INDIANAPOLIS — April 3, 2021 was the worst day of Monica Conley's life.
"One night I step out of my closet, I had been spring cleaning, and he was just there," she said. "I had never been that scared in my life, ever. I knew I was going to die that day."
It stemmed from years of domestic violence from her ex-husband.
"It started off as pushes and, 'Oh, I didn't hit you, I just pushed you.' I'm like, 'I know I don't like that, but maybe you didn't hit me. You did shove the heck out of me.' But it was a continuous escalation of things," said Conley.
She didn't initially believe the relationship with her husband was abusive, but that changed over time.
"I filed for divorce, I got a civil protective order. The courts issued a no-contact order," said Conley.
That didn't stop her ex, when he confronted Conley unannounced.
"He ended up in my home in violation of the restraining order after several threats against me and my children, and I ended up firing a shot that killed him," said Conley.
Traumatized, she didn't know where to turn.
"I hadn't slept in probably over a week, my kids were suffering. It was really hard," said Conley. "I couldn't live with myself, at least at that point I felt like I couldn't, because no matter what I had gone through, it was still weighing really heavy on me that I had taken someone's life."
Finally, Conley's cousin suggested she go to the hospital.
"I ended up getting connected with a therapist through Eskenazi, she had a private practice," said Conley. "No resources, I self-paid out of pocket and it was really expensive."
She hopes her story of survival helps others and gives hope.
"A lot of people just didn’t know what I was going through, and I think it’s important now especially to say, ‘Look. This is me, I’m normal. I grew up in Indy all my life, I know people.' People were shocked," said Conley. "I think hearing that something like this was happening with me can be a really big help to people. I think people just want to know that there’s somebody else. You hear these stories but then when you see like, 'Oh my gosh, it was her, too.' People just need somebody they can relate to."
Resources and how to help
If you or someone you love is in a relationship that may involve abuse, there is help available. Here are some resources with people to talk to and places to turn to for assistance:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or follow the link to live chat with someone.
- Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this resource helps you find a shelter near you and find help, including domestic violence programs, batterers’ intervention programs and housing and eviction assistance.
- Julian Center is the largest organization supporting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other life crises in Indiana. Call the 24-hour Crisis Line at 317-920-9320.
- Coburn Place offers compassionate support and safe housing choices for survivors of domestic violence and their children.
Types of abuse:
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by a partner to maintain power and control over another partner in a relationship, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Abuse can be physical, but it can also appear in several other ways.
If you believe someone you know may be a victim of violence or you are seeking more information about what you are going through, here are some of the more common types of abuse as defined by the Julian Center and The Hotline:
Physical abuse: Intentionally causing bodily injury. Examples include slapping, kicking, shoving, punching, etc.
Sexual abuse: Any unwanted sexual contact. Examples include touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity, etc.
Emotional abuse: Intentionally causing emotional pain. Examples include intimidation, ridiculing, isolation, etc.
Financial abuse: Withholding money, controlling the household spending or refusing to include you in financial decisions.
Digital abuse: Using technologies such as texting and social media to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner.
Stalking: Repeated and unwanted harassment or contact that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.
The Hotline has more information about types of abuse, like reproductive coercion, domestic violence and pets, abuse in the Black community, abuse in the Latinx community and stealthing on its website.
Knowing the signs:
Multiple forms of abuse are often present at the same time in an abusive relationship and, because of this, it’s crucial to know how these behaviors act so you know what to look for.
Here are the common signs of abusive behavior as defined by The Hotline:
- Telling you that you never do anything right
- Showing extreme jealousy of your friends or time spent away from them.
- Preventing or discouraging you from spending time with friends, family members, or peers.
- Insulting, demeaning, or shaming you, especially in front of other people.
- Preventing you from making your own decisions, including about working or attending school.
- Controlling finances in the household without discussion, including taking your money or refusing to provide money for necessary expenses.
- Pressuring you to have sex or perform sexual acts you’re not comfortable with.
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol.
- Intimidating you through threatening looks or actions.
- Insulting your parenting or threatening to harm or take away your children or pets.
- Intimidating you with weapons like guns, knives, bats, or mace.
- Destroying your belongings or your home.
The Hotline advises people to document the warning signs of dating abuse, in every form that it occurs. This will help provide proof of your partner’s behavior if you ever need it for legal reasons or otherwise.
Here are some ways to document abuse:
- Keeping a journal of what you experience, including descriptions of how the incident made you feel.
- Writing down statements you, your partner, or any witnesses make before, during, or after the abuse.
- Recording dates, times, and descriptions of incidents. If furniture is overturned or items were thrown, describe the scene and take photos of the damage.
- Documenting any injuries, no matter how small (with photos if possible).
- Seeking medical care, even if there are no visible injuries, especially if you have been strangled or choked.
- Filing a report with the police, if you determine that it’s safe for you to do so.
Click here for more information about documenting abuse and specifically documenting digital abuse and sexual assault.
How to start a conversation and support survivors:
Having a conversation with someone you love about abuse is hard. Survivors have countless reasons for why they stay in their relationships and leaving can be especially hard and dangerous for them.
If you've noticed the warning signs, there are a few things The Hotline says you can do.
Acknowledge that they're in a difficult and scary situation. Remind them that abuse is not their fault and support is available.
Empower them by being supportive and listening. Remember, talking about abuse is hard and telling them what they should, and shouldn't do, could further isolate and disempower them.
Don't judge them and remember, you can't rescue them.
You can, however, help them create a safety plan. The Hotline has more information on creating a safety plan, here.
Help them build a support network by encouraging them to participate in activities with friends and family. And also encourage them to talk to people who can further offer help.
If you know a survivor who is financially dependent on their abuser, one of the more immediate ways you can help is by providing them with the things they need or directing them to organizations that will do that for them.
For example, you can help them make a "go bag" with important documents in it in case of an emergency. Encourage them to talk to people who can provide further help and guidance, like The Hotline or its teen and young adult project love is respect.
Help them learn their rights and, with their permission, ensure that others in the building or area where the survivor lives is aware of the situation, including what to do and what not to do.
The Hotline emphasized that these examples are by no means comprehensive but provide an understanding of ways to support a survivor that can help protect their safety. More examples can be found, here.
The Hotline has more information about talking about relationship abuse and talking to teenagers and coworkers on its website.
The Coburn Place: People can volunteer their time, do a group or at-home project, hold a fundraiser or donate money or much-needed items.
Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence: You can help by attending an event, donating, joining Kroger Community Rewards or shopping on Amazon Smile.
Julian Center: Donate items on the Julian Center's wish list, donate gently used items to Thrifty Threads, make a monetary donation or apply for a job or internship.