Editor’s note: Though “Scarlett” was willing to use her real name in this article, A News Café chose to withhold it for privacy and safety reasons.
She’s a twenty-something north state woman with beautiful eyes and a smile that blows away shadows. She’d hang the moon – and a few planets, too – for her child. A single mom, she takes care of them both with her office job.
Scarlett loves to sing and dance. As a teenager, she placed second in a national dancing competition for her age group. She was the lead vocalist in a band for a few years.
Her friends describe her as kindhearted, helpful and a pillar of strength. Her boss calls her a great worker who makes things happen.
Scarlett grew up in a loving, stable home. “I had a very normal childhood,” she said. “My family was very close. Our parents and grandparents were very involved in our lives. There was no divorce or abuse.”
Which makes what happened to her seem all the more surprising. But domestic violence is a crime that does not discriminate.
Night of horror
April 26, 2003. It’s a date Scarlett can’t forget, the numbers burned into her memory like a scar.
“He almost killed me,” she said.
“He” was Brandon (not his real name), a man she met while serving in the Navy. Scarlett joined the military after she graduated from high school. “I just woke up and said, ‘I’m going to go,’” she said. “Boot camp was in the Midwest. There I was, a California girl with snow up to my head.”
Scarlett served on an aircraft carrier for about eight months in the Persian Gulf. Her time in the military honed her work ethic and taught her “how to bite my tongue and not talk back as much,” she said.
When she returned home to the north state, Brandon came with her. He wasn’t the first guy she’d dated who prompted questions from friends and family about why she was with him. “I was dating people that weren’t right for me,” she said. “It was me being very insecure and not thinking I deserved any better.”
Scarlett’s mother remembered that Brandon “had a vulnerability about him and could be very charming … he was the romantic bad guy.” But she was concerned about his anger and emotional hardness.
Brandon was the first guy who struck Scarlett in anger. “I’d recognize red flags and know it wasn’t good, but it’s like that got shut off because my insecurities would step up,” Scarlett said. “I knew I was unhappy and scared, but I didn’t know how to stop.”
And so she found herself lying barely conscious in the bathtub of a Bay Area motel that spring night seven years ago. Brandon, she said, had left the room for a while, came back, and “just lost it. It was like he was just gone.”
From about 9 p.m. Friday until 7 or 8 the next morning, she said, he trashed the room – and her. He hit Scarlett till she was bruised and bleeding. He broke the phone and took her cell phone. He picked Scarlett up over his shoulder and tossed her into the shower. “I blacked out,” she said. “I remember coming to and laying in the bathtub with him over me. He kept going. Like I was a punching bag.”
A voice in her head told her she would survive this. She would not leave that room in a body bag.
Somebody finally knocked on the door to complain about the noise. Scarlett said Brandon shut her in the bathroom and told the person he and his girlfriend were celebrating some good news. “I wanted to scream but couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t move or focus enough to say ‘help me.’”
The beating continued. Scarlett felt like she had left her body. She kept telling herself she would get out of this alive and go home.
Then Brandon threw her on the bed and whispered in her ear that he was going to kill her. That it was time to think her last thoughts. For the first time, Scarlett thought she was going to die. He started choking her.
Then, she believes, something supernatural occurred.
“I don’t know what happened – for me, it was something spiritual,” she said. “He literally flew off me and hit the wall. I remember moving to a corner of the room. He said he was going out for a cigarette, then coming back to finish me off.”
Scarlett felt like somebody was picking her up and telling her to go. Brandon had left the room key inside. She staggered to the door, slammed it shut and locked it. “It was a metal door,” she remembered. “It was literally bulging, he was pounding so hard.”
She looked down, and her cell phone was in her hand. “To this day, I don’t know how it got there,” she said. She called her parents for help.
Scarlett’s mom answered that call. “I remember listening to him pound on the hotel room door screaming for her to let him back in as she sobbed into the phone with us,” she said. “I talked to her on the home phone while (Scarlett’s dad) talked to the police on his cell phone. It was horrible.”
Police arrested Brandon, who spent 30 days in jail. Scarlett asked them to go easy on him – something she still regrets. He was put on probation and ordered to take anger management classes. Eventually he moved out of state.
The cycle of violence
Women find themselves involved with abusive men for a number of reasons, said Maggie John, director of Shasta Women’s Refuge. “Most of these relationships start with caring,” she said. “It starts with what seems to be love.”
Children raised in a home with domestic violence experience that as their norm, she said, so it is not unusual for them to repeat the pattern as adults, both as perpetrators and victims. But that is not always the case, as Scarlett’s story shows. “It hits every range of individual, from every kind of background,” John said.
The abuser is seeking power and control. “We keep calling them perpetrators, but they’re really predators,” she said. “They can find someone that they know they can control. People are sometimes surprised when they find out someone’s an abuser. They’re cunning at hiding these things in a social setting, and the victim’s not going to want to do anything to indicate a problem.”
The violence typically follows a pattern. “It starts with the dynamic of a caring relationship – we call it the ‘honeymoon,’” John said. “Tension mounts, then ultimately there’s an explosion.” The abuser then often apologizes and demonstrates caring behavior.
“Over time the ‘honeymoon’ gets shorter and shorter, the tension gets stronger, and the explosions get more lethal,” she said. “It’s known as the cycle of violence.”
Tragedy can result if the victim does not leave or get help. On Aug. 15, Bella Vista mother-of-two Randal Leigh Wert, 24, was fatally stabbed in her driveway during an alleged domestic dispute with her longtime boyfriend. Wert’s 7-year-old daughter witnessed the killing and told deputies that “dad stabbed mom,” according to a sheriff’s report. Ty Rone Pitts, 48, has pleaded not guilty to the stabbing and remains in Shasta County Jail, awaiting a March 15 trial date.
John noted that court records show a history of domestic violence at the family’s home prior to Wert’s tragic death. “This little girl had been seeing things for several years,” she said.
John said there’s a saying common at the Women’s Refuge: If you think you can’t afford to leave, you can’t afford to stay. “There is help,” she said. “The most important thing is for these women to realize they’re not alone.”
Though difficult to understand from the outside, abused women frequently take back or return to the men who hurt them. “Typically your self-esteem has been reduced to where you don’t have any self-value or worth,” John said. “There is a great deal of fear.”
Scarlett was no different.
“I saw him (Brandon) a few more times,” she admitted. “I know somebody who hadn’t been through that would say, ‘How the hell could you do that?’ You are so confused and messed up – you are scared, but you’re so messed up that you bring him back. He was very good at saying he was sorry. You’re going ‘OK, OK.’ You’re already broken down so much that you can’t find who you are anymore to say, ‘This isn’t right.’ You go for it, you believe it.”
Eventually, Scarlett told Brandon to leave her alone.
But that experience didn’t stop her from falling in love with – and marrying – another man who would start exhibiting abusive behavior a few years later.
Candace L. Brown has been a magazine and newspaper reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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