February 15, 2005
When Janice Romney Farnsworth was seven months pregnant with her third child, her then-husband beat her with a golf club, beginning with blows to the shins that drove her to her knees.
She remembers screaming as he finished with pounding strikes to her hips and back while she crouched on the floor trying to protect her unborn child.
She recalls her only thought being, "What if he hits the baby?"
Farnsworth, who then lived in Mesa, says this was nothing compared with the times her husband almost killed her during their 15-year marriage. They met at church, and although their first date turned violent, Farnsworth married him anyway.
Domestic abuse happens in homes large and small, to women who are poor, to women who are wealthy and in the most religious of families. Thursday is Stop Violence Against Women Day in Arizona, part of the global movement to stop violence against women and girls. According to FBI statistics, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States. A 2000 FBI report shows 34 percent of female homicide victims were killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends.
But domestic violence wasn’t supposed to happen to her, Farnsworth thought — her strong roots in the Mormon religion and high economic status should have spared her.
"How could I possibly let anyone know?" she says. "It was even more important to hide because I couldn’t possibly be one of those battered women."
Farnsworth was kept busy raising her six children — "I just kept having babies, because that was my job." Her husband was controlling, and he alienated her from family and friends. When she attempted to break the silence about the abuse, her family and religious leaders counseled her to work on her marriage.
"I didn’t feel like I could ever (go to a shelter)," Farnsworth says. "I was spoiled as a child, and even though we were very poor when we were married, I mean, we were on welfare; I couldn’t go."
MAINTAINING THE FACADE
She worked hard to keep up an image that all was well within the marriage. Her husband’s work in real estate allowed the family to move among nice homes in Mesa, but Farnsworth says they often relied on food stamps, which humiliated her. Farnsworth says she made sure the kids looked put together at all times, even if their bodies were bruised and battered, and always dressed herself nicely.
As the abuse escalated, she says she attempted suicide and was unable to fight back, enraging her husband. One night, as she lay in bed, Farnsworth says she separated from her body and saw a frail woman laying in her bed.
"I knew if I didn’t get out, I would die. I didn’t even care if I slept on the street," she says. "I finally became angry instead of just helplessly hurt, and I made a plan."
Her mother, who was living in the Mormon colony in Mexico where Farnsworth grew up, bought her the car Farnsworth used to escape with her children in the middle of the night. They fled to Mexico, and she divorced her husband.
Four years later, he died of a heart attack. She is now remarried and lives in Payson.
Farnsworth says her healing process took years, but writing about her experiences in "Beneath Wings of an Angel" (Synergy Books, 2003) has helped her.
She also hopes the book will allow other women silently suffering from domestic violence to end the violence. "I want them to be able to look at it in the long term and say, ‘I won’t be different from her if I don’t deal with this,’ " Farnsworth says. "This is what they will face."
Protecting an image to hide the violence is a common strategy among middle- and upper-class women. It prevents people from recognizing that a seemingly perfect life is filled with abuse, says Terry Roza, a case manager at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation in Phoenix.
As a result, Roza says, the myth that victims are predominantly uneducated and part of society’s lower class serves as a barrier for wealthier women to seek help.
From 1998 to 2003, Roza worked as a domestic violence counselor in Scottsdale, where she says she met many middleand upper-class domestic violence victims. She remembers one woman who had a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway of her sprawling home, but was never allowed to drive it. Her husband kept a piece of paper under a tire so he’d know if the vehicle moved.
She recalls another woman who lived in a "palatial place" with doors that locked from the outside, preventing her from ever leaving without permission.
Roza says upscale abusers often erase their wives’ independence by promising to provide for them financially. Eventually, the women have nothing — the homes and cars are in their husbands’ names — and leaving becomes nearly impossible.
"How do they get a lawyer? How do they fight 10 lawyers?" Roza asks. "(Abuse is) truly a secret for people in upper income brackets."
In January, Fresh Start partnered with Sojourner Center and Halo of Hope, programs offered at the Jewell McFarland Lewis Women’s Resource Center in Phoenix, to launch the Creating Healthy Family Relationships series. This is a groundbreaking attempt to rescue women who don’t fit into the typical picture of domestic violence.
The counselors use comprehensive education in a discreet setting. They recognize that even though these women may have financial resources and a network of family and friends, the women often become captives of their financial status.
Many abused women, no matter their socioeconomic status, stay in abusive relationships because they are too humiliated to admit they are battered, have been broken down by their spouses and are terrified, Roza says.
Seventy-five percent of domestic homicides happen when the woman is trying to escape, she says. And most women will try and leave between six and nine times before they get out.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Melissa (not her real name) is a 33-year-old Valley woman who grew up in a middle-class family and had a solid plan for her life. Melissa was working and attending college full time, studying to be a teacher, when she met her husband.
"I was independent without him," she says.
But Melissa fell for her husband’s intensity and says she endured abuse for more than a decade — he would scream and berate her daily, push and shove her. She was used to being told, "I’ll bury you in the desert. I already have a spot picked out for you."
"I wanted him gone," Melissa says. "But I was never smart enough to call the police. That’s just not who I was."
Intelligent, well-spoken and driven, Melissa managed to pull the struggling family from living in a car to owning a home and co-owning a business, both in her name.
"From the outside, people would not have known," she says.
The dysfunction eroded all she accomplished, and eventually, all her money and a joint bank account vanished. By the time the family was living in its last home, Melissa’s husband had the phone lines disconnected and refused to let her have a cell phone.
Still, she had a nice house in a decent neighborhood. She says that her husband’s one redeeming quality was that he was good to the kids.
Over and over again she thought: "One of these days, I’ll leave."
The day came when her husband began to abuse their son. Melissa gave up everything but her children and the clothes on their backs. "It was letting go of the secret and giving up on what was — the house, the car — just to have something new, something safe," she says.
She’s now working with Fresh Start’s Creating Healthy Family Relationships program to help herself and her children.
"I want to make sure my kids know there are better ways to be treated and to treat other people," Melissa says. "It’s about breaking the cycle now."
For help and resources
Fresh Start Women’s Foundation
1130 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix Offers counseling and educational programs to all women living with or trying to escape domestic violence. (602) 261-7143 or visit www.fswf.org.
Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence www.azcadv.org