Why I didn’t report my abuser… until I did.

Those who have followed my political career will know that I’ve been open about being a survivor of domestic abuse, but I’ve been circumspect about the details. In my life, I’ve been on the receiving end of two abusive relationships, each of which I left for my own safety. This is the story of the second one.

Domestic abuse doesn’t happen all at once, it’s a ratcheting escalation of abusive behavior that builds up slowly over time. From diminishing someone’s contribution to the relationship and their professional accomplishments, to isolating them from their support network, to threats of violence and actual physical harm. It’s like the classic parable of the boiling frog — if it had all started right up front I would have gotten out immediately. In hindsight, every escalation led to the next, but while it was happening it was easy to miss the forest for the trees. This is part of why I didn’t report.

It started after I was hurt at work in 2015. I abruptly lost the high paying job I had, and was forced to rely on her to pay the bills. Her constant refrain through this was “you owe me.” Even when I was able to go back to work, she insisted that I handle more of the bills than was really feasible with my lower pay. From that point forward, she was able to build up a comfortable amount of savings while I just barely scraped by. When people asked about my financial health, I hid it. Shame is a funny thing, it makes the survivor feel the need to cover for their abuser. This is part of why I didn’t report.

I ran for office, an endeavor that she supported me in at first. Once I put my name out there as a public figure, it just gave my abuser more leverage. “Your political career won’t survive a divorce,” she would frequently say. It sounded like a prediction. It was a threat. She would start arguments over money and escalate them to shouting matches. The story was always the same, I’d try to get away and she would follow me from room to room, demanding that I argue with her or she would leave. “Your political career won’t survive a divorce.” It sounded like a prediction. It was a threat. This is part of why I didn’t report.

Her rage boiled over on the day of the primary. June 13th, 2017. Another argument about money, another afternoon of her following me from room to room and demanding that I stay and argue with her, but this time it had an added element. She told me I was crazy for not tolerating her abuse, and demanded that I drop out of the race. “Your political career won’t survive a divorce.” I called her bluff and walked out of the house. I got in my car and left entirely, but she escalated it far beyond anything I expected.

She got in her car and followed me. I drove to the Signal Hill shopping center. She followed me. I drove back toward the house. She followed me. I drove up and down Fairview Avenue three or four times, and still she followed me. I realized that my car had less than a quarter tank of gas in it, so there was no way I could get away through endurance alone. I knew I needed a place with a lot of cameras, so I stopped in the parking lot of the police station on Fairview. Still, she followed me.

Of all the brazen abusers I’ve heard of, I’ve never heard of one being bold enough to keep it up in the parking lot of the local police station, but she did. She parked her car next to mine, got out, and started beating on the window of my car. She continued beating on the glass for what must have been 15 or 20 minutes, and the police did nothing. I don’t know if they didn’t notice, or if they just didn’t care, but I sat there in fear, with absolutely no idea what she was capable of doing. The police did nothing. This is part of why I didn’t report.

She got back in her car and sent me a text message repeating her gaslighting. I replied:
“I went to the police station because you’re being violent and following me. I’m not leaving this car because I don’t feel safe around you.”
She demanded that I go to the unity party that night. I replied:
“People will notice you’re not there. I’m not leaving.”
“… leave.”

She finally left. I didn’t dare go home, and I didn’t dare go to the unity party because I didn’t know if she would be there. I went to my office and wept on the couch, determined to stay the night there. Several hours passed, and I found out that my friend Ken Boddye was next door at Philadelphia Tavern, and that his election results weren’t looking good. I collected myself, washed my face, and went next door to console my friend. He asked if I was going to the unity party, and I said no. “I can’t stand to be around gloating Northam fans right now.” It was a lie to hide what was really happening. Shame is a funny thing, it makes the survivor feel the need to cover for their abuser. This is part of why I didn’t report.

Time passed, and those arguments continued. I never knew which days it would happen until she got home. If she blocked my car in the driveway, I knew to brace myself. The pattern repeated, following me from room to room, intentionally blocking doorways to keep me from leaving, demanding that I escalate the argument, and ultimately forcing me to move her car out of the way before I could escape. I won my election, but she kept repeating that constant refrain, “your political career won’t survive a divorce.” It sounded like a prediction. It was a threat. This is part of why I didn’t report.

When I finally told her that I was leaving, she changed the locks before I could move my belongings out. She told me outright “you’re not getting any of your stuff unless you sign the agreement my lawyer drafted.” I just wanted to get away and move on with my life, but she took the opportunity of me loading my things into a truck to instigate another argument. I left half of my things and got away. I just wanted the abuse to finally end, and I thought that it might if I just paid the ransom and left well enough alone. This is part of why I didn’t report.

A month passed and I got an email from her with pictures of all of my daughter’s belongings on the front lawn of my abuser’s house. I knew there was no way she would let me get them without piling on more abuse. I heard her constant refrain in my head, “your political career won’t survive a divorce.” It didn’t sound like a prediction anymore, it had been a threat from the start. This is why I finally reported.

I called the police and explained the situation, the history of abuse, the illegal changing of the locks, and using my daughter’s things to get me to go back. The police arrived and told her to stay away from me while I picked everything up from the lawn, but they couldn’t stay long enough for me to finish. As soon as they left, she came out of the house and started walking towards me. I put my hands up and walked away, saying “stay away from me, stay away from me.” She threatened to shoot me, then went back inside where I knew she had a rifle. I took cover behind my car and called the police again. They came back, and recommended that I get an emergency protective order.

I packed the rest of my daughter’s things into my car and left. I went to the magistrate and reported to him what happened. He found that “reasonable grounds exist to believe that [she] has committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further such offense against the allegedly abused person.” I was granted an emergency protective order. The police confiscated her rifle and ordered her not to contact me or be in my physical presence for 72 hours. I thought it would stop the abuse, and I could continue on with my life. This is why I finally reported.

That was almost a year ago, but it didn’t stop the abuse. I’ve done my best to move on with my life, but abusers can’t stand when a survivor gets away. They have to do all they can to damage that person’s life. Since then, I’ve given sworn testimony under penalty of perjury about all that happened, and I’ve even pursued criminal stalking charges but I was told that I didn’t report it soon enough. This is why survivors don’t report, because too often it doesn’t change anything when we do.