She married a charming, charismatic man, and the changes were so subtle she didn't really notice for a long time.
He started offering her advice "for her own good." She had the feeling he was insulting her, but it was all unclear: "You look terrible and so does the house, but dinner was good," he'd say.He didn't like her friends and family, so she became more and more isolated. When they went out together, he embarrassed her publicly.
He complained they didn't have enough money, so she took a job. Then he complained because she wasn't home. When she became tired and depressed and finally quit, he nodded sagely. "I told you you were worthless. You can't even hold a job."
She was getting fat and ugly, he said. So she lost weight and fixed herself up. Then he accused her of having affairs.
Finally, he hit her. And she found herself and her two children at the YWCA, among the 1,400 women and children to seek refuge in the Women in Jeopardy program in Salt Lake last year.
The shelter is the oldest and largest of Utah's seven battered women shelters, with a 50-bed capacity. Typically it's two-thirds full. A woman and her children, if she has any, who are under 12 can stay for up to 30 days a year. Seventy-two percent of those seeking refuge have never been served by the shelter or social services programs before. And nearly 60 percent of the women are lower to upper middle class.
"People like to believe spouse abuse is a social disease for the poor or a question of color, or it happens to those who themselves grew up with domestic violence," said Debra Daniels, assistant executive director. "That's a link, but we see all backgrounds. Regardless of background, there's a definite pattern - the honeymoon period, then building of tension, then battering. The unpredictable is no one knows what will trigger an incident. And not all battering is physical. Some of the most cruel is emotional and psychological."
While in the program, women receive individual and group counseling and attend two support groups a week. The YWCA provides day care for them during those sessions.
The program focuses on education: telling a woman that it's not her fault. That battering is not part of a healthy relationship. That she can't change him by changing her own behavior. Often, the most important step is restoring her sense of self-worth after it's been eroded.
A woman frequently leaves the shelter and returns home. But the number is dwindling, Daniels said. Years ago, it was about 88 percent. Daniels estimates the number is now at least 20 percent lower. Many who do leave continue to attend support groups. And the average stay in the program has risen from nine days three years ago to 14 days.
"The program's comprehensive now," she said. "We have more money to help people live independently and have options if they choose not to go back. Women are being empowered and gaining strength, learning `I can be in charge of my life. I don't have to live this way in fear.' "
The YWCA subcontracts with the Children's Center to evaluate 2- to 7-year-olds. A teacher from the Salt Lake School District offers tutors children for a half-day five days a week. The center provides child care and an art therapist works with the youngsters. Referrals are made for those who need long-term counseling, since the shelter is a crisis center.
"We're a beginning," Daniels said. "We're here to help women learn they don't have to live that way. And we're here all the time."
For more information, contact the YWCA, 322 E. Third South, 355-2804.