Abuse victim gets out, rebuilds life

by ELIZABETH PEZQUEDA

Shauna Lewis is at a wonderful stage of her life. She’s a 32-year-old, beautiful, longhaired, dark-eyed woman with a radiant smile and an incredibly contagious laugh that can lighten even the darkest of conversations. She loves her job and has been awarded two promotions in the short time she’s been there. She lives in a cute two-story town home and feels very blessed by her success. Her four beautiful children are the pride and joy of her life and like any loving mother, she’s been devoted to protecting them.

However, Lewis has also been to hell and back to get where she is today.

You’d never know by looking at Lewis that she has experienced years of depression; she lost a former boyfriend to suicide and was the victim of domestic violence episodes staggered over a seven-year period.

Remarkably, Lewis has let these experiences shape her into a strong and independent woman. While she says the repercussions of these events still linger and resurface in different areas of her life, she has an optimist’s attitude about her past, as well as the future for herself and her children.

Lewis said she first started taking anti-depressant medication regularly after the father of her son committed suicide. Her son was 1 at the time.

“He had a serious on-going issue with drugs and alcohol, and it just finally took its toll,” Lewis said. “I was heartbroken.”

She endured several emotionally difficult months, but said she put all her strength into being a good mother to her child. She relied on friends and family to get through the aftereffects of what had happened and eventually started dating again.

Lewis first met her husband-to-be at a popular Utah bar when she was 21. She immediately liked his sense of humor and charm. She was flattered that he was also interested in her.

Lewis had been shattered emotionally from the death of her son’s father and was wary about getting involved with someone new. She worried that her son would get attached to someone she dated, and then she would have to explain to him that he couldn’t see that person anymore because the relationship had ended.

Lewis took her time carefully getting to know this new man and eventually, their relationship became serious.

“We never really dated,” Lewis said. “We just hung out a lot and became best friends and fell in love at the same time. Our relationship just sort of happened.”

The two only dated a few months before marrying when Lewis was 22. Lewis felt like she had found her fairytale prince in the charming and hard-working 24-year-old. She was excited to start a new chapter of her life with him.

Soon after marrying, Lewis learned she was pregnant with another son. She and her husband began planning for the addition to their family.

During her pregnancy, things began to change.

When Lewis was seven months pregnant, her husband pushed her. It was the first time he had ever put his hands on her in a violent manner. Lewis was shocked, scared and heartbroken. He apologized for getting physical with her and begged for her forgiveness. Lewis forgave him and the two agreed to start over.

But not long after that incident, he pushed Lewis again, this time causing her to fall down. According to Lewis, he apologized countless times and sobbed desperately. She again forgave him.

In an article about domestic violence published by the FBI in 1997, author Lt. Douglas Marvin says this is typical of abusive relationships.

“The batterer may be genuinely sorry for the pain he has caused his partner,” the article states. “He acts out of his greatest fear — that his partner will leave him. He attempts to make up for his brutal behavior and believes that he can control himself and never again hurt the woman he loves.”

According to Lewis, her husband wouldn’t change.

Contrary to his repeated promises, Lewis said the abuse continued and got gradually worse with every episode. Lewis wore long sleeves and jeans to cover her bruises and tried to keep what was happening under everyone’s radar.

“I knew it was wrong and that it needed to stop,” she said. “I just felt trapped. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”

Lewis was also subjected to extreme emotional and mental abuse from her husband. According to Lewis, he talked down to her and called her names. He became increasingly jealous, controlling and manipulative, and put a stranglehold on Lewis’s freedom and decision-making abilities.

When the two first married, Lewis said her husband gave her the option to stay at home and raise their children. However, one son and two daughters later, his desire had turned into her obligation.

“I wasn’t allowed to have a job, or really anything of my own.  It was just another way for him to control me,” Lewis said.

Because Lewis didn’t have a job, every purchase she made had to be cleared by her husband. Even things like the utility bills, groceries and medicine for their children had to be approved, she said.

Alma Perez, a paralegal at Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake who helped Lewis with her divorce, said she immediately noticed the ex-husband’s feelings about money during the divorce.

“He put up a fight for anything that pertained to money,” Perez said.

Despite Lewis’s attempts to clear purchases with her husband, she said he still complained about the money she was spending, in addition to countless other things.

“He complained about everything. I couldn’t cook well enough, clean well enough, take care of the kids well enough, nothing,” Lewis said. “I lost all my confidence and self-esteem.”

Lewis then learned that her husband had been cheating on her. After his secret was out in the open, Lewis said he told her his encounters were going to happen once a week. He said he’d tell her the day and time and that he’d be home at night, but it was just something he needed.

She pleaded in vain for him to be faithful to her but he was constantly on the road and she felt she couldn’t trust him.

Heartbroken, with four children to care for and no time, money or place of her own, Lewis became increasingly depressed and emotionally overwhelmed.

Friends and family begged Lewis to leave, but she still felt as though she had no power to do so.

“I told her after the first couple of times that he hit her that I couldn’t be her friend anymore if she didn’t leave him,” said her best friend, Kelly Lim. “She wasn’t doing anything to protect herself, and I told her I couldn’t support her in that. It broke my heart that she wouldn’t get out.”

It wasn’t until one of the couple’s sons walked in on his father abusing her that Lewis finally found the power to leave.

“He was sitting on my chest with all his weight and I couldn’t breathe,” Lewis said.  “I was struggling and telling him to stop when my son walked in. That was it.”

Moments later, Lewis called the police and within the next few days filed for divorce at Legal Aid Society. Still her husband pleaded for her to reconsider.

It has been two and a half years since Lewis found her will to leave. She has found a job she loves, received two promotions and regained her confidence, strength and independence. She said she has a better relationship with her four children. She and her ex-husband share custody and the children see him on Wednesdays and some weekends. Lewis said she no longer has the need to take anti-depressants and is looking forward to an increasingly peaceful and happy future.

While her ex-husband never had to serve any time in jail for the abuse, Lewis said she is still happy with the outcome.

“I don’t have to worry about [being abuse]  anymore. I got my life back and I’m so happy,” she said.

“It’s such a remarkable difference between [Lewis] now and how she used to be,” Lim said. “She has this light about her again, and she’s confident and happy. I love it!”

Lewis said she hopes her story will help other women escape from similar situations.

“You just have to make the decision to leave. I promise it’s so much better on the other side,” Lewis said.