Jennifer Whyte, a successful actress, writer, and producer, known as Jenn Pinto, originally from Brooklyn suffered through four years of an abusive relationship after meeting her boyfriend through a friend at 17 years old. She used her strength and wit to finally escape her violently, psychotic abuser and discovered who she was again after hiding the abuse from family and friends. Although, Jennifer was able to find her way, her ex-boyfriend never did and things ended tragically. This is her story.
How did you meet your abuser?
One of my best friend’s and I were working at this catering hall and this guy started working there; he was best friends with my ex. He’d always be like “you have to meet my best friend you guys are so funny and cool, you’d get along.” We started dating from there. I was having issues at home with family stuff and I became one of those an angry teens. I met him living in an environment where all you know how to do is sell drugs and hustle, that’s what I grew up around despite my dad doing an amazing job as a father I was still raised in the hood where that’s all I was exposed to.
How did things evolve?
At 17 I moved out of my parent’s house and was dating this guy. He introduced me to fast money. One of the first times we went out he took me and my best friend on a shopping spree at the Woodbury Commons (Central Valley, NY). I was young and got caught up in the money and wanting to impress people with clothes and fancy cars. I started helping him sell drugs and cocaine. His father was actually a big kingpin and got him involved in it to help his mom keep the house and everything while he was in jail.
It was a lot of fun and we had a great time, but I started seeing how he was changing, and I began to see the most evil side of this person. I don’t know what caused that change but something shifted. I didn’t know who he was and what he would do. I was embarrassed to go back home and prove my father right.
The first year things just got really ugly with infidelity and then it started with verbal abuse; towards the second year it started getting physical. It became a battle because I knew I didn’t want to stay, but I also knew I wasn’t dealing with your normal abusive person. I was dealing with someone who had serious psychological problems. It wasn’t as easy to say “hey I don’t want to be with you,” because he wasn’t just going to let me go.
Did you tell anyone?
If I would’ve told anyone he was beating on me they would’ve told me to stop lying because it’s something that nobody would’ve expected. He was the life of the party, everyone looked forward to seeing him. He was always the funny guy and we had a great relationship in the beginning.
I was embarrassed and had pride. I wasn’t going back home and I was embarrassed to tell my friends because I was always the strong girl in the crew, always helping everyone else. I didn’t want to seem like the weak one. I also didn’t tell them anything because I knew I wasn’t strong enough to leave. I’m not the type of person to say I’m going to do this and that then next thing you know I’m right back with him. So why cry and say all these things when I know when he does his little talk and sorry act I’m going to fall for it. I wasn’t there yet to walk away so I didn’t want to share this information then put everyone else at risk.
There were several threats to my family made to me so I stayed two more years after that just to protect my family and to psychologically find a way to leave him.
How did you hide all of this?
I acted like I was very happy, but wasn’t around family often. I distanced myself from my dad who is really my best friend because I knew he could see right through me. It was one of those things if he’d ask me “are you okay?” I would’ve broken down and cried. I didn’t want to do that, or worry him, or have him try to kill this man. I avoided him as much as I could.
I remember we got into a fight on New Year’s Eve and my dad was having a party. My ex kicked me out of the house. We were in the car, my stuff in the trunk, and I was planning on telling my dad I’m coming back with my stuff but when we got into the fight in the car he punched me in the face and busted my lip, threw all my bags out, and left me in the streets. I showed up at my dad’s house, he showed up there too. I had to hide my lip and front the whole night like everything was fine. I was trying to fix my face and crying in the bathroom. My dad knew something was off. Situations like that is why I avoided my dad.
What kind of things would he do to you physically and mentally?
He had to have control. He would buy my clothes and tell me what to wear, made me dye my hair a certain color. He made me into the doll that he wanted to create. If I didn’t follow that model it was a problem all the time.
He began seeing another woman and told me I had to be okay with. He would see her and I would hear him on the phone with her every night. He told me I had to pretend I was his sister. He said he had to do this because he never had sex with a black girl and I needed to be okay with that if I was the person he was going to marry. I went along with it until I could find a way to leave.
At times I got fed up with the situation and he got violent. Then things became physical for anything. He would send me to the store and if I didn’t buy exactly what he wanted it would turn into a physical altercation. I’d be thrown down stairs, kicked in my face, dragged by my hair in the streets. There were several times when a gun was pulled on me.
I would just try to study him because he would become so violent then after break down in tears hysterical, begging me for help and telling me, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, you’re the only one that understands me.” it was to a point where I felt maybe I can help him, but I knew I couldn’t save him.
I would try to tell him that he was holding on to a lot of things he went through as a kid. He made certain agreements with himself and lost himself in those agreements because they’re aren’t morally right. He let anger take control of him.
How did you finally leave?
Basically, I took a chance. I decided to study him more than anything as opposed to trying to fix the relationship because there was no fixing it. I figured the best way to leave was to pick an argument every single day even if it meant getting hit every day. I felt like if I did this I would convince him somehow that we needed a little bit of time apart because we were fighting so much. Psychologically, I thought this would work because I knew how to calm him down when he would get really, really crazy. I decided to do it and got beat up every day. Then one day it just clicked and we had a long talk after getting into a stupid fight over a real world episode. I remember looking at him and saying “I want to go home. I want to go back to my dad’s house.”
He said, “You’re not going anywhere.” I started packing my stuff and called my best friend. I gave him the hope that we’d be back together. I told him, “we’re fighting a lot, I love you and want to be with you for the rest of my life, but I feel like this is the only way to fix it because were butting heads too much.”
It worked. he said, “you know what you’re right we are fighting every day and this is not us we’re so happy.” I played that whole mental game with him and he let me go to my dad’s with the impression we were working things out. We weren’t broken up I was just going to stay with my dad for a little time.
I showed up at my dad’s with a bunch of garbage bags and he opened the door and my room was still there. After a week or two me ex started saying things like “I think you’re playing with me. I don’t know what you’re doing, but if you’re thinking of leaving me then you’re going to be sorry. You’re never going to find somebody like me.” Then it got more aggressive. He would say, “You f*cking b*tch. Hoe. You ain’t shi*. I made you.” Then it turned to a psychotic desperate cry “please be with me, I can’t live without you.” He begged me to see his mother. I was still torn about whether I was doing the right thing or not. I was only 20 years old at that time.
I called his mom to make sure he wasn’t there because I didn’t want to see him yet. She said he left, but he showed up. He walked up to my car and asked for five minutes. We got into the car and it turned into four hours of being held hostage with a gun. I had to call my best friend and beg her to tell him to let me go home. He wouldn’t let me leave. At first he asked, “why are you doing this? What did I do to you?” I explained that we just needed some time apart. Then he said “don’t do this,” and the gun came out. My best friend convinced him to let me go.
There was about two months of this back and forth where he wouldn’t leave me alone. He got in touch with my mom and my dad. Next thing I know he called me randomly and said he met somebody. I was so relieved and said “I think you should get to know this person even though I think we have a future together. We need to explore other people because were very young.” I was lying but he fell for it and got with that girl.
How did you cope with the abuse while hiding it from everyone?
I wrote a lot and was in college. I wrote letters to God breaking down everything I went through. The abuse, how much I hated him, and how I was only there because I was scared for my family and my life.
I would stay at the college because I dreaded going home. I knew when I got home it was a fight every night. I had a lot of friends, but I didn’t hang out with them so there were a lot of times when I became suicidal because I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t have anyone to talk to or actually hang out with and writing only did so much.
When I hung out with people in college I didn’t talk about it. I just hung out for long periods of time. I would make excuses like I have a meeting for this group or club I’m involved in. I drowned myself in school, work, and writing.
There were things I used to do in my career that I didn’t do anymore because it caused an argument. For example, if I had a kissing scene in a movie, I didn’t even want to deal with having a discussion so I’d reject the role. I let myself go in many ways and went through a very dark point in my life when I was with him.
When did you finally tell your friends and family?
When I left him, I sat my friends down a month or two after because they didn’t know what was wrong with me for all those years. I was distant and weird. I told them and we cried.
Where is he today?
Three years later I randomly got a call from his family saying he was in the hospital very sick and kept calling my name, saying “I want to see Jenny because she’s the only person who understands me.” I told his family I was sorry about what he’s going through but I couldn’t save or help him. I’ll pray for him, but I’m not going to visit him.
Three months after that call I got a message from his brother saying he was shot and died. His brother didn’t give me too much information. I called my best friend and told her “I don’t know what happened but he’s been shot and his brother said he died.”
She did some research and pulled up a Daily News article from the day before saying he shot the girl he got with after me. Apparently, he was doing the same thing he did to me to her and she tried to get away. She had an order of protection and got the cops involved in many ways to distance herself. He followed her to her brother’s place in the Bronx and at 5 am they were arguing in the streets. He shot her in the back of the head, he went back home, called one of his best friends and told him what he did and said he was about to take his life.
He told him to do different things, one was to tell me “I was one of the strongest women he’d ever known and he knew I was going to be big one day and he was sorry for everything he did.”
When the cops busted in his house at about 7 pm he had put a bullet through his chin.
I was confused about what to do and my boyfriend who is now my husband said I should go to the funeral and have closure.
I went to the house, showed my respect to his mother and brothers because they actually knew what I was going through and tried to help me, but at the end of the day that was their brother and son. When I went to the basement where I used to live with him there was still a little blood splatter and there was the letter with my handwriting.
It just so happened that when I moved I left my journals and one of the letters I’d written was on top of his computer desk the day he committed suicide. They thought it was a suicide letter, but when I picked it up I said “no this is my letter.” When I read it chills ran through my body. It’s like he never forgave himself for what he did to me. He would tell me that at times when we spoke.
I would tell him that I forgave him and he needed to let it go. He called my job (he didn’t have my cell number) when he and the girl broke up. “I’m doing to her what I did to you and I don’t know what’s going on with me,” he said. I told him he needed help. He said “I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to you, you didn’t deserve it.”
He had a lot of demons to face and it took a toll on him. I knew he was capable of snapping. The system doesn’t always protect us so we have to find a way to protect ourselves in many ways and that’s by being mentally strong and understanding the psyche of people. Its weird because I look at the woman who got killed and how she did what you’re supposed to do: tell your family, tell the cops. I chose not to go that route — not to say hers was wrong and mine was right — but I think you have to realize what type of person you’re dealing with or you can cause more harm.
How were you able to get back to yourself after you left him?
This is probably the dumbest thing, but to me it meant so much. My ex had me dye my hair bleach blonde. On March 4 I went and dyed my hair back to my natural color. That was the biggest thing ever because I knew it was something he didn’t approve of.
Also, he bought all the clothes I had so I threw out 90 percent of them. I left everything materialist because I just wanted myself back. The other thing I did was book a trip to California for a week by myself. My friends didn’t understand why I was going by myself but my dad understood. I had to take that trip because I was 21 years old and didn’t know who I was. I knew who he made me to be. What do I like? What do I want to do with my life? Who am I?
Then I started exercising and doing different things to find what resonated with my soul. I got back into acting, and booked a gig at the Laugh Factory as one of the only comedic actresses in an all-male comedy troupe.
Really all I did was get back into everything I started doing as a kid to find myself. Those were the things that made me happy. I also started opening up more to my friends and my dad. I was no longer afraid.
I forgave him and myself because I beat myself up about it for so long. When things didn’t go right in my career I would blame myself because I took off four years and wasted time, but then I realized I didn’t waste any time. I went through an experience that helped me become who I am today.
What did forgiving yourself look like for you?
Forgiving yourself is a priority before you even forgive the abuser because our worst enemy is ourselves. I chose to be in that relationship, I made that decision. When things got ugly I chose to stay so I had to come to terms with that. Everything in life is a decision we make. I realized the decisions I make are going to come with repercussions, whether good or bad. I look back in a journal I had and there were so many red flags before the verbal abuse that I overlooked.
What were those red flags?
It would be little arguments. I would see how angry he would get. I wrote in my journal “he got so mad and doesn’t want to talk to me and now I have to go to the store at 3 am to make him happy and stop being mad at me.” What kind of bull sh*t is that? I am 17 and this man is sending me to the store at 3 am to get him some candy because earlier I pissed him off because I accused him of cheating. It would be little things like that and I would see this control. There were a lot of red flags that I ignored, that women choose to ignore.
A lot of times we say “I don’t know how this happened.” You know how it happened you just choose not to acknowledge it, and you can’t change anything you choose not to acknowledge.