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West Valley City Journal

Domestic violence not just physical for victims

Nov 28, 2018 04:07PM ● By Travis Barton

Surrounded by life-size silhouettes of domestic violence victims in West Valley City, Jenny Andrus speaks during a domestic violence program at City Hall. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

As Jenny Andrus walked into her home on Aug. 22, 2015, her husband lie in wait. 

He pistol whipped her, kicked her, beat her with a cleaver, and shot both of her legs, her left elbow and her head taking out an eye. 

“I begged him to leave me alone,” she recalled. “I begged him not to kill me. He remained emotionally abusive even as he beat me. He blamed me for the situation we were both in. Each time I had to apologize to appease that man who was torturing me.” 

The mom of three nearly died that day, but lived. Now, she spends her life energy on sharing her terrifying experience with others in order to raise awareness that such physical violence often starts with emotional abuse. 

Andrus was the guest speaker for West Valley City’s domestic violence program in October (domestic violence awareness month). She spoke surrounded by life-sized silhouettes representing victims from West Valley City whose lives ended violently at the hands of a spouse, ex-spouse, family member or partner. The day they died, what happened to them and their names were pasted to the silhouettes’ chests. Names like Amy, Thai, Noella or Sabrina. Those who were unable to escape the clutches of domestic violence. 

Emotional abuse, she told the audience, is “mental pain intended to control, to disrupt your footing, question yourself and tear you down from the inside out.” 

To describe emotional violence, Andrus used intense verbs such as: shame, ridicule, embarrass, demean, belittle. “Any abuse that humiliates is emotional abuse,” she said. 

“Domestic violence happens in secrecy because its wrapped up in shame and the people who feel shame shouldn't feel shame,” said Jessie Richards, founder of Fight Against Domestic Abuse. “It’s valuable the more people who are willing to share their story and talk about it, then more will (speak up) and just become an ocean of voices and hopefully it stops at some point.” 

One of those voices is Andrus. An associate professor of writing and rhetoric studies at the University of Utah, Andrus has researched domestic violence for the last decade. And Andrus speaks from personal experience. 

Andrus said the physical violence was preceded by the emotional kind. Her husband would yell profanities at her for hours a day unprovoked. Screaming would ensue if she made a meal wrong or walked in a room at the wrong time. He kept her awake all night, knowing she had work in the morning. He took out credit cards in her name, bought three cars in six months in her name before surrendering them to be repossessed. He used their money on projects leaving little to buy food. 

“Still it was my fault when we didn’t have steak for dinner,” she recalled. 

When Andrus approached him with a divorce, he claimed he would kill himself. When he was taken to the hospital for a psych watch, he tried manipulating her to come see him. She filed for a protective order. 

While hiding with friends and family, she would come home twice a day to feed the dogs with a police escort. But on Aug. 22, 2015, she went alone. 

Over the course of four hours Andrus was held hostage in her own home, fighting for her life. 

“The pain was nothing like I had ever felt before,” she said. “I now know the flash a gun makes when its firing, the acrid smell of gun powder and the searing hotness of a bullet ripping through flesh.”

“I begged him to leave me alone,” she continued. “I begged him not to kill me. He remained emotionally abusive even as he beat me. He blamed me for the situation we were both in. Each time I had to apologize to appease that man who was torturing me.”

SWAT arrived and ended the standoff. But the damage to her body was done, including a broken nose, cracked teeth, facial cuts, gunshot wounds to her elbow and leg, and the loss of her right eye. Also damaged was her sense of security, and hope and knowledge that home was a safe haven. Yet she has “rebuilt (her) life into something beautiful,” she said. That includes her work with FADV as a board member and advocate for domestic abuse victims. 

“I’ve heard her tell that story 20 times and every time I cry because I remember when it happened,” Richards said. 

Andrus needs to tell her story, Richards said, because she wants everyone to know victims are always fighting, trying to survive and be strategic about their life experiences. 

Andrus’ husband was mean, controlling, erratic and unpredictable, Andrus said. But that’s the “tragic, stressful, painful everyday of an abusive relationship.” She highlighted the tragedy of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey as an example. 

One of the problems, Andrus said, is there isn’t a place to report emotional abuse. The marks they leave aren’t visible like physical violence. 

“There is no form that asks if your husband tries to control your every move,” she said. “There's no form that asks how your wife talks to you.” 

She wants people to know that domestic violence escalates in various ways, not just arguments. She wants people to trust victims, especially law enforcement. Victims are only ever trying to survive their abusers. 

West Valley City has a victim services office with five full-time victim advocates and one part-time. You can find it in the public safety building at 3575 South Market Street next to city hall. To contact them call 801-963-3223. The after-hours crisis line is 801-231-8185. 

“We want (abuse survivors) to know that they’re not fighting alone,” said Rachelle Hill, victim services coordinator. 

Andrus fought that fateful day she entered her house to feed the dogs. Whether it was for herself then or for others now, she keeps fighting.