A Gradual, Excruciating Descent Into Domestic Violence

By Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

At 44, Karin had a successful career and three nearly-grown children. Then, in 2004, she began a relationship that at first felt dreamy but slowly deteriorated. Eventually, Karin found herself in a position she never imagined: as the victim of domestic violence. Initially, her partner seemed lovely. He was a respected member of her community, well known for his dedication to volunteer work and he was amazingly attentive and romantic. Over time, though, the relationship changed. It was a gradual progression spanning four years, starting with emotional and psychological abuse, and eventually escalating to physical abuse.

Here, Karin bravely shares her story of surviving domestic violence.

It’s a narrative that illustrates how insidious this process can be, and how difficult it is to get out of such relationships. As a survivor, Karin has struggled with her own shame and the guilt she feels for exposing her children to this situation. Today, after a lot of hard work and self-reflection, Karin feels stronger than ever. “I was determined to come out of this kicking,” she said. “And I have.” She has a great job and volunteers for a domestic violence prevention organization; her grown children are doing well and she is newly married. Karin’s story is a reminder that this could happen to any of us, and underscores the importance of trusting your own instinct about what feels right and what feels wrong in a relationship.

Karin was earning six figures and living in a wealthy Boston suburb when she became the victim of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence, defined by the United States Department of Justice “as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner” permeates our culture. It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 women in the United states will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and while both men and women can be targeted, the victim is female 85-95% of the time. Domestic violence occurs across all races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions. Abuse, based on fear and intimidation, can be physical, emotional, psychological, economic, and/or sexual.

On a societal level, the costs of domestic violence are tremendous. Health related costs alone are estimated to exceed $5.8 billion annually. As in Karin’s case, domestic violence typically escalates over time. Homicide is often the end result. It is believed that 33% of all female murder victims are killed by in intimate partner. For the most part, these homicides are predictable and preventable. By educating ourselves about the issue, we can all become a part of the solution.

Most importantly, Karin wants everyone to know that resources are available. If you have any concerns, seek help.

For information, services and help for yourself or someone you care about:

The Domestic Violence Services Network, Inc. www.dvsn.org 1-888-399-6111

1-877-785-2020 is a 24-hour, free and confidential multi-lingual domestic violence hotline in Massachusetts

To find the domestic violence program nearest you outside of Massachusetts, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233).

To learn more about domestic violence and sexual assault, visit

To find programs that help people who abuse/control their partners, visit http://www.janedoe.org/know/know_resources.htm.

(Dr. Annie Brewster is a Boston internist who became interested in storytelling as a way to promote healing among patients. You can hear more of her stories here, here and here, as part of our Listening To Patients series.)

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  • lilee1

    How we justify the ”crazy” in our lives amazes me. I’ve done this–denial–not with abuse but with a family member who was drug addicted and stealing my family blind. I hear people tell stories like this over and over and unless you have been blind to the obvious sometimes you can’t understand how such a thing can happen. Why people don’t act on what’s right in front of them. I’ve never noted before that this kind of thinking happens with domestic violence as well. “Violence”–I think against women especially–can be subtle. Women question themselves and men are often all over that uncertainty (Dishes in the sink.) for the purpose of control. Honest and a brave telling of the story. Women should look at what we are putting up with–even if it’s much more subtle–like from a boss or someone who feels the have the absolute right to belittle and control us. I recently watched a man belittle a fellow female board member at a government meeting and thought to myself, he’d NEVER speak like that to a male member because his lights would get punched out. It’s really everywhere and comes in many forms.

  • Rachel Zimmerman

    A reader asked me to post this comment anonymously, in response to Liz. Here it is:

    I am a survivor of domestic violence and now volunteer for a local domestic violence organization. In terms of the story starting off with the revelation regarding “it does happen here (in wealthy suburbs)” this is actually a logical starting place and very valid in terms of what we experience at our organization, which serves affluent communities that are suburbs of Boston. I do a lot of speaking at Rotary organizations and chambers and to other local groups and there really does remain for MANY the presumption that domestic violence does not occur in Concord or Lexington or Acton of Bedford or Stow….there are people in the audience EVERY time that question why a domestic violence prevention organization needs to exist in these towns, and when we tell them that there were 200 case of domestic abuse reported (and that’s just what was reported) in Lexington last year, it is very difficult for people to believe that this fact is a TRUE statement. I wish there were not the prejudice or the assumption that wealth and education shield you from this situation, but those ideas do exist …….and the larger point by debunking this myth is that the denial and the shame are different when you are accustomed to seeing yourself as a high functioning, well educated, capable, confident, and successful person. Yes, the dv experience is all about power and control and violation and rage, but the reason we stay as victims is VERY much about DENIAL and SHAME…..and…..again, at our organization we see a uniqueness in terms of these factors with the dv experience in some of the wealthier suburbs. There is also at times more isolation in the suburbs and less knowledge around available resources.

  • http://twitter.com/leejarm Lee Jarm

    @Liz – one of the first commenters – you raise a good point that many assumes “middle class” or “upper middle” class = utopia or by defintion crime free and fully functional – which is a myth. When one reads newspapers like the Wall Street journal and comes across stories about the behaviour of companies, people in the management ranks, and employees we are often talking about this same socio-economic class and it would be difficult to imagine that people’s behaviour differs all that much at home versus the office.

  • Pat

    Thank you Rachel for your wonderful blog and thank you Karin for your strength and courage to tell your story.

    In our town, Bolton Massachusetts, we have had over the past year forums on spousal abuse, abuse in teen dating relationships, and elder abouse. We have learned that abuse does cut across socioeconomic categories, including age.

    It is important that our communities come to understand that all persons are subject to violence in their relatioships. Our high school, Nashoba Regional will have a mini version of our forum on teen dating violence for the entire school later this fall. They are looking to institute the mini version in the middle schools next year.

    Our town has committed to enhance communication with our elders to educate and provide resources when needed through quarterly mailings.

    All of the forums are shown on our local cable station – BATCO – so all can have a chance to see the forums in the privacy of their homes. We are still working on improving communication with the community but with the forum on cable we have made the information available to a large segment of our community.

    So many in Bolton have worked to put out this information into the community. As our Chief of Police, Vincent Alfano has told us, our goal is to make domestic violence socially unacceptable.
    Thank you Karin for your story.

  • Dave Holzman

    I hope this story helps others get out of similar situations. I hate to think of this nutcase preying on other women.

  • SP

    I want to thank you for having the courage to share your story in this way. I imagine it is a vulnerable process but your honesty is a gift to all of us. Thanks for reminding us to trust and honor ourselves.

  • desertNightOwl66

    Thank you for sharing that story.

  • Liz

    While I appreciate Karin’s story, as a previous fellow victim of domestic violence I am tired of the stories that start with the ‘surprise’ or impossibility of violence in ‘wealthy suburbs’ or inflicted on or by ‘highly educated’ people.
    It’s offensive to continue categorizing the socioeconomic implications that wealth or education are somehow protective of domestic violence.
    My experience, and that of others I’ve listened to, was about control, power, violation, and rage, often combined with substance abuse or mental illness.
    Wealth and education did not protect anyone from those factors, and they are not a new feature of the issue.
    To perpetuate the myth that “wow, the icky issue of domestic violence (or insert drug abuse, mental illness, alcoholism) even affects us rich folks” is fairly repulsive and almost re-victimizes less “wealthy” or “educated” domestic violence victims.
    Congratulations to Karin that she found peace for herself and her children.

  • Patti D.

    Karin has done a very generous thing, opening herself up in this fashion. I only hope this message reaches the many, many women whom it would help.

  • Lynn

    This is an amazing and poignant story that so clearly and succinctly captures the insidious nature of domestic violence. Karen has such insight and explained the connection between increasing vulnerability and subsequent dependance. Thank you, thank you Karen. And thank you, Annie, for your work.

  • Wick Sloane

    Dr. Brewster —

    It’s brave of Karin to speak out and as brave of you to track these stories and share them. For all patients, knowing they are not alone is such a help. Wish I could think of more to say to praise you both. I will share with everyone I can find.

  • Lisbeth

    This is such an important story for people, especially women, to hear. It is clear how abuse can be such a gradual process that it makes it easy to explain each incidence away. Thankfully you got out alive. You are so brave Karin!

  • ~ Lo

    Such an amazing woman. To find the strength from within and to know your own self worth is such a difficult task. I honor you and your strength.

  • Ann

    Wow. That’s quite a story. I’m glad Karin extricated herself from that abusive relationship and that her life is so much better now.

  • Ned

    What a thoughtful and educational piece on domestic violence. I deeply appreciate Karin’s willingness to share her story. I learned a lot by listening and believe this piece will help all of us recognize early warning signs of abuse. Thank you Karin. And thank you Annie for bringing this powerful story to us all.