Responsible Data Lab: Photography, Expanded
Panel: Crisis and survival - Sustaining a career in news
Application Deadline: Photography, Expanded
Submission Deadline: 2015 World TV Awards
HILO, Hawai'i — Daysha Aiona-Aka's family knew she fought with her boyfriend, but it was the car crash in 2002 that prompted Daysha's grandmother to file for a restraining order to keep Jeffrey Santos Jr. away from the 17-year-old Daysha.
Daysha and Jeffrey were driving from his parents' home in Puna to Hilo, and were having a furious argument when they collided head-on with another vehicle. The couple suffered only bruises, but another motorist was seriously injured.
Jeffrey accused Daysha of grabbing the wheel while he was driving on the busy Kea'au-to-Pahoa Highway and causing the car to veer into oncoming traffic, which Daysha denied, according to Daysha's grandmother, Bev Akimseu. Family Court filings show Daysha had accused Jeffrey of physically abusing her on other occasions by slapping her, punching her and dragging her by the hair.
With the Family Court restraining order in effect, the couple separated for a time, Bev Akimseu said. "Then he started following her and coming around. I told Daysha, 'No, don't go back with him, because you know what he's like, because he's blaming you for this accident.' But she went back with him."
A Family Court judge ordered Jeffrey to attend anger management classes, but Jeffrey initially failed to complete the course, and was charged with contempt of court in 2003 for that lapse. He was fined $50, and finally provided proof to prosecutors the following year that he had finished the class.
Daysha hadn't wanted the restraining order against Jeffrey in the first place, and she became more guarded about what she told her family. Bev gently probed for details, trying to learn what was happening. "I always asked Daysha, 'Did it help him? Does he still abuse you?' But she denied it, she would say, 'No, he's all right.' "
The restraining order was amended so Jeffrey could visit with Daysha provided there was someone else around. Over time, the whole issue of the restraining order was abandoned, and the order expired.
Daysha was back with Jeffrey again, but she also had ambitions that apparently had nothing to do with him.
In 2003 as a senior in high school, Daysha assembled a scrapbook and narrative about her life, family and her ambitions, and in it Jeffrey is barely mentioned. He is featured only as an anonymous boyfriend who accompanied Daysha to Kona some weekends.
She wrote of her struggle to graduate from high school, remarking that "I was told many times that I might not make it to graduation, but I'll tell you one thing, that I will never give up and I will never lose faith in myself."
In her scrapbook, she sketched out plans to move to Las Vegas with a close girlfriend after graduation to enroll in the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to study fashion technology. If UNLV turned out to be unsatisfactory, she figured she would move on to San Francisco, where she wanted to attend an art academy.
"I am hoping to be a fashion designer and start my own business," she wrote. "I enjoy designing new fashions in the clothes line department, and that's my dream.
"Later I will succeed and be able to buy me a beautiful home in a nice area. Then from there I will be able to get married to a terrific man and start me a family. I want to get married and have kids when I have the money to give and support them."
Boyfriend causes Trouble at Daysha's workplace
When Daysha was 17, she moved out of her grandparents' home and into a house about two miles away where her sister Cassie and her husband lived. This offered freedom from her grandparents' supervision, but it turned out she would be more closely monitored by her boyfriend, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey began sleeping over more and more frequently, and finally moved in, Cassie recalled. He was quiet and not particularly troublesome at first, and sometimes went with Cassie's husband to hit balls at the golf course. But Jeffrey was jealous, and did not want Daysha anywhere near Cassie's husband.
"She couldn't sit in the living room if my husband was sitting in the living room; she would have to go in the bedroom and stay in the room," Cassie said. "He would go out to his friend's house, but she would have to stay home and stay in her room."
Jeffrey's possessiveness almost seemed obsessive. Daysha had a job at a store called Local Style in the Prince Kuhio Plaza, and some days Jeffrey would sit on a bench outside the store, waiting and watching, for her entire shift. Other times he would come inside the shop to just sit there, and owner Maxine Magnani would shoo him away.
Once when Daysha was trying to sell a boogie board to a group of young men in the store, Jeffrey noticed one of the men staring at Daysha, checking her out, and Jeffrey became angry. He announced that Daysha was his girlfriend, and invited the man who was staring at Daysha outside to fight.
"Ah, I just looking, brah," the man replied. Magnani, who watched the exchange, banned Jeffrey from Local Style that day. She told Daysha, "Your boyfriend cannot come around. I don't need this kind of problem." After that, Jeffrey would wait for Daysha on a bench in the mall, or in his car in the parking lot.
Maxine also noticed bruises on Daysha and asked about them, but Daysha would usually offer some story about hurting herself or walking into a wall. Once Maxine saw Jeffrey yank roughly on Daysha's arm, pulling her to the side to talk to her.
Maxine scolded Jeffrey, and later told Daysha, "If he hits you, he'll hit you again. Don't let him hit you."
One week Daysha came in with puffy eyes from crying every day, and said she and Jeffrey had been fighting all week because Jeffrey wanted to get married.
Daysha didn't feel ready to marry, and sometimes she questioned Maxine about Maxine's marriage. She asked the kind of personal, probing questions that suggested Daysha was trying to discover how another couple fit their relationship together. Maxine was fond of Daysha, and tried to explain the give-and-take of marriage.
By then Maxine suspected the young couple's relationship was violent, and she told Daysha: "You have to do what you feel is right. I wouldn't let him touch me. If they hit once, they're gonna hit you again, and if he's really possessive and jealous, you're going to have some problems."
Daysha was an excellent employee, trusted and reliable, but she disliked high school, and finally dropped out in her senior year in 2003. She applied and was hired as a bagger at Safeway, working at both Local Style and there for a time.
She felt guilty leaving Maxine, who she called "Auntie Max," but finally quit Local Style to focus on Safeway where there was more opportunity to advance. She was promoted to the floral department, but still visited Magnani on her lunch breaks. She would sometimes stop by the store with a sandwich to share with her former boss.
Jeffrey remained a constant presence. He would get angry if Daysha worked overtime or if the company wanted to send her off island for training, and he was irate when a family member appeared one day to help Daysha collect shopping carts at Safeway.
Even after she plunged into work, Daysha did not entirely give up on education. In 2003 the family traveled together to the Mainland to celebrate the graduation of Daysha's older brother, Waylen Leopoldino, from Seattle University, and Waylen made arrangements for Daysha to visit the campus of a fashion design program nearby.
"We walked around the school, and her eyes just lit up. I mean, she was in awe, it was all new to her," Waylen said. The different components of the program fascinated her. "It was like a kid in a candy store, she was just so amazed at what's going on."
Day'Rey's 'a gift from heaven'
Later that year Daysha realized she was pregnant with Jeffrey's child, and she initially had misgivings. At one point during the pregnancy, she approached her grandmother, Bev Akimseu, and asked if Bev wanted the baby. When Bev declined, Daysha resolved to keep the baby, and to change her life.
From the time she got pregnant at age 18, "she just did a turnaround, she stopped smoking, and she got serious about life and the responsibility," Bev Akimseu said. "When she had her son, she settled down and just straightened out her life when she realized her son was her priority."
Daysha and Jeffrey named their baby Day'Rey, a combination of their own names. Jeffrey tattooed the baby's name on his neck, and on her 19th birthday in 2004, Daysha reflected in her journal on what it meant to be a young mother.
"I do not feel any much older or any different. The only big difference in being a year older is God has given me a gift from heaven, a beautiful little boy, my son Day'Rey Kale'a Boyd. The most wonderful gift that money cannot buy," she wrote.
"I guess being a mommy leaves you with less advantages in life. Like all the attention, and during Christmas the baby will always come first. Today made me realize how important and how much responsibility it takes to be who I am today. I made a difference by bringing him into this world, and now I have to take good care of him for the rest of our lives."
Diary tells story of abuse
Daysha remained guarded when she talked to her family about Jeffrey. She knew her family really didn't like her boyfriend, and the family was reluctant to bring up their misgivings about Jeffrey because Daysha would get angry, Cassie said. Daysha would tell them, "It's none of your business."
She was far more expressive in her diary.
"Well, since I have nobody to talk to about my feelings, here goes," she wrote on Sept. 14, 2004, while she was still living at Cassie's house with Jeffrey. She was getting ready to go back to work after the birth of their son, and she was depressed. She and Jeffrey had argued all day, and she finally told him, "I wish you had stayed at work."
"He called me all these nasty, cruel names and he beat me," she continued. "Well, it all started when I told him I wish he died. That's when it got physical.
"I got really upset and I choked his neck and squeezed his head because I was so fed up. I'm sick of hearing all his bullshit. Our baby is supposed to make us stronger, not against each other. We hardly ever show each other love anymore.
"Well, he choked my neck, pulled me by the hair, kicked me in my stomach, pulled and pinched me in my ribs. He also tried to rip off all my clothes on my body. The whole time all I'm worried and thinking about is baby Day'Rey. I'm praying to God that Day'Rey doesn't wake up and hoping he doesn't see his father in rage.
"Before it all happened, I prayed with Day'Rey holding my hand. I asked God to give me strength and he did. I guess he heard me and gave me all the strength I had that night. With all the beatings I took, I did not fight back. I thought to myself that it ain't worth it. The only part of me that hurt was inside of me. I hurt badly inside because I feel guilty of bringing a beautiful baby boy into our lives and we can't even respect each other.
"Jeffrey can hurt me not only physically but mentally, too. It is so hard sometimes, I feel so alone at times, and I barely can see him in the eye the same anymore."
A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves.
This documentary, available online and on DVD, features a wide range of Australian journalists their recounting experiences covering traumatic stories.
Your contributions help the Dart Center nurture informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy worldwide.
The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.