“I was barely 18 years old when we got married,” Carol*, a Carbondale local, recalls about her first marriage. “The first time we had sex was to consummate the marriage. He raped me.”

Carol, who was head of multiple non-profits in the valley just a few years ago, spoke candidly about her first marriage and the abuse her husband would regularly put her through.

Throughout their marriage, Carol’s ex-husband would force himself on her even during menstruation. He began whittling away at her spirit by embarrassing her in front of his co-workers, criticizing her cooking skills, and telling her she could not accept a full-time job. “You can’t do that! Who would take care of the children?” he had said to Carol when she approached him to discuss an opportunity to earn income.

“I was so wrapped up in the abuse I started saying it was my fault,” the young mother of two at the time, remembers. “He was emotionally and physically abusive [to me]. He was not a good father figure either. He couldn’t be bothered with the children. When he didn’t show up for our 3 year old son’s surgery, that’s when I knew it was enough.”

Whispers of stories similar to Carol’s can be heard in the shadows of communities across America. Families that are torn apart because of abusive spouses. Teenagers who isolate themselves from friends because their partner refuses to let them socialize. Mothers afraid to leave their abusive husbands because they have no control over their finances.

Carbondale is not immune to this reality and it’s time we address it.

October marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a nationwide initiative dedicated to breaking the cycle of silence and abuse in intimate partnerships.

Close to home

Anna Ramirez, Executive Assistant, Records Manager, and Public Relations Officer for the Carbondale Police, states that, “Domestic violence is anytime the victim is afraid for themselves. Some examples of domestic violence include grabbing and taking the phone from a victim so they cannot call for help, throwing things, forceful sex, and more.”

Since January 2019, the Carbondale Police Department has received over 40 reported incidents of domestic violence. In the last year nearly 40 Coloradans died at the hands of an abuser, according to the AP News.

Based on the 40 reported incidents this year, the average age of Carbondale locals involved in domestic violence is 38. Of those individuals, 52 percent identify as male and 47 percent identify as female, with the remainder not identifying with either gender. In terms of ethnicity, 72 percent of the reported incidents are non-hispanic or latino, 18 percent identify as hispanic or latino, and 10 percent are unknown.

Ramirez notes that these reported incidents do not show a full picture of domestic violence in Carbondale.

“The victim often says [the abuse] has been happening for years and they never reported it until it got worse or someone else reported it,” she explains.

For some victims in Carbondale, fear of deportation is a reason that stops them from calling the police. Local police have been working hard to dispel the misconception that they are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“We are not here to call immigration,” Ramirez emphasizes. ”We are here to help and make sure everybody stays safe. We do everything we can to help the victim. They are our main priority.”

Janet Gordon, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Carbondale, also agrees that “domestic violence is way underreported [in Carbondale]. There are so many facets and pieces as to why a victim stays. The stigma, secrecy, desire to make it work, [inability] to move for economic reasons all make it difficult for a victim to leave.”

Along with deportation, some victims in Carbondale stay with their abusers because they are unable to afford leaving them, according to Gordon. Victims experiencing economic abuse often do not have control over their finances making it challenging for them to move or pay their bills.

“The rental market is incredibly hard here.” Gordon elaborates. “Trying to find housing is so difficult. Victims sometimes have kids or pets that make it harder to relocate. Sometimes [the victim] fears that if they leave [their abuser] they will lose everything.”

Additionally, Gordon notes that domestic violence negatively impacts Carbondale’s economy. “Part of [economic] abuse is trouble at work because the abuser calls and harasses the victim there. Oftentimes the victim will  callout sick, miss hours, or even lose their job as a result of the abuser. Women, in particular, often have spotty resumes because of abuse. The more supportive an employer can be,  the better.”

Sarah Buckley, Community Education Advocate for Advocate Safehouse Project (ASP), agrees. “Some victims have had their paychecks withheld from them by abusers or were unable to leave the house to cash their checks. We have to take into account that when people call us they might not have any money.”

A way out

ASP is a local nonprofit dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault through education, empowerment, advocacy, and safehousing. In 2018, ASP provided 1,774 nights of safehousing which included people staying in the safehouse or emergency hotel shelters, according to Buckley.

“Since each situation is so different, our services are specialized to the needs of the survivor.” Buckley states, “We work hard to meet the survivors where they are at. The most important thing is empowering the victim to decide what they want to do with their life and let them make their own decisions.”

Specifically, ASP offers gift cards for food and clothing so the victim can do their own shopping for perhaps the first time. Advocates also offer victims support with budget planning, job coaching, resume building, and interview prep so the victims can be successful in the workplace.

To support survivors with housing in the valley, ASP applied and received grant money from the Housing First Program.

“It is essentially a financial kickstart that helps victims with first and last rental deposits in the valley. Since the valley is so expensive, we want to do everything we can to break down barriers [such as financial worries] that prevent survivors from getting the help they need,” Buckley explains.

Although it is not required to get law enforcement involved when contacting ASP, Buckley states that victims who do file reports can receive support for free counseling through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund.

“Our services also expand to kids who are also affected by what’s going on in the household,” Buckley states. “Kids know what is going on. They can sense the energy. Yelling and screaming in front of them does have a negative affect. We’ll see kids with chronic stomach pain due to the stress of the [domestic abuse].”

Currently, statistics indicate that one in three women and one in three men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to Buckley. In a small town like Carbondale, the likelihood that someone you know is experiencing abuse is high. In a seemingly helpless situation, bystanders actually have more power than they realize.

“It is so hard to watch your friend get abused.” Gordon notes, “However, telling a victim to ‘just leave’ their abuser is not simple. It makes the victim feel more alone. Instead you can say, ‘This doesn’t feel good. How can I support you? What can I do?’”.

“The goal of the abuser is to make the victim dependent upon them. Isolation is complete power and control.” Gordon continues, “Be a supportive friend. Get a cup of coffee with them, regularly check in. Abuse thrives in secrecy. We are giving our consent when we do not speak up.”

When Carol filed for divorce after 15 years of marriage, the first thing she did was take her maiden name back.

“Life is too short to stay with your ex because of the children or money.” Carol passionately states. “I was either going to change or die inside, and I knew I had to change my situation. I didn’t know anyone else who was going through this. A young woman with two kids was an anomaly at the time, but I knew I had to do it.”

Today, Carol is happily remarried and in a job that she describes as her “dream job” — but the trauma is still palpable. “We are all learning we have to speak up to prevent this from happening to someone else. A woman has more power than she thinks, and it is her primary responsibility within herself to change things.”