ONTARIO – Domestic violence emerged quietly and almost imperceptibly for Kara Oakes.
“It was gradual. It started out as emotional abuse and gradually escalated into physical violence,” said Oakes.
Oakes’ four-year struggle in an abusive relationship and marriage is one of five stories in the book “My Survivor Story” published by Lisa Nicole Publishing and available on Amazon.
Oakes, who grew up in Payette and now lives in Ontario, outlines a sobering account that begins inside the summer after her freshman year in college, when she fell in love, and ends with her seeking shelter at Project DOVE in Ontario years later.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the book is a crucial tool to raise awareness regarding intimate partner violence, said Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.
“Survivor stories, whether they are in book form or not, are important so we can put a face to the reality of domestic violence,” said Goldthorpe.
Malheur County continues to be awash in domestic violence, said Goldthorpe.
“We receive multiple domestic violence cases a week. I am not surprised to see at least one come in on a daily basis,” said Goldthorpe.
Oakes said she never thought she would be a victim of domestic violence.
She said she grew up in a loving home where her parents remained devoted to each other.
“The abuse really didn’t start until we were married,” said Oaks.
There were warning signs, though. Oakes writes in “My Survivor Story” that red flags emerged when she dated her husband while she was in college at Dixie State University in Utah.
Her future husband made it clear he did not like the time she spent with college friends and not talking to her him on the phone.
When Oakes told him she was studying with a male friend to hone her math skills he told her he didn’t like it. Instead, he urged her to Facetime with him and he could help her with her math. She increasingly dealt with blow ups when she told him the truth about a specific situation and he didn’t like it.
When the Thanksgiving came, Oakes accepted an offer from a male friend to drive her to the airport. She accepted but lied to her boyfriend about the ride. She wrote it was the first time she felt physically afraid to tell the truth to the man she now felt she was in love.
She admitted a “toxic cycle of abuse” was already a reality and she didn’t see it.
Eventually Oakes quit college and remained in the local area to be near her boyfriend.
Then she became pregnant and married her boyfriend. Their family grew over time to three children. And, over time, the abuse evolved from verbal snipes into physical violence, she writes. First it was pushing such as the time their first child spilled juice. Oakes was nine months pregnant with their second child and her husband called her into the kitchen and then shoved her to the floor and told her to clean up the mess.
She wrote she told herself her husband didn’t mean it and she just needed to be a better housekeeper.
Once, as she nursed one of their children on a couch, her husband walked around the house and pointed out all of the things that needed to be picked up. He asked her when she was going to do so. She told him after she was done nursing. Then, she wrote, he picked up items – a sippy cup, a shoe, baby toys – and threw them at her.
She wrote she sat on the couch wondering: “Did that really happen?”
“I had moments when I would question his behavior, but for the most part by the time I realized what was happening I was too far into it. It had been happening so long,” said Oakes.
Gradually she said her self-worth disappeared.
Oakes said she didn’t consider leaving.
“I think it was my day-to-day life so I couldn’t picture anything outside it,” said Oakes.
A stay-at-home mom, Oakes was tied to her husband financially.
“He supported me and abused me at the same time so it’s hard to get out of a situation like that,” said Oakes.
The abuse began to take a toll on her mentally. The abuse also evolved from pushing to slapping and finally to hitting, said Oakes. Then as her isolation increased, she wrote, she faced bouts of depression and, finally, binge eating.
The incident that triggered Oakes’ decision to leave occurred right after their third child was born.
“I was holding her and he started pushing me. I said ‘you need to let me put the baby down.’ He pushed me down to the ground while I was holding the baby,” said Oakes.
The incident turned the tide for Oakes.
“That was what it took for me – that he had a choice to do the right thing and he didn’t,” said Oakes.
Oakes didn’t leave right away. She said she gathered up “the most important things” like birth certificates. She did not have her own car so once she decided to leave, she had to call Project DOVE in Ontario for a ride.
The decision to leave an abuser is often one of the most difficult, said Terry Basford, Project DOVE executive director.
“Statistically a victim will attempt to leave their abuser three to five times before they get it done,” said Basford.
While Oakes was out of the abusive relationship, she faced a new set of challenges.
“I only stayed in the shelter for about two weeks and then moved into one of their transitional units, which is like a one-bedroom apartment. I lived there until I was able to get my own apartment in Ontario,” said Oakes.
She needed a job and daycare.
“When I left I didn’t have anything except the kids. It was hard. Especially because I had to do all these things and I didn’t have the confidence or self-esteem,” she said.
Oakes and her husband divorced and she was employed at Project DOVE. Eventually she decided to go back to college and earned an associate’s degree in social work.
She has since remarried.
Oakes’ account is one of overcoming adversity, said Basford.
“I would say that’s one in our world we would point to as a success. She’s moved from victim to survivor,” said Basford.
Oakes said one reason she told her story in the book is to raise awareness. She felt she owed something to other victims of domestic violence.
“I never expected the opportunity but I was excited because I think it really helpful for survivors to know they are not alone. Everybody’s story is different but I think some pieces are always the same,” said Oakes.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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