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'I knew I had to get out': One woman's escape from domestic abuse
Domestic Violence Awareness

'I knew I had to get out': One woman's escape from domestic abuse

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Addressing abuse

Agnes Kirby speaks about her experiences with domestic abuse during Bethany Apartment's annual "Heart of the Family: Strength Through Community" event Saturday at Infusino's Banquet Hall, 3201 Rapids Drive.

RACINE — Agnes Kirby became tearful as she recounted her more than three-year struggle with domestic abuse.

“It starts out very subtle,” Kirby said as she addressed a group at Infusino’s Banquet Hall on Saturday. “The majority of the time you are in the situation, you don’t even realize that it is happening.”

Kirby talked about the first time that she was assaulted by her ex-husband, which was after an argument about how she was parenting her teenage son.

Her ex disagreed with her decision, and as she headed up the stairs, Kirby said he grabbed her by the hair, pulled her down a flight of stairs, got on top of her and started hitting her. This was a week after the two were married.

Afterwards, Kirby said he apologized, saying how sorry he was and how he didn’t know how it happened. These apologies, Kirby said, make a mark on an abuse victim.

“It really does reel you back in,” Kirby said.

Kirby was the guest speaker at the “Heart of the Family: Strength through Community” event at Infusino’s Banquet Hall, 3225 Rapids Drive, on Saturday.

The annual fundraiser was held by Bethany Apartments, an organization that offers transitional housing to women and their children who have experienced abuse or violence. The event also aimed to bring awareness to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is October.

Cycle of abuse

Kirby said the next assault occurred about three to six months after the first. “After the second assault, he was very ‘I don’t know what happens to me,’ ‘I think there is a monster,’ ‘I need counseling.’ “

Kirby said she agreed to counseling, but from there, the abuse started happening more frequently. She found herself trapped in a cycle.

She said she began to be fearful of how her ex would react, adjusting her own behavior in hopes to prevent future abuse: “You start to auto-correct how you treat them because you want a good day,” she said.

Kirby said her abuser controlled everything — finances, bank accounts and vehicles, as well as her social media accounts and cellphone — often contacting her friends and family pretending to be her and asking that they leave her alone and be supportive of her marriage.

This lead to Kirby’s isolation, a goal of many abusers: “A lot of times, the abuser is the puppetmaster of your isolation,” Kirby said, tearfully.

Kirby said her abuser even threatened to harm her children if she left the relationship: “That’s when I knew I had to get out sooner than later, or I wasn’t going to get out. It’s taking that power over, that is the hardest step.”

It took Kirby over three years to leave the relationship. She found a job and relied on the support of her friends and family for emotional support.

Although her ex kept trying to meddle in her life, Kirby stayed strong and did not go back. She began talking about what happened to her.

“Once I had opened up to one person, it was amazing to see how many people deal with this on a regular basis,” Kirby said.

It’s years later, Kirby said, and her abuser still tries to make contact with her. She urges those struggling to escape domestic abuse to not engage with their abuser in any way.

“I think if there is anything anyone leaves here today with is acknowledgement is a doorway to future abuse,” Kirby said. “The best thing I did was to stop acknowledging him.”

Being an advocate and telling her story was how Kirby took the power back from her abuser, Kirby said.

Bethany House beginnings

To date, Bethany Apartments, 806 Wisconsin Ave., has provided housing to 282 women and 410 children since the first client moved in during the week of Nov. 12, 1990.

At the event, Sister Evelyn Lins, who was Bethany’s first executive director, and Sister Jean Verber, who was its first board president, were honored.

After nearly 30 years, Lins said that she was “very proud” of Bethany Apartments and where it is now.

For more information about Bethany Apartments, go to www.bethanyapartments.org or call 262-633-9446.

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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