No escaping lifelong effects of abuse

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For 20 years, Cacey Dyson has kept her story hidden, hoping to escape the trauma of her past, but has learned there is no escaping the lifelong effects of domestic violence. 

Dyson knows the statistics — a woman is battered every 15 seconds and one in four women are victims of domestic abuse. Dyson knows these in part because she is the Director of the Safe Harbor Crisis Center. Dyson was invited to speak last week at the Domestic Violence Lunch and Learn on Hill Air Force Base for domestic violence awareness month about her experience at the women’s shelter. 

No one knew her presentation would be so revealing, including Dyson herself until the morning of the presentation when she realized it was time to share her story of being married eight years to her abuser. 

“After working in the field of victim services for 17 years, I decided I was going to share my story, even though I am risking my credibility and reputation, but I have spent that same amount of time working face-to-face with victims telling them they did not deserve the abuse they endured and to share their story to help us begin to make a difference,” Dyson said. “I kept asking how I could spend my life’s work expecting other people to do the very thing I didn’t have the courage to do myself.”

At the heart of her message was dispelling some of the myths associated with domestic abuse. Dyson spoke of growing up in a loving home with many privileges, and expected to have a similar family life when she married, but instead, she was pushed, shoved, punched, hit, slapped, spit at, bit, called names, belittled, ridiculed, suffered broken bones, sexually assaulted, suffered a dislocated hip as a result of being raped, strangled, stabbed, pushed out of a moving vehicle and hospitalized, and yet she stayed. On average, a woman is hit 35 times before they report the abuse according to Dyson. 

“I suffered at the hands of the person I agreed to marry, whom I loved and agreed to spend the rest of my life with and trusted implicitly,” Dyson said. “I felt compelled to remain silent to preserve and protect my personal life, and working in the mental health/social work field at the time, I felt I should have known better.”

Dyson admitted asking for help early on in the abusive relationship and was stunned by the response she got, so after a while, she stopped asking for help. “Anyone can be a victim of a violent crime. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” Dyson said. 

Many people still think domestic violence is a private issue, but Dyson made it very clear that it is a public issue. One vivid experience happened while shopping at Walmart when Dyson was pregnant with her second son. Her husband put his hand on the back of her head, winding his fingers around her hair and slammed her head into a metal brace at the end of an aisle. 

“I felt humiliated and prayed no one heard, but when I surveyed my surroundings, I looked directly into the eyes of another woman, and it was obvious she had witnessed the entire exchange. I’m sure my eyes sent a strong pleading for help because I was terrified to utter a word, but I only half expected her to help because you see, this was not the first time this had occurred in public,” Dyson said. “People look, but just as quickly, they avert their eyes and look away in order to avoid discomfort or avoid getting involved. Domestic violence is a public issue, not a private one. If you see domestic violence happening, call the police. No one is asking you to be a hero or put yourself in danger, simply call the police.”

Dyson spent eight months planning to leave, but ended up leaving at the drop of a hat when her 15-month old was hospitalized with two dislocated shoulders, a concussion, and a black eye while she was at work. “I immediately left work, drove to the hospital, put both my boys in my vehicle and drove away without a penny or a single personal belonging. I thought I could actually leave and put all of that behind me, but that’s when our nightmare really began because when there are children in common, there is always going to be a relationship,” Dyson said. 

In the U.S., 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, with 70 percent of men who abuse their female partners also abusing their children. Dyson still struggles with feelings of guilt, shame, humiliation and self-blame, questioning how she could have let that happen to her children. “I still have nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety in the pit of my stomach, and I’m continually looking over my shoulder, and that’s 20 years later.”

“However, my boys and I survived. We are resilient, we go on and succeed because of people like you, who care,” Dyson said at the close of her emotional story. 

On base, there is help for domestic violence any hour of any day at 801-917-1021 and off-base, at 800-897-5465.

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