CHICAGO — Stopping the cycle of domestic violence by bringing the dark nightmare into the light.
That's Thursday's cover story as we speak with a victim who says she wants to tell her story to make a difference. We asked about the possible backlash from her abuser, but the woman says speaking out gives her strength — a powerful voice against domestic violence.
"Every time I hear of a domestic violence shooting, I am thinking it could be me," said Marilyn Kellum, a domestic violence survivor. "It could have been me, it still could be me. He attacked me one day without warning; we weren’t arguing. I was just sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating oatmeal and toast, and he attacked me.
On the day of the attack, Kellum was granted a restraining order based on physical and emotional trauma and fear of future abuse.
"It was a no-contact restraining order," Kellum said, "so he was not allowed to contact me, text me. And when I returned to court, I showed the judge the text messages and the calls he had made, and they locked him up.”
But that legal justice was just a brief respite.
"After the restraining order lapsed," Kellum said, "he shows up at my church. He’s followed me. This is the second church. It’s a public place. He knows not to approach me. He just does other intimidating things. It’s very emotionally challenging. That is the place I go to to get my strength. We cry, we dance, we celebrate. It’s a place of peace. And a lot of joy for me.”
Kellum continued: "I am in the choir, so I am looking out at him every Sunday. If you see how I act in church, you would not know that I am afraid. It was right in this area, and then there was a room upstairs where he threw me down.”
The relationship began sweetly with a kind and charming man, Kellum said, before turning possessive, then violent, in the home they shared.
"He attacked me, strangled me, he kept me hostage for four hours, pacing the floor debating whether to kill me or not because he said, ‘I’m going to jail anyway, I may as well kill you,'" Kellum said. "So there was just a lot of beating that day. He would jump on me and then stop. He would strangle me and then he would stop. For four hours I was just praying and praying, ‘God, please don’t let me die like this. I’ve lived for you. God, please don’t let me die this way.’ I was able to bite his ear, and that’s the only thing, the pain from the ear bite is what got him off of me. I left the house and went right to the police department, and he went to the emergency room.”
Her husband was charged with and ultimately convicted of domestic battery. Our search indicates he has had a clean criminal record since then.
"And that’s the last time I had to stay in a home with him," Kellum said.
But her church home is not sacred anymore. He still comes there, and for Kellum, it reminds her at any moment he could make good on his promise.
"I don’t want that to happen," Kellum said, "but if a guy threatens to kill you, I believe him.”
It’s a phenomenon violence experts see often: intimate partner violence and homicide. And it’s often a precursor to a larger scale act of violence.
"The church is such a healing place," Kellum said. "You really don’t want to bring your drama there, but your perpetrator will. So, tell everybody so they won’t get caught off guard.”
Since the attack, five marathons have raised awareness and money —$10,000 — for South Suburban Family Shelter.
"I have no family here in Chicago," Kellum said. "They became my family. They got me a locksmith that secured my home. They saved my life, basically.”
And now she hopes to save others.
"No matter what anyone says, it’s not your fault," Kellum said. "You do not deserve to be beaten, battered, controlled. If one person hears this and takes action, if one faith leader hears this and gets security in place and it prevents one other person from dying, then there is something I can do.”
Despite that strength, she still lives in fear. That’s why every night she sleeps with a photo of her abuser in her bed.
"I keep it underneath my mattress," Kellum said. "And it says if anything ever happens to me bad, this is the photo of the guy who did it, the ex-husband, his name and social security number and my name. And it’s always underneath my mattress. I never assume that I am safe at any time. I always look over my shoulder, I always lock my doors immediately. I always look in my rear-view mirror. I am always conscious that I am in danger.”
The process of surviving domestic violence can linger for years. On Friday night, meet a woman blindsided by her boyfriend: She was blinded when he attacked her and now victimized again as he has found a way to drag out the case in court.
Resources for Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line
(847) 221-5680, 24-hour help line
South Suburban Family Shelter
Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network