"My Sister's Husband Hits Her"

domestic violence

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Family, Heartbreak

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.

She changed physically too. Sarah had always had a full figure, but after she married Owen, she gained a lot of weight. There were dark circles under her eyes. I barely knew who she was. When I tried to talk to her, Sarah got defensive. "You always had to get better grades than me," she yelled. "You always did think you were better." Soon, all we could talk about was shopping, but even that became a loaded gun when Owen told me I was snobby for thinking Target was better than Wal-Mart. Nothing was safe.

The Truth Comes Out
Before Sarah married Owen, I knew nothing about abuse. We grew up in a sheltered, conservative family. Home-schooled until high school, the only TV shows I had seen before I was 15 were Sesame Street, Dallas Cowboy's football games and reruns of Petticoat Junction. I knew nothing about abusive relationships. I didn't know what was happening to Sarah until I got to college and our whole family learned the truth.

Four years after Sarah and Owen were married, my family moved to another state. It was only then that one of my younger sisters, Casey, felt safe enough to tell our parents that Owen had molested her. He'd abused her for three years, from the time Casey was 12 until she was 15. My parents frequently let him babysit and take Casey out on hunting trips. I was heartbroken and angry. Yet, even though this was my first experience with abuse of any kind, I wasn't surprised. How To Know When Sex Is Not Consensual

I went with my mother to tell Sarah. We took her to a friend's house, where we didn't think Owen could find us and begged her to leave, but she said nothing.

"What else is happening?" I asked her. "What else is he doing to you?" Sarah threw her wedding ring across the floor. It bounced off the gray carpet and pinged against the fake oak baseboard. I picked up the ring. I could see places where the yellow gold was worn down to dull silver. I thought it was all over.

A week later, Sarah moved back with Owen. She had forgiven him, she said, and my parents told me to forget and move on. When I mailed the ring back, I didn't bother insuring it. I tried talking to my parents, who urged me to "pray" and "forgive and forget."

"We've all done wrong things," my dad said. When I refused to let it go, they told me I was tearing the family apart. Years later, I learned that it's common for families to hide

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