"My Sister's Husband Hits Her"

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domestic violence
Domestic abuse advice: What to do when someone you love is in a violent relationship.

Every year, 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence. One of them is my sister.

At 29, Sarah is two years older than me and on the surface we are nothing alike. She is short with thick curly hair. I'm tall with stick straight hair. I have glasses; she has what our mom calls "eagle eyes." Sarah and I were close growing up. When she was seven and I was five, she took our frog, Gilly, to a pet show. When it came time to stand in front of the judges and talk about Gilly, Sarah froze. I ran through the crowd, grabbed her hand and began speaking for her. Everyone laughed, but Sarah squeezed my hand. I always thought we'd be like that—holding hands, facing together what we couldn't do on our own.

Sarah met Owen her freshman year of college. She told me they met as he was mowing the lawn on campus. One of her friends said they met online. Years later, our brother said they met at a party. I still don't know the truth. But that didn't worry me; what worried me was Owen.

Three months after meeting Owen, Sarah dropped out of college and moved home, bringing Owen with her. The first time I met him, he called me "honey."

"My name is Lyz," I said, thinking he had forgotten my name.

"What are you, some sort of feminazi bitch?" He said, his face getting red. I looked to Sarah for help, but she was biting her lip looking out the window.

It only got worse from there; Owen hid porn magazines in our basement where my younger brothers and sisters played. When my parents weren't around he called me a "snobby whore" and asked me if I would strip for him. He yelled at my siblings when they played too loudly and told them that our mom was a "bitch." When I talked to Sarah about it, she grew defiant. "He loves me. He said you'd be jealous." She ran out of the room whenever I brought up the subject. One day, Owen backed me in a corner and told me to stop interfering. Owen is tall and weights over 300 pounds. He glowered down at me, and I was afraid. When Sex Is A Weapon: Surviving Date Rape

To my parents, Owen acted the part of the jolly, down-to-earth, good ole boy: he drank beer with my dad, hunted and wore camouflage. He called my mom "ma'am," but when Sarah and Owen announced their engagement, he didn't go the traditional, gentlemanly route. "We're getting married," he said. "If you don't like it, too bad." It seemed like a threat.

After they got married, Owen and Sarah moved into their own apartment. Only a year into their marriage, Owen cheated on my sister and frequently used pot and cocaine. He shifted from job to job, working as a bouncer, on a lawn crew and as a loan collector. Sometimes he disappeared on the weekends. I often saw him screaming at her for little things like getting up during a movie or eating the last cookie. When I tried to talk to her, she'd just laugh, her brown eyes flat and dull. "Owen said you'd be judgmental." Talking to her became difficult. Sarah used to be quiet and shy. Now she seemed forcefully happy. "Smile, Jesus loves you!" she chirped on her voicemail.

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