Domestic violence can take many forms—physical (violence or threats), emotional (calling names, blaming, or criticizing) or sexual (rape or coercion). It can also include financial or technological means (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

At its core, it is any pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship, which is used by one partner in order to gain power and control over another (U.S. Department of Justice).

It can happen to anyone, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, class, religion or ethnicity. But usually, women lead the statistics as victims (World Health Organization).

Kentucky currently has the highest rate of intimate partner violence against women in the United States, with 45.3% saying they've experienced it within their lifetimes (World Population Review, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

Domestic violence is a worldwide issue.

But each survivor's experience is unique.

Tiffany Terry said she met him in the oilfields of Houston, Texas and immediately fell in love. But she realized she was willing to forgive a lot.

In the summer of 2021, the couple moved to Kentucky. She got a part-time job to keep busy. Her young son, Lathan, made some new friends, and things were going well in their new home. But once her boyfriend began making money, she said, "he just became a monster."

Tiffany alleges that he would guilt her, shame her and make her feel worthless. She states that he would accuse her of cheating and blame her for things she did not do. She said that most of the alleged abuse was verbal or emotional. But that, at times, according to Tiffany he was also physically violent.

"He said hateful stuff. I mean, hateful things. I would hide in a closet or pretend like I was asleep. The more I shut down, the worse he became.

Tiffany Terry

People stay in abusive relationships for a variety of reasons, including a lack of social, financial and housing resources. In some cases, divorce or separation may carry cultural or religious taboos, as well (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

"I was always hoping he would wake up and be different. It's just hard when you really do love somebody," Tiffany said. "I never planned on leaving. But things got bad so fast it had to happen."

Since leaving her alleged abuser, Tiffany sought and received a protective order against him.

The document, issued by Allen County Circuit Court, specifies—among other things—that he may not have any contact with Tiffany or her son for three years' time from the date it was issued.

In 2010, one in three women were victims of some form of physical violence from an intimate partner (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey).

When Tiffany left, she hurriedly packed her belongings into the trunk of her car. Though she and Lathan were re-settled at a shelter through Barren River Area Safe Space (BRASS), she never unpacked her heirlooms or photos.

"I don't plan on living at the shelter forever," she said. "I'd rather wait until I'm at a better place."

While living with her alleged abuser, Tiffany had several animals, she said. When she left, she was only able to take the cat. BRASS wouldn't allow her to leave her animal unattended. So, while Tiffany lived at the shelter, Kit Kat came along to work and on errands.

Tiffany got a job at the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society through her time in the domestic violence shelter, she said.

Although it was originally through a work program as a measure to help her get back on her feet, she's since been hired full-time.

"I feel like I'm paying it forward," she said. "I'm a huge animal lover."

"I sometimes go to the ugliest or oldest animals because they’re not getting the love and attention—like all the cute babies everybody wants," Tiffany said.
"I'm no spring chicken anymore, I've wasted ten years on somebody."

Tiffany took her son Lathan to the JCPenney to buy a suit for his school dance. She said she feels guilt for exposing him to the alleged abuse she claims to have faced at the hands of her ex.

"I'm very proud of him," she said. "He's too young to be that mature."

One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

One of the hardest things is coming to terms with the fact that her partner never loved them, Tiffany said. "That’s hard to swallow."

But now that he's gone, she said, life has improved. "We're going to take trips—going to see stuff that I've got to see as a kid that I want [Lathan] to see."

As of Tuesday, March 26, 2024, a journalist working on this project made a call to the Allen County Courthouse to establish the domestic violence order against Tiffany's ex-boyfriend remains active until March 28, 2026. It established "by a preponderance of the evidence, that an act(s) of domestic violence and abuse has occurred and may again occur."
Over Heather Graves’ 13-year relationship with her then-husband, she alleges that he physically and verbally abused her, eroding her self-worth, her ability to be a good mother, and her relationships with family and friends. Despite leaving multiple times, her partner's promises to change continually brought her back.

Victims of domestic violence are two times more likely to develop symptoms of depression and four times more likely to attempt suicide (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

Heather struggled with depression and alcoholism, and eventually lost custody of her son and daughter. When she committed to finally leaving her husband so she could be reunited with her kids, she says the abuse got worse.
Heather got the help she needed to cut off contact with her alleged abuser, to become independent, and to overcome her trauma. Now, she finds connection with women in similar circumstances both as an adult peer support specialist with Hope Haven and within her personal life. In sharing her story, Heather hopes others can realize that it is possible to leave an abusive relationship and build a life for yourself.
I'll never allow anybody to hurt me physically, mentally, or emotionally like he did.
I know my worth today.
Heather Graves
As Heather's son, Ayden, and Tiffany's son, Lathan, became close friends, Heather recognized Tiffany's situation. The more they got to know each other, the more Heather could share her own story. Through Heather's influence, Tiffany found the resources to help her leave her alleged abuser.

"I've seen everything I've gone through in her," Heather said. "I'm so proud of her."
Since moving into the shelter with BRASS, Tiffany has grown closer to Heather. In her, she has found a friend who she can share her experiences.

"She took us in as her extended family," Tiffany said. "We're blessed to have them in our lives."

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes most people an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship.

In Bowling Green, Kentucky, national and local resources are available for individuals suffering the effects of domestic violence. There are people who have escaped abusive relationships, and found a new life on the other side.

I might grow old without anybody. And that's fine, because I will never be treated bad again.
And neither will my son.
Tiffany Terry
  • Arthur H. Trickett-Wile
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Special Thanks:

Jon Fleischaker — Legal Assistance