Violence happens at home

Rebecca Schultze

Rebecca Schultze

Vera Anderson told the 50 men, women and children who gathered at the Tompkins Alumni Center Thursday evening her story of escaping the verbal and once, physical, abuse of her ex-husband.

“I always excused his abuse,” she said.

Anderson said she would tell herself that her manic depressive husband, whose troubled genius and sarcastic wit attracted her in the first place, was under a lot of pressure and stress; it wasn’t his fault.

Anderson divorced her husband after the first incident of physical abuse and when he threatened her with a loaded gun.

He remarried and still would not leave her alone.

“It’s a myth that once people leave, they’re out of the woods,” she said.

Even after Anderson got the call informing her that he had shot and killed his second wife before killing himself, she did not fully comprehend the danger she had been in.

“I was sad,” she said as the tears began to fall. “I would never hear that he got better.

“My first thought wasn’t ‘Oh my God. That could’ve been me.'”

After the story of her ex-husband came out, friends would say to Anderson, “I never knew. You don’t look like a battered woman.”

Those words prompted her to start studying the faces of survivors of domestic violence at the shelter where she volunteered.

What Anderson, a photojournalist, saw were the faces of her neighbors, her mother, her sister and her daughter.

She used the only weapon against abuse she knew how to use?her camera?to document the faces of domestic violence.

“I listened to the stories of these women … the little details they would say …” she said. “That is the same pattern I had in my marriage. It was the first time I realized I was a victim; it just hadn’t been physical.”

The words and the faces that Anderson documented were compiled into her first book, A Woman Like You, from which she read excerpts to the solemn crowd gathered in the Alumni Center.

Anderson said that after visiting and speaking at a number of colleges, she is committed to doing a new project or expanding her book.

“I see these lovely college girls who are willing to put up with this emotional abuse and sexual abuse,” she said.

Anderson said that the young women will do that just so that they can have a boyfriend and the security that supposedly comes along with the relationship.

Anderson’s work and her words display her strong compassion to tell her story and to educate people about domestic violence.

“I just want the women I know and all the women I don’t know to be safe,” she said.

Anderson’s advice for someone in a abusive relationship is to tell someone about it and to start a paper trail with the police on the abuser.

“It hardly ever gets better,” she said. “I think there are times, but it’s not that easy.”

When asked about the safety of a battered woman who tries to leave, Anderson said, “The women who leave and go through the risk, for them, it’s worth it. She has to have a plan, though.

“If she’s so afraid of him that she’s afraid to leave, then she should be too afraid to stay.”

“It isn’t abusing yourself [to stay],” she said in response to an audience question, “because after awhile a woman who’s been verbally and physically abused doesn’t have a sense of self anymore.”

Anderson’s speech came after a cross-campus walk from the SDSU union breezeway to the Tompkins Alumni Center. The parade of people concerned about domestic violence was led by Brookings bagpiper Jerry Cooley, Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick and volunteers carrying the 12 “silent witnesses” that represent South Dakotans killed by acts of domestic violence over one year.

After arriving at the alumni center, the volunteers passed out candles and the group gathered around the stairs of the west side of the building. Two Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter volunteers read the shields placed over the heart of the red witness silhouettes. Each shield told the victim’s story, that of a 22-year-old black belt who taught self-defense classes killed by her husband, to a 24-year-old man killed while attempting to protect his sister, to three children shot by their father.