Breaking the cycle of domestic violence

Melissa Dohme Hill was just 20 years old when her ex-boyfriend viciously attacked her.

He stabbed her 32 times in the neck, face, arms and hands — as he attempted to murder her.

She’d broken up with him three months earlier. The attack occurred when she went outside to fulfill his request for a final goodbye hug.

She was rushed to the hospital, where she flatlined four times and suffered a stroke in the emergency room. Her entire blood volume was replaced twice.

Melissa Dohme Hill, who lives in San Antonio, survived a vicious attack from an ex-boyfriend and now gives talks around the country about how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, and how to extricate yourself from the situation. (B.C. Manion)

Today, she is married to Cameron Hill, a retired Clearwater firefighter, who was one of the first responders. They live in San Antonio.

Her attacker is in prison, serving a life sentence.

During the past seven years, Hill has shared her story in national and international publications.

She has appeared on 48 Hours: Live to Tell, Inside Edition, Good Morning America, The Today Show, BBC News, Fox News, CNN, Nancy Grace on HLN, and other programs.

Recently, she spoke at a breakfast meeting of WOW TOO, which stands for Women of Trinity and Odessa (It’s a spinoff group from Women of Wesley Chapel).

“The media attention has given me this platform, but I truly feel that speaking out has been what’s healed my heart during these last seven years,” Hill told the group.

“Through Hands Across The Bay, I’m heard as an advocate. I am heard in the community, I’m heard in schools.

“The only spotlight that matters to me is the one in this room that today we’re shining on domestic violence. It’s dark and hidden, but a completely preventable issue,” Hill said.

After playing a 30-second video clip that recounted her horrific experience, Hill said: “The attack was one night of my life, so I’m not here to tell you the story of the attack. That night does not define me. It really was one night in my life.”

Instead, she seeks to raise awareness about the danger signs of abusive relationships and to offer tools to help end the cycle of violence.

Domestic violence is an epidemic, Hill said.

“One in three women and one in four men, right now, have been victims of some form of rape, physical violence or stalking; and, really frightening — one in three teenagers.

“These are startling numbers,” she said.

“People think of domestic violence as happening to poor, uneducated, minorities. That is false. It is a myth. It happens to individuals of all walks of life.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, how much money you make, your social status, if you’re a male or female, LBGTQ relationships, all walks of life. This does not discriminate.

“This doesn’t happen on the first date. It’s over time and gradual, and happens in a cycle of abuse,” she said.

It also can happen in all kinds of relationships, including friendships, and can occur in many ways.

“People think that domestic violence has to be physical or sexual violence. Those are just two forms. There are many forms of abuse that may not cause physical harm, but they cause emotional pain, mental abuse, verbal abuse, financial and emotional abuse,” she said.

Learning about the cycle of violence is important, so people — both young and old — can recognize unhealthy relationships, Hill said.

Heed early warning signs
“It’s all about power and control. That means alcohol does not cause abuse to happen. Your negative childhood experiences does not cause abuse to happen. It’s strictly a desire to gain and maintain power and control, whatever form they can do that,” she said.

“In an abusive relationship, everything starts in the honeymoon phase, and everything is amazing, and perfect, and loving. Almost too good to be true.

“But, as time goes on, they may start nitpicking you, and criticizing you, and isolating you, withdrawing affection. They may start yelling at you.

“All of these things are building up to something physical happening. You’re hit. You’re pushed. You’re slapped. You’re imprisoned to where you can’t leave. Rape or strangulation. Something happens,” she said.

Her ex-boyfriend strangled her three times before they broke up. The murder attempt happened three months after she left.

After a breakup is a dangerous time, she said: “It’s when the majority of murders occur.”

She now believes she never would have experienced her attack, if she’d known the early warning signs.

In retrospect, she realizes that the change in their relationship happened when she was getting ready to graduate from high school.

“I planned to move on. I had scholarships. I was getting all of this attention. I was going to get into the Early Learners program. I was going to be a (neonatal) nurse. I had all of these goals.

“He hated this. He belittled me. He would put me down. He started calling me names. He was angry. He just had a temper.

“I didn’t want to be treated this way,” she said, so she tried to break it off.

He told her that as his girlfriend, she should be helping him, not abandoning him.

He threatened to kill himself if she left.

She stayed thinking she could help.

Now, she realizes: “If somebody is saying these things to you, you need to seek help; they need to seek help. You can’t hold your life, or someone else’s life, over their head to make them do what you want them to do.”

It’s important to pay attention to patterns. If your friends are voicing concerns, it’s a good idea to listen, she said.

“If you see a red flag popping up, you need to see that as a warning flag that’s saying, ‘Turn around the other direction. This is dangerous, if you continue.’

“Once you are aware of the cycle of abuse, you can break the cycle,” she said.

As Hill makes her appearances, she refers to herself as a ‘sur-thriver.’

“As it’s said, ‘For every wound there’s a scar and every scar tells a story.’

“I survived.

“I don’t blame anyone, but my attacker, for what happened.

“I feel God saved my life to speak across our country to youth.

“Every single one of you in this room, and all of us on this earth, has a very special purpose.

“You can’t live out the purpose of the woman next to you,” she told the women at the breakfast meeting in Trinity.

“You were given this God-given purpose. You have a story, and your story could be the words that someone else needs to hear to unlock their prison,” Hill said.

“I’ve learned through all of this: Change your choices, change your life,” she said.

Help is available
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233
National Dating Abuse Text Line: Text: “loveis” to 22522
Pasco-Sunrise: (352) 521-3120

Red flags, warning signs of an abuser:

  • Extreme jealousy
  • Possessiveness
  • Unpredictability/bad temper
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Verbal abuse
  • Extremely controlling behavior
  • Forced sex
  • Blaming the victim for everything
  • Controls all finances
  • Makes accusations of cheating/flirting
  • Controls what the victim wears and how he/she acts
  • Embarrasses or demeans the victim in front of others
  • Harasses the victim at work

Source: www.HandsAcrossTheBay.org (Information was adapted from NCADV.org)

Loves me …

  • Makes me feel safe, loved and comfortable
  • Trusts me
  • Is truthful
  • Likes that I have other friends
  • Supports what I want to do in life
  • Respects me and my family
  • Treats me as an equal
  • Understands my need to be alone, or with family and friends
  • Listens to my opinions and is understanding of my feelings
  • Admits to being wrong

Loves me not …

  • My partner is jealous and possessive
  • Tries to control me
  • Gets violent or loses temper quickly
  • Always blames me
  • Keeps me from seeing friends and family
  • Makes all of the decisions
  • Hurts me and makes me cry
  • Is always ‘checking in’ on me with excessive calls, texts and social media
  • Takes money or controls finances
  • Embarrasses, bullies or puts me down
  • Makes me feel afraid
  • Rushes into relationship
  • Threatens suicide if I don’t listen or stay quiet

Source: www.HandsAcrossTheBay.org

Safety Plan
Before leaving, consider having an “escape bag,” and keep it somewhere the abuser is unlikely to find it. It should include:

  • Birth certificates, social security cards, credit cards, cash, credit cards, checkbook
  • Medications, important records, insurance policies
  • Extra set of car keys, baby items, change of clothes. (If you think your abuser will find it, put clothes in, too, and call it a ‘hurricane bag’)

After you leave
This is most dangerous time. It is vital you have a plan. There is no reason to ever meet up or talk to your abuser alone.

  • Get to a safe place. See if you can stay with a friend or family members. If not, seek shelter at a domestic violence shelter.
  • Consider filing for a restraining order and don’t drop it for any reason.
  • Change your phone number and service provider.
  • Change the locks on your doors and locks on your windows; install a security system with alarms.
  • Inform work, school, friends, family and neighbors of the situation. Tell them to call 911 if they see the abuser, suspect suspicious activity or hear screaming.
  • If you have children: Be sure to change the pick-up authorization for your child and inform your child.
  • Take different routes while traveling.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Carry mace, your keys between your fingers and have your phone out, ready to call 911. Check around and under your car.
  • Seek counseling.

Published March 13, 2019

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