After learning her ex-husband, Omar Mateen, had committed the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, Sitora Yusufiy shared that Mateen had verbally and physically abused her during their marriage.
Yusufiy said Mateen was funny and charming when they had met on MySpace in 2008. However, abusive and erratic behavior emerged shortly after their marriage, she said, when he began hitting her, telling her what she could and couldn’t do, and demanding her paychecks.
Her perceptive family sensed the danger she was in and, according to Yusufiy, extracted her from her and Mateen’s Florida home – and marriage – in 2009.
Similar stories of domestic violence occur regularly throughout the country. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.
Sodoma Law, a family-focused firm in Charlotte, recently released a free pamphlet on escaping domestic violence, “What You Need to Know.” The pamphlet instructs victims on how to come up with a plan to leave their abusive environment, reassuring readers that violence is never the victim’s fault.
Founder and Managing Principal Nicole Sodoma discussed the pamphlet, domestic violence and the advice she would give to those experiencing it.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about domestic violence?
A: The first is that it only happens to certain people. Domestic violence can happen to anyone. Gender, profession, age, race, culture, your sister, your brother, your parent, your child. And no one ever plans on it being them. The second is that most people think that domestic violence is only physical violence, and that somebody actually has to grab you, hit you, push you for it to be considered domestic violence.
I have so many consults where somebody sits in front of me and I ask, ‘Has there ever been domestic violence?’ And they answer, ‘Well the other person never hit or kicked me, but I’m regularly told that I have nothing, or that I will have no one else, or that no one will ever put up with me.’
Q: What are some common behaviors victims of domestic violence exhibit?
A: For a victim, the behaviors that I see most often are fear to share their story, them blaming themselves for whatever happened, and creating excuses. They are so fearful to share their story, that in many of my family law case consults, when I ask if there been domestic violence in the home, most often I get a resounding ‘No.’
But, what I look for are those non-verbal cues, like where they look when I’m asking the question. And they become such good storytellers, like why they have a broken rib, why they were in the ER, or how they fell down the stairs. They’ll usually share the story with me by the end of the first consult when they start to feel safe.
Q: Omar’s ex-wife Sitora says that when she first met her ex-husband, he was funny and charming, and it wasn’t until after they were married that he became abusive. What are the signs of abuse that individuals can look out for, even early on in the dating process?
A: It’s interesting, one of the words I look for is when someone describes their partner or spouse as “charming.” I thought that was so interesting how, in that Times article, she said he was a charmer. That world means to me that someone is completely different to the world than they are behind closed doors.
Perpetrators of domestic violence commonly display controlling behaviors. They isolate their victims from friends and family, they manipulate, and they may make you feel like it’s your fault. Then after the damage has been done, they apologize.
Q: What are the most common mistakes you have seen victims of domestic abuse make?
A: Waiting. And then, minimizing what happened. Waiting is a mistake for many reasons, but from a legal perspective there are two things that come to mind. One is that if you wait too long, your credibility may be negatively affected. The second is that the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to preserve evidence. That evidence can come in so many forms, it can come by way of text message, it can come in an email, it can come in a voice mail, or other social media – it might not be a bruise or a black eye. You need to preserve your credibility and you need to preserve your evidence.
Q: What advice would you give to victims who are struggling to speak up?
A: There’s never going to be a good time to leave, and there are going to be hurdles in your path. But you need to make a plan, you need to call 911, you need to talk to someone you trust, and get help. You need to try to get that protective order.
I would also remind them that it’s not their fault. No one deserves to be emotionally or physically abused. After the pamphlet got published, I got an email from a woman. She said that she was a victim of domestic violence but she was a professional, and a strong woman, and that it was not supposed to happen to her. At the end of her email she said ‘Thank you for reminding me that I am not in this alone.’ It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone.
For anonymous, confidential help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline