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Tragically, domestic violence victims have lots of company

As she struggles to care for her young daughter after moving back in with her mother, it would be understandable if 23-year-old Brittney R. didn’t feel that lucky these days.

She was out of an increasingly violent relationship with her estranged husband, but she also had lost her perceived independence and was forced to start over.

It didn’t begin that way. But, gradually, her boyfriend became increasingly physically abusive. Marriage was no cure. The battering worsened by degrees.

Should she stay and hope, even pray, he grew out of his behavior. Or should she leave, feel like a failure, and give up on their life together?

It’s a question women caught in the nightmare of domestic violence repeatedly ask themselves.

Then it happened.

“My husband was abusive to me before we got married and after,” says Brittney, a client at Safe Nest, a nonprofit shelter and resource center. “We’ve had quite a few incidents, but not any that involved cops until last year. When he hit me in the face while I was holding my daughter, I knew I had to do something.”

Police responded. Her husband was arrested. He went before a judge, was ordered to attend a domestic violence class, and she began divorce proceedings.

“I drew the line because it involved my daughter,” she says. “It traumatized her.”

Then she admits he hit her while she was pregnant.

“I was stupid,” she says. “I believed in my vows, for better or worse.”

Trouble is, domestic violence victims always get the worst of it.

Unlike many women in her Safe Nest class, Brittney says she wasn’t raised in a violent household. She recalls being brought up by a loving single mother and caring stepfather. It was her mother who pressed Brittney to break free.

“I know there are situations where women feel they can’t leave,” she says. “My mother came in and helped me pack up my stuff and took me home with her. She had gone and actually paid for all the divorce papers. If it wasn’t for my mom, I’d probably still be with him in that crappy situation.”

Brittney’s life is tangled, but she acknowledges she has heard far worse stories in her class at Safe Nest. Other women have described nearly being beaten to death.

Lately, she has heard tragic tales on the news. There’s the one about Marybeth Franta, the 50-year-old Molasky Junior High teacher who was beaten and strangled, police believe, by her husband, Mark Franta. Her body was dumped like common garbage behind an Albertsons in the northwest end of the valley. Mark Franta’s bail has been set at $1 million.

That’s hardly the only suspected domestic violence incident to splash onto the front page. Recent anecdotal evidence suggests we are experiencing an epidemic.

Just recently , a North Las Vegas man was charged with attempting to kill his wife by shoving her off a cliff at Lake Mead. She survived.

Another man stabbed his girlfriend to death and then committed suicide.

In early November, Sagittarius Gomez was stabbed to death with a butcher knife in her East Sahara Avenue apartment during what police believe was a domestic dispute. Gomez’s boyfriend, Eric Covington, was arrested.

“Every time I go to class I’m hearing about it,” Brittney says. “We talk about things that are happening on the news. A lot of women in the class have dealt with physical abuse. It breaks my heart, especially when children are involved. It breaks my heart to see them go through that. I went through it. I know I’m not alone.”

As her life wounds begin to heal, and the path leading away from abuse takes shape, Brittney knows she’s one of the lucky ones.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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