As cliche as it sounds, hindsight truly is 20/20. I could spend a good part of everyday imparting wisdom on other victims of domestic abuse, but for now I’d like to write about some of the lessons I learned from my experience and my advice to other victims.
Never let your spouse control your finances: Financial abuse is another form of domestic abuse (about financial abuse) I was never great managing money and I allowed Zach to completely control our finances. I take full responsibility for my own ignorance and my mistake. I trusted him and during our marriage never thought he would take money from our family and throw it away on his affairs and deviant behavior. It wasn’t until 6 years into our marriage when we were trying to build a house that I wised up and started looking into our finances. I was stunned! He had thrown away thousands on strip clubs and on other women to the point that he had squandered our down payment on a new home. If you are one of those women who brushes off the financial responsibility deeming it too much trouble, you’re too busy or because you feel you’re not great with money, please take the time to educate yourself! You will need these skills at some point in your life and there is no time better than the present. There are so many resources on the internet that can teach you to manage money and budgets.
Run your credit: Everyone should run their credit anyway, but it is essential for women living with domestic abuse to know where they stand financially. link to free credit reports As I’ve already explained, financial abuse in these situations is very common and there are many ways an abuser can hide money and ruin your credit. Run a credit report on both you and your spouse. I did not learn until after 6 years that Zach was running up two credit cards in my name, missed car payments past 30 days and opened bank accounts I knew nothing about. He destroyed my credit and he attempted to ruin my father’s credit. He did this by borrowing one of his credit cards to use during recruiting and was supposed to reimburse the card once he received reimbursements from the university. Instead, he ran the card up to $14,000 by making minimum payments and taking the reimbursement money to spend on himself. He made sure all bills were emailed to him and that all bill payments were done online. Always make sure you have access to all credit card statements and online bill payment passwords.
Do your research: The internet is filled with resources to educate yourself on the different types of abuse and the various personality disorders associated with abusive partners. My ex husband would often claimed he was a sex addict, a drug addict and suffered from “chemical imbalances” and he would use these labels to excuse himself from any responsibility for his behavior. He made promises of marriage counseling, therapy and addiction treatment. He was extremely manipulative and would appeal to my empathetic side by making statements such as “a good wife doesn’t give up on her husband just because he has addictions.” Looking back, I wish I would have done more research on his narcissistic behavior and my empath traits. Narcissist thrive on empaths because they know we truly want to believe the best in everyone and we want to do everything we can to help. (more on narcissists and empaths).
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Powell PD investigation file #52
Keep a hidden cell phone, car key and stash of money: Abusers will always try to find ways to isolate their victims and being exposed is the last thing an abusive person wants to happen. They will manipulate everyone around them and try to drive wedges between you and family members or anyone who can offer assistance. When things would get really volatile and I would threaten to leave or call the police, my ex would often take my cell phone, iPad and my car keys with him to work or wherever he was staying for the night leaving me trapped at home and unable to contact anyone. He also insisted on managing all of our finances and was very controlling with money. While he was throwing away money on himself, I would have to report all of my expenditures to him. (more on isolating victims)
Do not leave the workforce: Not working or having your own financial security creates an imbalance of power in a marriage. Too often women sacrifice their own careers for the benefit of their families. In an abusive situation, this sacrifice is too great. The first time I filed for divorce was actually in May of 2014. I found a temp job with a large company in Columbus as part of my plan to finally leave my ex husband. Once again though, my ex said he would get counseling, he was profusely apologetic and told me things would be different “this time.” The temp job didn’t turn into a full time position and I opted not to keep looking for another job. He never stuck to his promise to get counseling and I regret not pursuing a full-time job. Being employed full-time would have helped me to stand on my own and save my own money.
Trust your instincts: There were so many times I questioned my own instincts and would believe whatever my ex husband told me even when it didn’t make sense. There were always red flags that I overlooked and my ex was a habitual liar. He would quickly come up with a million excuses and I would believe him not because it made any sense, but because I was scared of the truth.
See a therapist, counselor or any other mental health provider: The emotional and mental toll that domestic abuse and a toxic marriage takes on a person is often difficult to overcome and the effects can haunt you for years. There is no shame in caring for your mental health and if you suffer or have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, please seek proper care and follow your providers instructions to a tee. As for me, I have been falsely accused by my ex husband’s family and his “followers” of being mentally unstable, crazy and even Bi-polar all of this without a shred of evidence to support these claims. These accusations have come from a man who went to rehab, suffered from depression to the point of being suicidal, and has been diagnosed with some very disturbing issues, which at this time, I am not legally allowed to discuss. The sole purpose of these accusations are to damage my reputation and credibility, further making my life difficult and stigmatizing people who have real issues with mental health. This is a common tactic used by abusers and goes hand in hand with gaslighting. (more about gaslighting )
Aside from anxiety and PTSD brought on from years of walking on eggshells, trauma and abuse, I have never been diagnosed with any other mental health disorder. In spite of living a nightmare for many years, I have never had any drug or alcohol addictions. Again there is no shame in living with these conditions, but I’m being unfairly accused by Zach’s “network” of having issues that I have never had to deal with (see images below). I have no DUIs and have never been pulled over for suspicion of driving drunk. I have also never shown up anywhere “drunk and threatening people” and I did not call 911 66 times, there would be a public record of this if it were true. I’m still stunned at the lengths that people went through to discredit me and that prominent fan sites would perpetuate these false accusations without investigating their veracity. Considering the circumstances I’ve had to deal with while trying to push myself through nursing school as a single mom, I’ve learned to be mentally strong in ways I never imagined possible. I’m not ashamed to admit that I lean on therapy, self-help books and Ted Talks as I continue to push forward. Find what works for you and stick with it!
There is not a shred of truth to the accusations below, but these are excellent examples of victim-blaming and slander being passed on by Zach’s network. These false accusations have been shared across multiple platforms:
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Separate yourself completely: Even before you make the brave decision to leave an abusive situation, you should open up your own bank accounts and credit cards. Once you leave, you should sign your own leases and do not rely on your ex for any assistance other than what is awarded by the courts. If you do not have the credit to sign a lease on your own please find another family member or friend to co-sign instead of your soon to be ex spouse! The shame and embarrassment felt having to ask friends or family members for help is very real for victims, but it’s crucial to protect yourself and your children. My ex husband co-signed my first lease when I moved out. I thought at the time it was nothing more than a rare, but kind gesture and of course I was wrong. He held it over my head and abused his privilege being around my condo.
Garnish his wages for child support: Do this without any hesitation! Contact an attorney and the child support enforcement agency to start the process of having child support garnished directly from your ex’s wages. My ex’s wages were not garnished right away with our temporary child support orders and it took many months to have this done. Prior to being garnished, I had to rely on my ex to pay my monthly child support and alimony. It should surprise no one that he would often delay or skip payments and would sometimes adjust his payments as he saw fit. My ex husband lost the ability to control me with his money once his wages were garnished. However, once he was fired from his job, the child support enforcement agency could not directly garnish his wages, even though he had/has savings and earns money from his various business ventures and investments. He has not paid child support in almost one year. He is manipulating and exploiting a very slow moving family court system and governmental agency.
Work with a domestic violence advocate – An advocate is a huge asset to any person dealing with domestic violence. An advocate can provide you with resources such as counseling services and legal advice. (Ohio Domestic Violence Network) Instead, I relied on the detectives to advise me of my rights as well as an advocate that worked for the county prosecutor. It’s crucial to find another advocate even if one has been appointed to you through a county prosecutor. This is nothing personal towards them but it allows you to get proper resources and legal advice outside of a potential biased courtroom and assist in the enforcement of CPO’s. I failed to reach out to an advocate that worked specifically for a domestic violence organization until it was too late and the statute of limitations had expired in order to charge my ex husband with a misdemeanor. Initially, he was investigated for felony domestic violence and the prosecutor did not believe they had enough evidence to charge him with a felony. However, the Powell Police could have charged him with a misdemeanor instead or at least given me the opportunity to do so. For whatever reason, they failed to do this and never advised me of this option. (Why wasn’t Zach Smith Charged)
Hire your own criminal attorney: If you have the financial resources to hire your own attorney, their advice is invaluable. If you cannot afford one, it’s worth trying to qualify for free legal services available to victims of domestic violence (link to legal aid resources). At the very least, talk to an advocate. Not hiring a criminal attorney for myself during the 2015 domestic violence investigation is one of my biggest regrets. An attorney could have advised me of my victim’s rights and helped me navigate the investigation. An attorney could have ensured that the investigation was being conducted properly. The investigation was kept open for 3 years and as long as an investigation remains open, the evidence, files and any documents related to the investigation are not available to the public. This is how the investigation was kept out of the media for so long. I was not aware of this tactic and I tried to obtain the files, but for 3 years I could only access a few of the investigation records. The Powell PD attempted to suppress the investigation to point that the Columbus Dispatch had to sue in order to get access to the files. There were politics involved and too many people interfering in the investigation. I was naive, unprepared, and put my trust in the wrong hands. (Columbus Dispatch Lawsuit)
Fight the sealing of divorce records: Public figures and people in positions of power will often attempt to have divorce records sealed in order to prevent potential embarrassment. This is not something that happens often and once the records are sealed it gives the potential abuser or the non-injured party in the divorce leverage. Many people have claimed that I requested to have our divorce documents that described the abuse I suffered sealed. This is completely false; I tried to fight the sealing of our records. The records were sealed “ex parte” and without my permission. I was also not given a chance to appeal the motion that was filed by my ex husbands attorney and granted by the judge in our case. My ex’s reason for wanting the divorce sealed was that he knew the records in the divorce filing were enough to cause him to lose his job. (Eleven Warriors Article – sealing records)
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