In the enclosed walls of a dark closet space, a mother hid a cell phone for her daughter, Brittany Cook, to call 911 when her father came home in a drunken state, ready to harm her mother. As a 20-year-old, Cook found herself trapped in a closet again after her fiancé attempted to choke her.
“I have asthma, so I started going into a panic attack,” said Cook, a senior social work major and nursing minor. “His roommates were there, and nobody said anything. I’m literally trying to run, get out the room, call my mama.”
Survivors of domestic violence and abuse, like Cook, have shared their stories of recovery during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which will come to a close at the end of October. A problem across the nation, domestic violence has left a mark on many local women and students alike.
Cook was in a relationship with her partner for almost a year before he held her hostage for four hours in his apartment during her sophomore year.
“He threw my phone down; he snatched my keys and put his hand over my mouth so they couldn’t hear me screaming,” she said. “He kicked me in my chest. He had busted my lip because I hit my face on the bottom of the toilet in the bathroom. Literally, I laid there that night and cried myself to sleep because he still wouldn’t let me go.”
On the day of the domestic violence dispute, Cook said she had let him use her car, and when he picked her up, she said he cursed her out with insulting slurs.
“He was literally like the movie, ‘The Perfect Guy,’” she said. “Up until that point, it was roses every weekend, dates every week, met my mom, went on vacations. I think he just got fed up with me finding out he was talking to other girls.”
Cook said she decided it was too much for her, and the relationship ended.
“I don’t have hate in my heart for him. I pray for him,” she said. “Even if you do bad in your life, you have an option to change.”
Even though more than a decade has passed from being abused as a child, Cook had flashbacks to her childhood during the incident.
“At that point, I didn’t know what to do,” Cook said. “In my head, it took me back to when I was a child. I thought that if I ever got put in that situation, I would be able to handle it, and it was completely different.”
She said her father abused alcohol and became a different person while drinking. She even found herself uncomfortable being alone with him, as he would question her about her mother’s whereabouts.
“He would ask questions like, ‘Where’s your mom been? Where y’all been today?’” Cook said. “Even though you’re young, you know you’re not supposed to be being asked that.”
Cook said she was once a “daddy’s girl” but remembers that all changing when she was around 7 or 8 years old.
“He came in drinking, and I remember him bashing my mom’s head into the couch,” she said. “To me, even though I was young, I thought, ‘That’s not right. You’re not going to do that.’ I tried to intervene, and he flung me across the living room couch, and I think, at that point, my mom decided that enough was enough.”
For several years, Cook tried to mask the situation of her childhood, but she saw an effect in her relationships, including the relationship during her sophomore year.
“I found myself in relationships or situations, and I’m like, ‘This is exactly what my mama didn’t want for me,’” she said.
As a survivor, Cook encourages other domestic violence victims to have a support system, report any violence, seek counseling and find happiness.
“Have a support system and have a safety net,” she said. “I was fortunate enough where he didn’t care to continue. File a restraining order because no matter how much talking you do, if people don’t want to change, they won’t. I would tell them try to seek counseling for themselves. I would suggest that right after it happens, because you’re already bogged with all these feelings and emotions. Find things that make you really happy in life. If you sit at home and wallow in your sadness, nothing good comes from that.”
Cook’s situation is similar to that of many college-aged victims of domestic violence. According to UM Violence Prevention, college women are most vulnerable during the first few months of their freshman and sophomore years.
Relationship violence is only one piece of what defines domestic violence. Tinecia Francis, a senior from St. John’s, Antigua, was a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
Francis grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and later attended Desoto Central High School in Southaven. According to Francis, her father abused her from the time she was a child until she came to Mississippi for high school in 2009. She said her father’s abuse of her and her sister traumatized her, and she began therapy during her sophomore year of college. Around that same time, she began an abusive relationship.
“I flunked out for, like, a whole semester because I just couldn’t deal with it,” she said. “It caused me to drink a lot, to take medication, as well, so I wouldn’t have to think about stuff, which caused me to miss class. I’ve been dealing with depression, as well.”
Growing up, Francis said she never talked about or dealt with the situation. She said she didn’t recognize at first that it was abuse.
“I didn’t understand what it was. It wasn’t until I was older that I fully understood that I was being abused,” she said. “I just thought it was discipline, and we were just supposed to listen to what he said and if anything happened, it was our (her and her sister’s) fault because we didn’t listen.”
Now, Francis said she is more aware, continues therapy and attempts to address the issue on her own. She encouraged others experiencing domestic violence to get out.
“You just never know how threatening a person’s situation may be,” Francis said. “But I would like them to get out of it.”