From death threats to afternoons at the aquarium


In June of 2011, Rebecca Stratton received an eviction notice from the apartment complex she lived in with her boyfriend and 4-month-old daughter. The reduced pay she received while on maternity leave had left her struggling to pay several of her bills, including rent.

Receiving that eviction notice is not what sticks out to her most about that day. Instead, it’s the memory of her boyfriend’s hands wrapping angrily around her throat.

Her partner wasn’t a jealous man and usually walked away if he got too angry. Stratton saw their relationship as a happy one, going through a tough financial time. Even looking back, she said there were no red flags that would have prepared her for his extreme violence.

“He wasn’t interested in just hurting me, but killing me,” Stratton said.

Licensed psychologist Henry Gurksy said financial issues, especially if in conjunction with mental disorders, substance abuse, or history of trauma, can ignite a violent streak within a person.

Stratton said her boyfriend had been diagnosed with ADHD when he was 13 years old but had no history of trauma or substance abuse. Being 10 years younger and not 21 years old yet, he also didn’t drink alcohol, according to Stratton.

After leaving Virginia, Stratton returned to Pennsylvania, she had grown up in Hellertown. She stayed with her mom, but was swayed to move back with promises of being a family. Professional counselor Jackie Gower said this is a commonly used tactic by abusers.

“They know what to say to make the other person question themselves, and that’s very powerful,” Gower said.

Back in Virginia, Stratton’s boyfriend, mad with jealousy, strangled her, held a hammer to her head and tossed the baby from her arms onto a couch, so that, according to Stratton, he could put her in the trunk of their car. He was planning on drowning her in the river. All of the sudden, he stopped, Stratton said. She has no idea why, but was thankful she suddenly had the chance to get away again.

Back at her mother’s in Pennsylvania, she filed for a Protection from Abuse Order, but before he could be served, her boyfriend arrived in Pennsylvania and reported Stratton for kidnapping.

Stratton went to Turning Point, a shelter for domestic abuse victims, fearing that staying with her mom would bring her harm.

“It puts you in a place where you have nothing, because you can’t go home,” Stratton said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next time.”

Stratton was physically recovering, but was now dealing with depression and a custody battle. Despite his violence and Stratton’s request for supervised visitation, her abuser was given extended weekend visits with their daughter. The logic was that because Stratton was the target of the abuse, her daughter would be fine when she wasn’t around.

Four years later, Stratton blames the financial pressures combined with her ex’s immaturity for the violence. His personal growth has helped her forgive him and she says they are on “really good terms, more so than most parents,” but are not romantically involved.

“I felt if I were to continue to hate him, it would show my daughter the wrong thing,” Stratton said. “I didn’t want her to see that and so it took a long time but I had to forgive him, for me. I needed to be a mom and provide a good role model for my daughters.”

Although similarities can be made between cases, there is no way to predict how a story will end for a domestic abuse victim based on the experiences of Stratton. For some it ends once they are free from their abuser, for Stratton it ended with an afternoon at the Baltimore Aquarium with the man who once threatened to kill her and their daughter.

“He even brought his other daughter,” Stratton said. “It was a nice afternoon.”

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