Why did you stay?
That's the question nearly every domestic abuse victim is asked, and it's one of the hardest questions asked to them, according to Robyn Caldwell.
A domestic violence survivor herself, Caldwell was the keynote speaker at the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center's annual victims and survivors of domestic violence vigil, held Tuesday night at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center assistant director Marie Harvey, left, gives Robyn Caldwell a hug during the annual victims and survivors of domestic violence vigil at St. Paul Lutheran Church Tuesday evening as she lights a candle. Caldwell was the keynote speaker and shared her story of survival at the event.
Caldwell talked about that question during her speech and said there are different reasons why abuse survivors stay. She said she initially stayed in her abusive relationship because of love.
"The first five months were complete bliss," she said. "He adored me, admired me. But after those first five months, the abuse started."
She said her abuser instilled fear in her, and pushed away all of her friends and family to the point where he controlled everything. She said it even got to the point where he controlled what she did in her free time.
"I began to believe that I needed him, and I thought that he abused me because he loved me," Caldwell said. "I know that's hard to believe, but many abuse victims feel that way."
Caldwell said she was afraid to leave her abuser because she feared he would kill her.
"When I was with him, I knew when I could relax and when I could be on guard," she said. "If I left him, I'd be constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering if he was there."
She said even considered suicide, even though she said she didn't want to die.
"I just wanted the abuse to stop," she said. "And I wanted to take away his power to take my life."
Caldwell eventually came forward to police, but the abuse continued. She said her abuser eventually kidnapped her and held her captive for more than 26 hours. After he released her, she went to police and he disappeared for eight months.
She said he eventually pleaded guilty, but was released on parole in late 2011. He was rearrested a short time later.
Caldwell said she decided to use her experiences to to help others facing her situation.
"Think of how many women I've protected from his abuse," she said. "That makes me know that everything I went through was worth it."
She said she now works with troubled youths at Rabiner Treatment Center.
After Caldwell spoke, those in attendance read stories of victims that were attached to red silhouettes around the church. There was also a candle-lighting honoring those whose lives were lost to domestic violence.
D/SAOC Executive Director Connie Harris said the vigil is very important to anybody affected by domestic violence.
"It's really important for everybody," she said. "It reminds us of why we do what we do."
Harris, who said the night is both sad and wonderful, commended Caldwell for speaking out.
"I can't tell you the courage it takes to get up and speak," she said. "Domestic violence affects everybody; women, men and children."