a cunt.”
When they first started dating she saw the red flags, but was convinced this was the man she was supposed to marry after a thought came to her. “I had this weird feeling in my spirit that we’ll get married and be together for a long time, but we’ll have a lot of problems.”
Already in her late 30s at the time, she was used to overcoming things in her life as a strong, independent woman. Despite him playing mind games, throwing a brick at her, and constantly doing things she asked him not to do in their relationship she stays. Her husband has even sabotaged her success as an entrepreneur throughout the years. Recounting the first time he put his hands on her, Jackie* said “He came in late and I said something to him about it and he threw me against the wall and that’s when it started. I went to let him know you don’t do that and he threw me near the stove and on the floor again.”
Over the years she’s been able to hide the horror in her home as she takes on projects with high-profile celebrity clients and corporations, travels the world, and remains socially engaged. “I’ve numbed it out because I’m always working and staying out late.”
Although still in the relationship, Jackie* is growing tired of the abuse and uses self-healing like working out and meditating as a way to really love herself. Most of all she’s ready to truly have a family, something her husband has deprived her of over the years. Her biggest regret of staying with him is now being too old to have children, a dream she’s always had.
“I know me, I’m a smart woman, but I also don’t want to be alone either,” she said, contemplating where the relationship might go in the future. “I feel like I’m at the end of the storm whether light is going to be we stay together I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Bryant is still mourning the loss of his aunt. In May, her killer went to trial and confessed to murdering Pratt three days in and was sentenced to 30 years in jail. Bryant’s family would also find out that he shot his ex-wife in the head and served 15 years in prison before meeting his aunt along with other accounts of abuse to other women.
“I want people to know that it can happen to every woman. She doesn’t have to be punched in the face or dragged down stairs,” Bryant said.
On the other hand Lewis offered, “If someone tells you they’re going to kill you, believe them every single time.”
She also said going to a shelter for women dealing with domestic abuse is the safest place when leaving. “The best thing to do is to go to a shelter completely out of the way of your area and ask them for help. They have all the help you possibly need- legal, medical, and financial.”
For help for you or someone you know in an abusive relationship, reach out the the domestic violence hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)