BREESE, Ill. — Tricia McKnight is no stranger to domestic abuse and her mission is to share her story in the hopes it will encourage and help other women get out of violent, abusive situations.
"A lot of them are like me," said McKnight, 48, of Breese. "They were 'trained' to behave in a certain way and accept certain things and not think anything about it. It becomes a pattern of abuse. I spent 32 years afraid to breathe, literally afraid to breathe."
McKnight has written about her lifetime of abuse, from being abused by her stepfather as a child to physical and emotional abuse from husbands. It is all documented in her book "My Justice," which chronicles her heartbreaking and often shocking cycle of abuse.
She started a Facebook support group, Survivor's World, and has helped women from around the world get connected with the help they need to get out of a violent home life. The support group is a private group and accessible by request only.
"I know how hard it is to come forward with your secrets," she said. "A lot of them are sharing their secrets for the very first time and that's a very difficult process."
According to the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois, domestic violence is a pattern, a reign of force and terror. It is not defined by only physical attacks but includes intimidation, threats, economic deprivation, psychological and sexual abuse. Experts have compared methods used by batterers to those used by terrorists to brainwash hostages.
The last beating McKnight endured left her with a spinal cord injury.
"He woke me up at 4 a.m. choking me, then proceeded to beat me with a chair," she said. "He had been out drinking and was angry that I was in bed sleeping. The cops came and told us that one of us had to leave or both of us were going to jail.
"I was furious. I was 37 years old and all I had ever experienced was violence and degradation and abuse and now I was being told I was going to jail if I didn't leave. I made a decision that night that I was never going to tolerate this again."
She and her children moved out of the abusive household and McKnight started seeing a therapist. The therapist is the one who suggested she start writing.
"I wrote to apologize to my kids for what they had to witness in their lives and how it affected their lives," she said. "I wrote to bring about awareness about how horrible this can be for everyone involved. It's a trained pattern of violence acceptance and my kids were learning that pattern."
In her own children, all now adults, she has seen them experiencing problems with maintaining healthy relationships and difficulties with self-confidence.
"So many things have affected them," she said. "When the abuse would start, my children would hide. My kids and I walked on eggshells for a very, very long time."
McKnight has recently been working with Susan Murphy Milano, a domestic violence survivor, radio host, lecturer, first responder trainer and author of several books addressing domestic violence, including "Defending Our Lives," ''Moving Out, Moving On," and "Time's Up." The books help people in abusive situations move away from the abuse and deal with confusing situations surrounding violence prevention, stalking, breakup or divorce.
"We are working on some of the legislation for documenting abuse to get these abusers convicted on these evidentiary abuse documents," McKnight said. "You want to have proof that the violence is happening. Take pictures of the bruises and keep them on a flash drive. You have to reach out to one friend that you trust and let them know what's going on because it is a life or death situation — it really is. I don't know how I am sitting here alive today because I've been choked, almost drowned and had loaded weapons pointed at my face."
McKnight applauded the efforts of St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly to improve the way his office has encouraged metro-east police departments to document domestic violence calls with video evidence to increase the ability of his office to successfully prosecute domestic violence cases, even when the victim isn't a willing party to the prosecution.
"I like the strength they are putting behind the laws," she said. "It's no longer just a slap on the wrist. They've taken it out of the hands of the victims and you know if you call the cops they are coming and they will take him and you'll have time to get help and get support.
"It's going in the right direction, but, nationwide, domestic violence is still not getting the attention it needs. The laws are good and strong. It's the community perception of domestic violence that needs to change. People have to remember we didn't commit these crimes, they were committed against us. It's nothing that we did."
McKnight said she hopes her support group and her speaking out about her own abuse and journey out of an abusive life will give others the courage to get out.
"I'm not the only survivor out there. There are millions of us and a lot of them still keep their secrets," McKnight said. "Most of them keep those secrets even from their families because they are afraid of being shunned and blamed for it."
Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com