WEST FARGO — A 28-year-old mother told a luncheon crowd of 365 people here about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband.
During the YWCA of Cass Clay event on Thursday, Feb. 13, she described beatings, one of which resulted in the loss of a child she was carrying in her womb.
She described being raped over the course of the marriage, despite pleading with her then-husband to not touch her. Repeatedly impregnating her, she believes, was his way of making sure she wouldn’t leave him.
During an interview with The Forum after the luncheon, she said the rapes and emotional abuse were the most difficult to endure before she finally left him a year and a half ago.
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“Still to this day, I'm picking up those pieces. That's the harsh reality of it. It doesn't just end the day you leave,” she said.
The woman lives in North Dakota and her first name is Kim, but The Forum is not revealing her last name or her image. Typically, that’s done to protect privacy.
In this case, Kim was open and outspoken in telling her story to the large gathering, which was held to thank supporters of the YWCA emergency shelter where Kim sought help.
However, since her ex-husband has never been convicted of a crime related to her abuse allegations, The Forum elected not to include details that would identify her.
It’s not that Kim never called the police.
As is true in many cases like this, Kim did seek criminal charges against her then-husband after she said he beat and raped her one night. But she later requested the charges be dropped after he cried, apologized and asked her to give him another chance.
“For two weeks he kept it up, begging me not to tear our family apart,” she said.
The two met in high school and it was “young love,” she told the crowd. Then they got pregnant with their first child while still in school. “That’s when things started to get rocky,” she said.
He cheated on her after that, resulting in arguments and breakups. But they reconciled, and he proposed.
After they got married, and things were seemingly good, he was unfaithful again, she said. Whenever she tried to talk to him about it, he became angry.
Yelling turned into pushing, hitting and punching, she said. Then he would be sorry, and things would be good again for a while, before the cycle began repeating itself, over and over.
Rape: ‘That’s exactly what it was’
Kim said when her husband beat her, he’d come to bed at night like nothing had happened. He ignored her pleas to leave her alone.
“At first I didn’t think of it as rape, but eventually, I realized that’s exactly what it was,” she said.
The stress was immense.
Kim’s husband had trouble staying employed, but he wanted her to stay home and raise their children. As bills and debt piled up, she got a job. However, he’d feel insecure about her working and the abuse would get worse, she said.
Focused on taking care of children and making ends meet, she was not taking care of herself.
At work, she collapsed and was taken to a hospital, where she was given fluids. When her husband came to pick her up, he wouldn’t let her in the car, instead forcing her to walk home from the hospital.
Asked why she never sought additional criminal charges against him, Kim said many women like her don’t.
“They see it as either A: It will make things worse or B: Nobody's gonna believe them,” she said.
She does have a two-year order of protection against her ex, preventing him from contacting her or their children.
A better life
Kim finally decided to leave her husband one night after he attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital. She was afraid that when he got out, he would hurt her and the children.
Her sister suggested she call the YWCA emergency shelter in Fargo. Staff there told her they had a place for her family. “We left, and I never looked back,” she said.
Through the resources and support of the YWCA, Kim got back on her feet. Now, she works full-time at a child care center and takes college classes online, seeking a career as a teacher of special needs children.
She copes with nightmares and panic attacks, but is working through them with help from a counselor.
She said she decided to share her story with others after joining a Facebook group for victims of domestic violence, and seeing so many stories of women feeling stuck in their circumstances.
At the Champions of Empowerment Luncheon where Kim stood at the podium, she received a standing ovation, before and after she spoke.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.