A 21st Century Journalism Project

Defying The Odds

In People on April 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm


It took Karen Fry, a 53-year-old mother of three, 13 years to be able to talk about her abusive relationship.

“For a long time I couldn’t talk about it. But, its like, if you don’t, who’s going to know?”

It started with flattery.

“At first, it was all nice and made me feel good. He would call me just to say ‘how are you doing?’ and to see how my day was. And then it was more constant. Eventually I figured out he was really just checking up on me- it was sweet at first, but boy, he didn’t keep that act up,” Fry said.

According to domesticviolencestatistics.org, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women- which is more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. But Karen Fry says her abusive relationship left not a single mark, scar, or bruise on her body.

Instead, it affected her in a much different way that, according to Fry, is much more permanent.

Fry says that, in hindsight, the psychological abuse started before the marriage between her and her now ex-husband, even began. She says she just couldn’t see the flags at the time. But when she finally did, she made the decision to separate her children from the abuse.

Image courtesy of London Family Planning

“I had three kids at the time. And I grew up in an intact family and I thought my kids deserved that, but when he started turning the abuse on them, it’s like no. They’re not growing up like this,” said Fry.

By removing her children from the situation, Fry did something that a lot of women, and men, don’t do. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, nearly 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.

Jason Harr was one of those 10 million children.

Harr, now a 25-year-old graduate student, recalls his father having a behavior problem.

“I don’t want to badmouth my father, because our relationship is better now than it was [growing up], but when I was younger, he drank a lot. And I don’t think he ever intended to drink to excess… (whispering) but he did… and my mom was the recipient of his drinking,” said Harr.

Harr says he used to hear his parents arguing, almost on a nightly basis. But he never saw anything physcial because as soon as the conversation would get heated, the door would close. He does recall one incident in particular that took place when he was about seven years old. Harr says this incident was fairly routine and was nothing he hadn’t heard several times before.

“I don’t know if he had been drinking or not, but I remember laying in bed and I would hear my mom and dad fighting. They would also leave the room before it got physical. Then you would hear the bedroom door shut and that’s when it got really bad,” Harr said.

Harr adds, “So have I been abused? I don’t know if you can call what I’ve been through abuse, but I’ve definitely seen him get that way with my mom whether intentionally or not, it still occurred.”

Karen Fry’s ex husband waited until their kids were in bed before starting arguments, but it didn’t do any good.

“My kids have told me that they used to sit on the landing upstairs and listen to us fight. I didn’t know this at the time- they didn’t tell me until years later, when they were older, after we had been divorced for several years.”

Karen says there was one topic that her and her then-husband discussed every single day: income. Fry says she was never allowed to work and the lack of two incomes sometimes made it difficult to get by.

“No wife of his was going to work. I was a stay at home mom with no income. So he put me on an allowance. Now it didn’t matter if it was groceries, the kids’ shoes, or what- everything had to come out of the allowance, which generally meant that I did without.”

To keep her mind off of it, Karen had a side project that also helped to generate some extra income for the family.

“I was really interested in crafts and stuff, so I started a craft business. We did craft shows. And for me it just like an outlet; it was something to do when I was at home with the kids, when the kids were napping or whenever. Just something for me and I could make a little money on it,” said Fry.

But even a second income that Fry generated in her spare time wasn’t enough to satisfy her husband.

“It just reached the point where I felt the whip on my back every day…he would come home ‘ok what did you do today? How much did you accomplish today? How much more inventory do we have? And it took the joy right out of it all,” Fry confessed.

Eventually, Fry quit both her crafting business, and her marriage. Although leaving her husband and her abusive relationship behind didn’t happen overnight.

“I slept on the floor in my daughter’s room for 18 months before actually leaving my husband. They never knew. I would go in and go to sleep after they had already fallen asleep and I would get up and start my day before they would.”

Fry says it took her a long time to realize she was being abused- over a decade in fact. But the day it finally clicked was a lifesaver.

“I think the day I finally got it was- the counselor I was seeing, that I told my husband was for different reasons, anyway, the counselor said ‘what are they [the abuser] using to hold you?’ And these women in our group said typical answers like finances and the kids. Until this one lady spoke up and said ‘they can threaten suicide.’ The counselor spoke up and said that it takes a coward to use the guilt thing- to guilt you into staying,” Fry says.

“Two days later, my ex husband threatened suicide and I said ‘you know what? It’s your life do with it what you want.’ And that was it. I walked out,” Fry says, “That was the end.”

After finally freeing herself of a domestic abusive marriage, Fry stresses that it wasn’t an easy ride: she was still raising three kids, going to school for Education, and trying to balance four jobs on the side- all while going through a divorce and trying to keep her home- and her children- away from her ex husband.

“It was never easy,” says Fry. “I’m still not on my feet! I kept 4 part time jobs- most of them on campus- and I would pick up extra hours based around the kids schedules. Anything I could do. But it’s still not easy. After getting fired from my part-time job nearly two years ago…I’m still not on my feet.”

“I’ll never forget Christmas [of 1993], our first Christmas away from my ex husband. And we are sitting in a shelter, and my daughter, who was 8 or 9 at the time, looks at me and goes ‘mom, this is the best Christmas we’ve ever had.’ I said ‘why do you say that?’ They said ‘because daddy’s not here to ruin it’.”

It was that moment, Fry says, that really reinforced for her that what she was doing was in the best interest of her family, even if it meant not growing up ‘intact’.

“Nothing in my life had prepared me for that [dealing with abuse]. Had I been prepared and know, I could have been prepared to deal with it. The situation hurt everyone. He’s damaged the kids. It seems minor…but it’s not. But it is what it is now. We are dealing with it and telling our story.”

That she is.


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