Ana Wilson needed an escape plan.
For 10 days, she plotted how to leave a man who nearly choked her to death, drowned her in self-blame, and who hurled xenophobic insults at her mother.
Friends from Wilson’s prayer group descended on the house one day last year, removing every possession and setting Wilson free.
She told her story Thursday night during Time Out’s Candlelight Walk program to raise awareness about domestic violence. Nearly 80 people, many affected by abuse themselves, walked from town hall to Payson United Methodist Church, holding candles and signs. A drum sounded every few seconds to recognize women sucked into the cycle.
“The purpose is to create an awareness in Payson that domestic violence exists in Payson,” said Time Out director Executive Director Gerry Bailey.
John Birchak’s wife, Susan, was murdered eight years ago Friday, by a man they let stay in a spare bedroom while he looked for a job. Birchak was one of a handful of men who attended the event.
Birchak said the killer had an extensive domestic violence history that privacy laws prohibited the couple from discovering.
“Many of these women are not the first victim,” Birchak said. No domestic violence registry exists like the one for sex offenders.
Time Out offers counseling, runs shelters, and advocates breaking the cycle of abuse. The thrift store helps the organization raise money.
In the Methodist church, 86 candles burned to remember the domestic violence-related deaths in Arizona from January to October of this year. Numbers included women, children and bystanders trying to help.
“I am the blessed one to be here tonight,” began Wilson, the survivor. A Brazilian, she met her husband through an online Christian Web site. Two years later, the couple married.
Early warnings passed by unnoticed. Wilson came from a stable and nurturing family; domestic violence was as foreign as her lover who threw things when angry and became aggressive when drunk.
“When the abuse started almost three years ago, I lost my ground,” Wilson said. “The first slap crushed my inner belief that marrying him was the right thing to do.” She made excuses and blamed herself.
Wilson eventually became pregnant, and gave birth in a Phoenix hospital. Her mother stayed in Payson with the husband and Wilson’s oldest son.
“The very day I left the hospital, my mother calls me crying and asking me what was going on.” The husband insulted Wilson’s mother’s ethnicity and otherwise verbally abused her.
“She was scared, she didn’t know what to do,” Wilson said. The mother was left contemplating escape routes, and Wilson was coming home with a brand-new baby.
The husband was aggressively “stern,” Wilson said. If a child took too long to eat, he would take away the child’s food.
An acceptable punishment would involve forcing a child to stay in his room the entire weekend, left to stare at the ceiling and contemplate his misfortune.
Her oldest son, born in Brazil, would ask his mother why she married someone so mean.
But Wilson loved her husband. Abusers have a way of forcing the blame onto the victim.
She thought if she cooked better, ran the house better, tried just a little bit more, the abuse would end.
Finally, in January 2008, she took her oldest son to the Payson Christian Clinic, and the doctor noticed Wilson looked sad and scared. A therapist spoke with her about domestic violence.
“It was very hard for me to accept it at first because I always hoped that the abuse would stop,” said Wilson. At the month’s end, she called Time Out and an advocate there informed Wilson of her legal rights. Most importantly, the volunteer told Wilson her husband could not take the children away because of her still incomplete immigration status.
Her husband had stopped responding to requests for evidence, and threatened to take Wilson’s children if she left him. Wilson said Thursday the process is now almost complete.
In February, she moved to Time Out’s shelter. “I was not afraid anymore,” Wilson said.
Her husband reacted sadly. He was not angry, Wilson said, although he still downplays his abuse and dispels blame.
“He blamed it on the alcohol, on the stress of life,” Wilson said. “He never takes responsibility.”
“Until this very day, I have been working on my self-esteem, learning about self-advocacy, and most importantly, learning how to love myself and to realize that I’m precious just the way I am,” Wilson said.
She spoke about a domestic violence abuse case in Australia, where somebody asked a neighbor if they saw any clues. The neighbor responded, “it was nobody’s business.”
But when women are dying, it’s everybody’s business, advocates say.