As Idaho recently marked National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2020, it seemed the right time for me to share some insight and understanding into the mindset and challenges facing victims of domestic violence.

During the first NCVRW in 1981, organizers set out to raise awareness about the need for victim rights in our justice system and educate on what it means to be a victim.

We’ve come a long way, but there is more work ahead.

I am 27 years old, a Boise State University graduate and planning to attend law school in the fall. I am also a victim of domestic violence. Sharing my story is still difficult. Yet, I know my experience as a victim lends an opportunity to explain to others what helped me become a survivor.

I also believe it’s important for victims to know they are not alone during the process of healing and reclaiming your story. I know this because I was able to grow and transition with the help of people who understood and empathized. This included a family friend who was a victim of domestic violence, my victim witness coordinator and county prosecutor.

My ex-boyfriend was slightly older and comfortable financially. He was charming, was fun to be around, and early in our relationship, he showered me with trips, gifts and outings with friends. Things moved easily and quickly.

At first, I didn’t see the potential for the violence that define our relationship. But over time, his quick temper emerged, along with verbal abuse, sexual manipulation and financial control. Months into the relationship brought the first episode of physical violence, followed by his apologies and my own emotional despair.

During one episode, he lifted me off the floor and told me, “If you ever leave me, I will kill you.” I believed him.

We started joint counseling, but it wasn’t until a one-on-one session in which the counselor told me I was in an abusive relationship that I began to emerge from the shell of denial.

A short time later, when he was out of town for business, I moved out. This transition was not easy, as he discovered my plans by monitoring the home-security system. But my exit was made possible with the help of law enforcement, coworkers and supportive family and friends who suspected turmoil in my relationship.

Like many victims, the decision to leave an abuser brings its own set of challenges. There is judgment from friends. Self-doubt crept in and I blamed myself for the violence and questioned why I had stayed so long.

I stayed because he threatened more violence. I stayed because he distorted my reality. I stayed because he promised to change. I stayed for all the wrong reasons.

There are many to thank for my journey from victim to survivor. I’m grateful to the victim witness coordinator who gave me courage and guided me through the legal process. I’m grateful to the prosecutor, investigator and the judge who showed empathy when I read my victim statement at sentencing.

Today, I’m grateful for the network of nonprofits that provide shelter and support for domestic violence victims and their families. I’m appreciative of groups working to strengthen the rights of crime victims, like Marsy’s Law of Idaho.

Too often, the justice system provides another opportunity to revictimize, to diminish the voice and experience of the victim. More than anything, I believe our system needs to make victims feel safer, valued and supported.

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Vanessa Asbury grew up in Boise, but currently lives and works in California. Her goal after law school is to help domestic violence victims find justice and transition from victim to survivor.

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