Surviving domestic violence is not just about surviving an abusive relationship. It is also about surviving the aftermath of leaving that situation.
That is how Linda Dynel, a domestic violence survivor from Lockport, summarized a presentation she gave Sept. 12 at Hobart and William Smith Colleges — and presentations she gives to college students around the country and to law enforcement officers and judicial system professionals around the state.
“I think a lot of people think once you’re out of the relationship, you’re good, you’re gone, you’re free, you can go live your happy life,” said Dynel, who wrote and self-published Leaving Dorian, her memoir of surviving domestic violence, and gives talks to various groups based upon the book.
However, she pointed to the statistic that 75 percent of women who are murdered by their abusers are killed when they try to leave or once they have left to show that leaving neither fixes the problem nor causes the abuse to end.
“Abuse is about power and control,” she said. “It’s highly unlikely an abuser is just going to throw up his hands and say, ‘You don’t want to be with me? That’s fine.’ They’re going to hold on, and they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that victims stay in that situation where they can continue to be abused and manipulated.”
After experiencing the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship and then dealing with the physical and emotional trauma, Dynel felt inspired to share her story to help her fellow domestic violence victims.
Dynel met her ex-husband in the early 1990s when she was 21, and the relationship was “riddled with abuse in one form or another” from beginning to end.
“Early on everything seemed perfect, but gradually there started to be emotional abuse, verbal abuse,” she said, noting she — like many victims — excused or even justified the abuse because it was not physical. “It was just yelling until he strangled me and nearly killed me in our kitchen. … We went right from verbal abuse to lethal force, and he almost killed me.”
Though she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, had developed an eating disorder, and was drinking a lot, Dynel quickly moved on with her life after escaping the abuse — marrying again soon after, having children, and simply trying to put her past behind her.
“Of course, that doesn’t work,” she said. “Trauma doesn’t just resolve itself. It doesn’t just go away.”
With her second marriage failing and her children growing up, Dynel realized she needed to overcome her own emotional issues and help other victims through their struggles.
“Somebody needs to stand up and say, ‘You don’t have to live like this. I got out. My life isn’t perfect, but I got out and you can too,’” she said of her thought process in sharing her story through her book and her talks. “I just wanted one woman to read my story and say, ‘She got out, and I can too,’ and to encourage her to save her own life.”
In the five years since Leaving Dorian was released, Dynel has helped many more than one woman. In fact, she said students often share their personal stories with her — whether they are victims themselves or know someone who is a victim.
“There are tears and there are explanations, and they’re asking, ‘Something’s going on with my sister. Something’s going on with my mom,’” she said. “Sometimes they just want to thank me for writing the book, but it can get very emotional.”
For the law enforcement community, the goal for Dynel is to teach professionals how to trust and support victims even when victims deny the abuse or reject the help.
“I always say, believe them,” she said. “You have to take that moment to let them know, ‘I see what you’re going through, and when you’re ready, we’re going to be here to help you.’”
The overall goal, Dynel said, is to one day see an end to domestic violence. She said that starts with believing victims no matter what and continues with teaching children that they do control themselves but cannot control another person.
Using the women’s suffrage movement as an example, Dynel said change happens slowly and those seeking change stand on one another’s shoulders as they work toward their common goal.
“I’m 50. If I live for another 50 years, the chances that domestic violence, that intimate partner violence, will be eradicated in the next 50 years — it’s a wonderful thought and I aspire to that, but the chances of that are very slim,” she said. “My hope is that I can inspire other people and they will stand on my shoulders, and eventually we will eradicate intimate partner violence.”
Dynel is now in the process of writing a sequel to Leaving Dorian — a story that will pick up where her first book left off because she always gets requests to talk about what happened in the aftermath of her leaving her abusive marriage.
She said she went through many challenges and issues that many domestic violence survivors experience, and she wants to continue sharing her story.
“Leaving is just leaving. Leaving is just moving yourself into a different location,” Dynel said. “That doesn’t mean you’re safe. That doesn’t mean you’re mentally well. That doesn’t mean you’re financially well.”
As far as the message of this book, it is the same as the message of her first book and all of her talks: “Believe victims,” Dynel said.
“Believe victims even when it’s not convenient, even when it’s someone that you know, even when it’s someone that you think there’s no possible way this person is abusing their spouse,” she said. “That’s what I want people to understand, that they need to believe victims. Even when it’s not convenient, even when it’s hurtful, even when it’s going to shake up the family, even when it’s going to end a friendship, believe victims.”