Domestic violence is a term we have all heard before. However, with domestic violence growing into one of Americas major health concerns, it may be surprising to learn that not only is it the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S., but there are only 1,500 shelters for battered women – compared to almost 4,000 shelters available for animals.
Contrary to what most people think when they hear the term domestic violence, it isn’t just a physical act. This violent confrontation can also come in sexual and psychological forms and is used by the perpetrator to gain control and power over another person.
One woman who knows the destruction caused by domestic violence all too well is Karen Jessing. After her first engagement was terminated by her parents many years ago, Karen freely admits she fell into a rebellion. It was during this time that she met her first husband. The first time he struck Karen was just days before their wedding, and like most victims, she tried to justify his behavior with excuses of it “being a stressful time.” When he apologized and promised to never do it again (as often happens), Karen believed things would get better.
“Looking back now, I knew as I stood at my wedding that I was asking for something more than I had bargained for. I had gotten some fatherly advice about not getting married, but I believed that once we were married, once we had a family, once this, once that – everything would be fine,” shares Karen. “Now, as I work with other domestic violence victims, I see this same vicious cycle repeat itself over and over again. First there is this honeymoon period – everything is going well. Then the verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse begins. A crisis point is reached, and afterwards, they settle down, they want to apologize and they want to be intimate again. It is during these cycles that the victims tell themselves that “it is going to get better” because they have received an apology and a promise it will never happen again. Unfortunately, it does happen again.”
After many years of physical and emotional abuse, the violence continued to escalate and Karen reluctantly shared her situation with a church pastor. This was Karen’s first opportunity to get counsel and due to “the lack on understanding about domestic violence on the pastor’s part,” she was given very bad advice. “My ex-husband had literally told me verbatim how he was going to ‘get rid of me’ and that it was ‘only a matter of time.’ I was terrified for my life and for the lives of my children. The pastor’s response was to submit to my husband and, basically, be a better wife,” explains Karen. “I know now that God does not expect us to be in a situation where we have to worry daily about our own safety and that of our family. One of my main goals now is to try to educate people in the church. If the counselor hasn’t experienced domestic violence and really does not know too much about the subject, it would be better for him/her to direct the victim to someone who is specifically trained in domestic violence.”
In Karen’s new book, “Hey God, You Have a Plan, Right?” she describes in greater detail not only the violence that she endured, but also how God directed her to the exact person she needed to help her come up with a safety plan, so that she could get herself and her children out of the situation. Safety plans are key to the victim’s survival when caught in a violent situation. Unfortunately, domestic violence doesn’t immediately disappear just because a separation has taken place. The Clark County prosecutor’s web site estimates that over 70 percent of women injured in domestic violence cases are injured after they separate.
Karen shares other aspects of her life in the book, including how she experienced many health problems, such as becoming paralyzed twice and being diagnosed with Lupus, all while she was dealing with the ups and downs of her marital life. Now remarried to a “wonderful man,” Karen is a California-certified Victim Services Advocate who teaches “Understanding Yourself and Others” seminars and speaks at several different women’s retreats and seminars. She works non-stop in local communities throughout California to share her message and raise awareness of domestic violence as she sees the increase in cases near her home. “Last year the chief of police in Fresno said that there were over 7,200 domestic violence investigations, just in that city! Sadly, due to severe overcrowding in the jails, there were two instances in one month’s time where two perpetrators were released because there was no room for them; they both went back and killed the victim,” tells Karen.
A choice to be made
Her message for others experiencing violent relationships is this: “I know it is difficult, but eventually a person needs to courageously step out of the situation. First of all, they have to make sure they are going to be safe and, secondly, to truly believe me when I say that there is life afterwards. Everything is a choice – we make choices and our choices make us,” says Karen. “I chose to say ‘O.K., I made some bad choices but now I am going to make a new choice, start dreaming again and make a plan for my life.’ I had lost everything and God restored it all.”
When people hear Karen’s testimony at various seminars or read her life story from her book, they ask how she made it through so many trials and tribulations and came out on top. She explains, “I went through so much from 18–50 years of age, but the Bible tells me that it is good that I have been afflicted, that I might learn. I believe that I am the person I am today because of what I have gone through in my life. If going through all these rotten things during my lifetime and coming out ahead will bring hope to even just one person out there in a similar situation, then glory be to God – it was worth it.”