Shattered Lives

An uplifting yet realistic account of a victim and his loved ones struggling to recover after random violence. Originally published in the Cheboygan Daily Tribune from April 20, 1993, to April 23, 1993. 

Part 1

Debbie met her husband, Glen, after her brother “saved” him in a 7-Eleven convenience store by showing him “the way of the lord.”

“I was just a Christian girl looking for a husband,” the Cheboygan resident said.

Even though Glen was headed for jail at the time for credit card fraud, Debbie believed he could change and was willing to do what it took to stay by his side. She visited him in jail until he was released after serving four months of a two-year sentence. They married a month later.

Debbie, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her children’s identities, became pregnant immediately. But it wasn’t until she was seven months pregnant that the problems began. After a night of drinking, Glen came in and started to hit Debbie.

Terrified and confused, Debbie ran barefoot to her mother’s nearby apartment.

The abuse multiplied from that night onward. Glen sold all of Debbie’s belongings, threw food at her, pulled a gun on his parents and held a knife to her throat after she refused him sexual favors.

But after years of abuse, Debbie found what more and more women in violent households are discovering – the courage to leave.

In 1992, there were 93 reported cases of domestic violence disputes in Cheboygan County, not including an additional 118 civil disputes that may have included domestic violence reported by the Cheboygan County Sheriff Department.

Last year, assault and battery complaints in the Cheboygan County District Court accounted for 20 percent of the overall caseload. And statistics indicate a startling increase over the past few years.

In 1990, 50 cases of assault and battery were filed in the 89 th Cheboygan District Court. In 1991, 63 cases were filed, followed by 85 cases in 1992. January and February of 1993 already show 16 cases filed.

Figures provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) indicate that a woman is physically assaulted within her home every 15 seconds in the United States.

Battery is the single major cause of injury to women, exceeding street rape, muggings or auto accidents.

It is estimated that 4,000 women are beaten to death annually; six million American women are beaten each year by their husbands or boyfriends.

This indicates that women are more likely to be physically assaulted, beaten or killed in their own home by someone they love than any place else in society.

No community, race or economic group is free of domestic violence; several factors that contribute to it exist throughout the nation, including Cheboygan County.

High rates of unemployment and alcoholism are not direct causes of family disputes, just grim excuses for a violence that can’t distinguish between socio-economic or educational barriers.

“Domestic violence in a relationship is not a one-time incident; it’s a lifetime, a lifestyle of fear and control,” said Chris Krajewski, director of the Women’s Resource Center Safehouse – a battered women’s shelter that services five counties in Northern Michigan.

I think we all want an excuse. We all want an easy out for why domestic violence happens,” Krajewski said. “We want this crime, this horrible injustice, to stop. But there is not easy answer because domestic violence is a complicated societal problem.”

There are several reasons why victims of domestic abuse stay in a violent situation, Krajewski said.

Some women would rather stay in a bad relationship than lose financial security. Leaving often means starting from ground zero, which includes giving up a home, car or steady income in return for safety.

In the first year after a divorce, a woman’s standard of living drops by 73 percent, while a man’s improves by an average of 42 percent, according to information compiled by the National Woman Abuse Prevention Project.

Other victims of abuse falsely believe they can change their batterer, that they can rehabilitate him into a healthy relationship.

“The sad thing about the alcohol myth is that many women think that when their partners beat them, that it’s not him, it’s the alcohol,” Krajewski said. “Alcohol does not cause abuse. Sober people beat their partners. Recovering alcoholics beat their partners.”

Many victims attempt to minimize the abuse they endure or learn to tolerate it, she said. Others blame themselves for the abuse and feel they deserve it or think they did something to incite the violence.

Women leave their abusive husbands an average of seven times before they leave for good, Krajewski said.

“We see so much violence today that women are trained to keep the relationship or marriage together,” she said. “Society tells women to go back and try again.”

Marie, who lives in Indian River with her son, understands this too well. She left her abusive husband three times before she filed for divorce.

She started dating Bob when they were both in sixth grade and after graduating from high school they married.

“The problems started right away,” said Marie, who asked that her real name not be used. “The night we got married, he went out golfing and never came home.”

In the next three years of their marriage, Marie started to blame herself for the explosive mood swings Bob directed her way. He kept making promises to stop hitting her and to give up drugs, but those promises were too hard for him to keep.

“The hitting would stop for about a week, but the drugs never did,” she said. “After a while I thought maybe it was my fault for harping on him for coming home so late all the time.

But the promises of change haunted Marie, preventing her from taking steps to escape the turbulent relationship.

“I was worried that I would leave him and he’d finally change and start a great family with someone else,” she remembered. “I thought I would miss out.”

Marie tried to press assault and battery charges on Bob once, but he talked her out of it two months later. Later he beat her so severely – by bashing her head into a wall and the floor – that Marie was convinced that she was going to die.

But still she didn’t prosecute, or even go to the hospital, because she was afraid her parents would find out.

The next time Bob attacked Marie, she changed her mind about everything. She was alone watching television when Bob arrived intoxicated. After she asked him to leave, he started to choke her.

“I thought he was going to kill me,” she said. “I thought to myself, I’ve got to do something because it’s never going to get better.”

So she filed for divorce and pressed assault and battery charges against him. Marie and Bob have been divorced for two years now and he is currently awaiting a court date on separate assault charges against her.

Picking up the pieces after leaving a violent relationship involves a slow healing process for many women.

Almost 10 years after Debbie divorced Glen, she finally feels safe. Glen can’t harm her anymore, as he is serving time in a Carson City prison for armed robbery.

“I left him 12 times in a year, “ the Cheboygan woman remembers, adding she finally left him for good after “he promised me a bullet” if she didn’t obey his orders.

Debbie now avidly attends church – always thanking God for giving her the will to survive.

“Prayer is the only thing that kept my sanity,” Debbie said. “Glen didn’t let me go to church down state, but he did when we moved up here. That was his biggest mistake because that’s how I got all my strength.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a four part series on domestic violence in Cheboygan County. Due to the seriousness of the topic names have been changed to protect the innocent.

A Window of Hope

The town and country décor gives a calming early American feel, in contrast with bunches of modern toys scattered on the floor.

Women gather in the kitchen quietly talking to each other or their children. Some are laughing, others sit quietly and listen. One woman says nothing but methodically wipes down the counter with a washcloth.

These women and children do not know each other but have all come together for the same reason – to seek refuge from a violent partner.

For the past 15 years, the Women’s Resource Center has provided shelter to abused women and children for five Northern Michigan counties. The two-story farmhouse has two full bathrooms, 24 beds and cribs and laundry facilities.

From 1991 through 1992, the Safe Home has provided a safe haven to more than 225 women and children and offered counseling to more than 200 people.

The average stay is 14 days, but women can stay up to 30 days if necessary, said Chris Krajewski, director of the Safe Home. The house is staffed by 12 people and operates a 24-hour crisis line.

The soft décor in the Safe Home is deliberate, Krajewski said.

“We’re dealing with victims, not criminals,” she said. “So it is different here. There isn’t a lot of structure. We’re trying to keep it a lot like ‘home,’ real safe, offering security and confidentiality.

“But no matter how safe we make this place, it’s never a vacation for these women.”

Most women are introduced to the Safe Home through police agencies, women’s advocacy organizations or by calling the Safe Home hotline.

“The hardest step is walking through the front door, because they don’t know what is on the other side,” Krajewski said.

When a woman arrives, she is given access to legal help, support groups and tools to learn how to start over again on her own, she said. Women share their stories with each other and often discover the strength to leave their abusive relationships.

“There’s a lot of pressure on women to make a marriage work from society and also from power and control issues,” she said. “Women believe that they are the bad person by leaving. But the batterer is the one doing the damage. He’s the one that needs to go away and get help.”

A special playroom is set up for children who come to the Safe Home. This usually provides an outlet for emotions the children have held in throughout their ordeals.

“With kids, there’s just a look of relief on their faces,” Krajewski said. “They can sing, dance, and be happy. Kids realize soon that the tension is gone and that’s beautiful.

“A lot of people say to me, ‘Chris, isn’t it tough going to work every day?’ Well, it’s tough, but there’s a beauty in seeing this tension relieved.”

The 24-hour Crisis and Information line is (231) 347-0082 or (800) 275-1995. Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan, Inc. (formerly named The Cheboygan Women’s Resource Center) is at 520 N. Main Street, (231) 627-2380. The Petoskey office is at 423 Porter Street, (231) 347-0067.

I Need Help!

The dynamics of domestic violence are extremely complicated. But several area organizations are available to offer assistance in escaping an abusive situation.

When a child is abused or neglected the state agency that most often gets involved in the situation is the Department of Social Services.

The state mandated agency investigates allegations of child abuse or neglect within a home. Approximately 70 percent of social service referrals are outside interventions, said John Waisanen, volunteer coordinator for DSS.

The majority of claims, almost 75 percent, are for parental neglect and abuse of children. This includes the failure to feed a child or provide education, medical care and clothing.

When investigating a complaint, parents are often angry or confused about who alerted the agency to possible abuse.

“Most folks, probably 95 percent, want to be good parents,” Waisanen said. “Once they get past the initial denial, most of them will sit down and cooperate.”

Any children involved in an investigation are questioned separately from their parents to prevent intimidation. The level of risk is also evaluated to protect the civil liberties of everyone involved.

If credible evidence is found to support allegations of abuse, DSS will take steps to remove the child from a detrimental situation, Waisanen said.

If the child is not safe in his or her own home, DSS will place the child in a foster family, he said. This only happens in about 10 percent of abuse/neglect cases. Most children can stay with relatives, the perpetrator may leave or the mother might choose to leave to a women’s shelter.

With rehabilitation as the main goal of these crimes, many families are enrolled in parenting classes, support groups and/or counseling.

“Very often, we find that these are downtrodden folk who have been down for a long time,” Waisanen said. “They need to find self-esteem.

“Getting folks to support groups is difficult though. Most often the people who don’t go are the ones who need it the most.”

The Department of Social Services is located in the Cheboygan County Building, (616) 627-8500.

The Women’s Resource Center is a non-profit, community base organization that serves women and families in Northern Michigan.

Established in 1977, it services Emmet, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Otsego and Antrim counties.

The center has two offices, in Cheboygan and Petoskey, and offer several services including counseling, a domestic violence program, career, job and training services, day care and preschool and information regarding support groups on parenting, careers, sexual assault and divorce.

  • Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan, Inc. (formerly Women’s Resource Center) Cheboygan Office, 520 N. Main Street, Cheboygan, MI 49721 (231) 627-2380

Other organizations providing support and assistance to victims of domestic violence include:

  • Crime Victim Assistant Program, offered through the Cheboygan County Prosecuting Attorney. This service offers information, support, emergency services and informs victims of their legal rights. Call (231) 627-8879
  • Legal Services of Northern Michigan provides free legal assistance to eligible applicants for problems with spouse abuse, public benefits, utility payments or bill collectors. Those receiving AFDC, GA, SSI or whose income is at or below federal poverty guidelines may be eligible.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233