CHICAGO — Those in the trenches helping victims of domestic violence often see a singular case escalate to greater assaults. The only way to halt the cycle is for abusers to be stopped in their tracks. But the legal system doesn't always provide a clear resolution.
In Friday night's cover story, we meet a victim trying to ease her lingering pain by speaking out. These are the voices of domestic violence.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story contains images that some may deem graphic
Yolanda Carter's accused abuser has been charged with attempted murder following a March 2016 attack. Carter prepared a victim-impact statement to read in court: "You have left me in a pool of blood to die. Sometimes I look at myself in a mirror, and all I can do is thank God and cry. My life has been changed tremendously."
Carter's son, Joshua Brown, witnessed the attack. “I just hear my mom yell, like ‘Ah!’ And then I jump up. I’m happy I wake up that quick,'" he said.
“All I remember is my son Joshua coming in the room," Carter said.
"I get out of my bed," Brown recalls, "open my door. I run to her room. I see there is blood on the floor, blood on the door.”
Carter: “Bleeding out of my nose, my mouth.”
Brown: “I just look at her. Her face is in the pillow. She’s still moving.”
Carter: “I think he was hysterically trying ... shaking me, shaking me.”
Brown: “She’s like, ‘Just don’t let me fall asleep, Josh.’ I’m kinda crying, too. I’m trying to hold it in because I don’t want her to see me like that, and I ain’t trying to see her like that. There was just blood everywhere; her face was bloody. She just kept moaning and making noises.”
Carter: "I said, ‘What happened to me?’ He said, ‘Mama, he beat you with a hammer.’ And the first thing I said, ‘Well, why would he do something like that?’”
Brown: “As I went running in my room to get my phone, I’m coming out of my room. I see him at the front door looking at me. We made eye contact for like, five seconds. And you could see he had the hammer in his hand. There was blood on the hammer. I think, like, my soul must have came out of my body when that happened. I couldn’t stand to see nothing like that.”
Carter: “All I know is that when I went to bed, I did not wake up the same way I went to sleep."
Carter went to court in November prepared to read her victim-impact statement. Her accused abuser, Aaron White, had been charged with attempted murder and was offered a plea deal with a 12-year prison sentence. He has been held without custody since he was charged, but rejected the deal. White asked for more time to consider his next legal move and later fired his attorney. He is now representing himself and has filed a motion to dismiss all charges. If convicted, he could face six to 30 years in prison.
"I just want it to be behind me," Carter said. "I just want him to get the help that he needs.”
Carter met White through mutual friends. They dated on and off for years, and he often stayed at her home.
"Although he was a charmer," Carter said, "he had a dark side I didn’t know about.”
Carter's daughter Tameka Gills Royston recalls the warning signs: “Later on as the relationship goes on, me and my husband always say — he wore glasses. We would always say, ‘There’s something behind them glasses. It’s too good to be true,’ but we never knew what it was.”
Carter's daughter Sheabria Gills added: “Leading up to the end, he started separating himself from people, from family.”
There were episodes of aggressive and inappropriate language directed at Carter and her children.
"I said, ‘Look, these are my kids, these are my children,'" Carter said. "'You're here today or tomorrow. Don’t you ever disrespect my children.'"
At one point in early 2016, White disappeared for days. Carter suspected he was on a drinking and gambling binge. She packed up his clothes and tried to find someplace for him to go. But when White returned on March 22, 2016, he asked Carter whether he could spend the night at her place. Carter acquiesced.
“I said, ‘Go ahead, get your shower, get yourself ready for work,'" Carter recalls.
She went to bed and was awoken by the attack. Bones in her face and skull were shattered. Her jaw and teeth were left unstable. And one eye was so severely damaged that it had to be removed.
“Maybe by him seeing those clothes packed," Carter said, "that was like a trigger.”
“I walked around the bed and just was looking at her," Royston said and I’m like, "'What person can do this?' It’s just so inhumane. Where is your compassion for life? Why would you do that?”
"My sister told me that they were going to take her eye," Gills recalled. "That’s when I really broke down. I didn’t think that he would do something so heinous and be a monster like that.”
"I just try to keep myself built up," Carter said. "Of course, I cry when I think about it. I look in the mirror, and I see that I don’t have an eye. My face is deformed. ... I have a metal plate in my head.”
In the two years since the attack, Carter has undergone a dozen reconstructive surgeries. As she tries to rebuild her life, White’s case drags on in court.
"I thank God every day that I can still wake up because there are so many that didn’t make it," Carter said. "Please, if you are in an abusive relationship, try to get out as safe as possible, because I didn’t have that chance. I didn’t know I had to get out of something I didn’t know I was in.”
The pattern is true for many victims. Sometimes it takes multiple calls to a domestic violence hotline before a person will have the strength to get away. Next week, witness the hope that comes with survival as WGN continues its feature series. These are the voices of domestic violence.
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