Every minute, nearly 20 people in the United States are physically abused by an intimate partner.

For those who haven’t experienced it, domestic violence may seem unreal, like a dramatic made-for-TV Lifetime movie. Unfortunately, it’s very real and not at all entertaining. Abusers walk among us every day. They’re often charismatic and charming, the kind of person that no one would ever suspect would go home at the end of the day and hurt their partner.

That’s exactly the kind of person my college boyfriend was. Everyone loved him. He was outgoing, kind-hearted, funny, and had the most beautiful blue eyes you’ve ever seen. Looking back, all of the red flags were there, but when you’re 21 and in love, they can easily be brushed aside. Someone who drinks a lot in college is fun, not an alcoholic. A guy who gets jealous when other men pay attention to you is protective, not possessive. A boyfriend who asks you to wear something less revealing to class is looking out for you, not controlling.

Then, one night he partied really hard, really early, and was so intoxicated he couldn’t make it out to the bar with our friends as we had planned. I opted to stay back with him at my apartment and told the group to go on without us. I was annoyed and being snippy with him and it quickly escalated from a normal argument to him pinning me up against the wall. I looked in his eyes and they were glossed over and dark, not the bright blue eyes I knew and loved.

I fought back as hard as I could. I tried to call 911, but he took my phone and threw it at the wall. I opened the apartment windows, kicked on the floor, pounded on the walls, and screamed for help at the top of my lungs. Eventually, the cops showed up (thanks to a neighbor who heard me), cuffed him, and drove him away in a patrol car. I stayed behind as they took pictures of the 21 bruises he left on my body, photographed the apartment, and took my statement.

I was lucky because the state I lived in at the time had domestic violence laws that automatically charge someone for abuse and implement a 90-day restraining order. They don’t wait for the victim to initiate it. I was told that they did this because, in the past, so many victims would decide not to press charges and would later end up dead.

Every state has different laws surrounding domestic violence but the ones that don’t automatically press charges are putting victims at a huge risk. As many as 81% of domestic violence victims have been abused by the same offender more than once. One study found that of convicted abusers, 31% were arrested again within one year and 44% were arrested again within two years.

Additionally, victims often return to their abusers because they are scared, have no other option for housing, face financial insecurity, no longer have relationships with friends or family, or because they are ashamed the abuse happened in the first place. The chances of a repeat (and likely worse) altercation are high when nothing is done to protect victims from the start.

People who experience domestic violence, whether it’s physical, emotional, or otherwise are significantly more at risk for depression and suicide than those who don’t. They often suffer from low self-esteem and have been broken down by their abuser to the point where they believe they are not lovable. Additionally, they are more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol and/or drugs because they use substances to cope with the violence.

They say that love is blind, and I believe that saying came from situations like this. Had the state not taken precautions for me on my behalf, I know I wouldn’t have pressed charges. That relationship was so toxic that it took me years and moving 700 miles away to finally break free from it. What would have happened had I not had laws to protect me from him and my own naivety?

October is domestic violence awareness month, a time to push every state to implement laws to protect victims, have zero tolerance for abuse, and to provide resources to victims who want to leave an abusive relationship but don’t have the means to do it. Victims and survivors need to be heard and deserve an opportunity to heal, but they can’t do that if they’re too afraid, or too in love, to leave their abuser.

If you or someone you love is a victim of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

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