A Survivor's Story

Our Teen Advocate at TAP works one-on-one with teen survivors of dating violence. If you or someone you know needs help, call our Teen Advocate at 808-531-3771.

Here, one of our brave and courageous clients shares her story. For more survivor stories, click here.

Leilani: 19 year-old female from Oahu, Hawaii

Hi, my name is *Leilani. I'm 24 years old (but my story begins when I was 19). I graduated from a Central-Oahu high school in 2009. I attended a community college on Oahu for a year until I felt college just wasn't for me. While I was in search of figuring out where I was going with my life, it became the starting point of where my life took an unexpected turn and where my story begins.

I Intro I'm more than happy to share my survivor story with you. I hope that my story will make you understand that you don't deserve to be emotionally, mentally and physically abused. It doesn't matter if you are young or old; you deserve to be treated with respect.

II My Life Before Before I met the man who I thought was the love of my life and someone I could spend the rest of my life with, I was living a carefree life. All I had to worry about was myself. I had a bubbly and outgoing personality. I was a happy person. I would be out and about on a daily basis hanging out with my girlfriends. If I weren't with my friends, I would be at the beach, paddling with my canoe club. I never had a boyfriend in the 19 years of my life. However I was always a little boy crazy. All my friends had boyfriends but I was always the odd man out in my circle of friends. My daddy was the main man in my life. I've always been Daddy's Princess.

III My Life During After high school and during my first year in college, I was somewhat a party animal. It would only be Monday and my mind was ready for the weekend to begin. I would go to the club with all my girlfriends and guy friends every Friday night. My girlfriends and I would never miss a night out at the club. We were constant club goers for a little over a year. Within that year, I met this extremely charming young man while out at the club. I was attracted to his smile and how sweet and handsome he was. I’ve never received so much attention from a man before. I enjoyed the special attention I was receiving. From that first night we met, we were boyfriend and girlfriend two days later. Since we made it official that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, we spent all of our time together. I would take the long drive over to his house just so we could see each other. We were frequent movie goers, late night snackers and partners in crime when we just wanted to do something spontaneous. I was extremely happy to have a boyfriend. I felt like I was the luckiest girl in the world to have someone like him. I loved that I had a man that was so protective of me and could take care of me. There was never a dull moment when we were together. We were always smiling, laughing and just enjoying each other’s company.

A week or two after we started dating it didn’t feel like I thought it would. My relationship was completely different compared to my girlfriends who had boyfriends. Their boyfriends would shower them with love but I was showering my boyfriend with love and getting nothing in return.

Within the second week of us dating, we were in my room and I was just scrolling through my Facebook. He noticed that I had a lot of guy friends and he didn’t like that. He made me delete every single guy in my list of friends until I told him to stop. We began to argue because I didn’t want to continue deleting all of my friends who I’ve known longer than I’ve known him. We agree to disagree and just brushed it off. This is when I realized that jealousy and trust were going to be a big hurdle in our relationship.

He had a full-time job and I was in the process of obtaining a job. I was the one who was responsible for taking him to and from work. While he was at work, he would call me at least 10+ times a day because he wanted to know what I was doing at all times. If I would just so happen to miss one of his calls because I fell asleep, he would always find a way to make me feel guilty about it. A month had gone by since we started dating and he tells me that he quit his job because he feels the need to keep an eye on me. Around this time that he quit his job, his “best friend” was feeding him lies that I was cheating on him with him (the best friend) and that he has photos and videos of me cheating. I told him that I wanted to see these photos and videos, which I already knew never existed but I just wanted to see what he would say. He would find every excuse to defend himself because he knew the cheating was never really going on.

I became isolated from my friends and the things I loved to do because he wanted me all to himself. This relationship was the loneliest and darkest time of my life. He cut me off from the world I once knew. Early on in our relationship he would be a little aggressive with me by grabbing my arms or hands too tight. I remember one incident where he grabbed my arm while I was driving and twisted it the wrong way. He held my arm in that uncomfortable position for a couple seconds. After he set my arm free, I told him that I was done with the relationship. After a while he apologized and said that he wouldn't do it again. I forgave him and just brushed it off. We continued our relationship. From that first incident it just continued to escalate. One of the scariest times I've ever encountered where I thought I would lose my life was when we were driving on the freeway late at night. I was in the driver's seat. We were arguing non-stop from the time I left my house till we were on the freeway. He caught me by surprise and grabbed my hair and pulled my head down into his lap. The car was swerving all over the freeway. He let me go after I pulled over onto the side but told me to continue driving. I continued to drive and we were now driving in a residential area. We pulled over into a deserted park parking lot. I walked over to his side of the car to calm him down but he just ended up punching the side of my thigh to where I yelled for him to stop. Then I heard someone say "Hey!" and when I looked the person ran away. We got back in the car and continued driving on. I had to endure 2 hours of driving; not knowing what he would do next. There were many incidents where he laid his hands on me and apologized every time and told me he loved me. I believed every word coming from his mouth. I believed every promise he made to me when he said he wouldn't do it again. I put all my trust in him when he told me that he wouldn't hurt me like he did his Ex-Girlfriend. I met him when I was 19 and I found out I was pregnant 2 months after we started dating. He moved in with my family and I soon after. When I was 6 months pregnant with my twin girls, he had punched me in the face and the back of my head. He was continuously punching the back of my head to where I began to see black spots. He was punching the back of my head so much that I was beginning to think he wasn't ever going to stop. At that point that's when my trust for him went right out the door. His reason for doing it was because he was withdrawing from his drugs and his withdrawals were just getting the best of him. But once my parents found out he was beating me up, my dad told him that he was no longer welcome in our home.

I grew up in a Christian family my entire life and to be young not married and pregnant already made me feel very embarrassed but to walk around with a pregnant belly and black eye and bruises on the back of my neck, brought my shame to a whole other level. The stares would bring my self-esteem lower than it already was. Opinions from others were just things I had to endure because everyone has an opinion. I just had to deal with it and still deal with till this day.

After that last major beating he had done to me, I couldn’t go to my friends because it had been months since I spoke to any of them and for me to come at them with something as serious as this would be too much for anyone to handle. The only people I could turn to for help were My Parents. My Parents and Family have been and still are a big support in my life. They’ve stood by my side every step of the way. It didn’t matter if I was making a decision that they didn’t agree with, they stood by my side anyway. That’s what family does. I couldn’t have been more grateful for all the support my family had given me during the time of abuse. When it’s something as serious as that, you need all the support you can get. I could never repay them for all they have done.

I spent the last 3 months of my pregnancy in a safe house that my parents had set up for me. It was some place that my ex-boyfriend would never be able to find me. My parents also told me that I could not contact any of my friends because of the risk of him finding out where I was staying. They also cut me off from all social media and had taken away my phone. The only thing I was able to do was go to my weekly doctor appointments to check up on the twins and come straight back to the safe house and rest since these last months of my pregnancy would be crucial.

I also spent a lot of time at the Kapolei Family Courthouse in the last 3 months of my pregnancy as well. My Mom and I had been getting our TRO paperwork ready to file so we could have a set court date. Once we had our finalized TRO paperwork, one set was for myself and the other for my ex-boyfriend. It was difficult to serve him the paperwork because there was never a specific place he would always be. The day My Mom and I were going to settle our TROs in court that was the first day I became a client to the Domestic Violence Action Center. At the time, I didn’t think I would need their help because I felt that there was nothing wrong with my relationship that I had with my ex-boyfriend. I honestly thought I didn’t need anyone’s help. I felt that I wasn’t making a mistake staying with him. I felt that there was still room for change within him.

A few weeks after my 20th birthday, my twin girls were welcomed into this world. Even though I had a protection order against My Ex-Boyfriend, I still wanted him to be a part of my life as well as our daughters’ lives. We continued to be in a relationship and I found out I was pregnant with our third child a year later. Even after the physical abuse that he had done to me during my first pregnancy, I still felt hopeful that he would change and be a better man and wonderful daddy. He has been in jail most of my daughters’ lives. He would come out of jail one month and be back in jail the next. While he’s been in jail, I started to see things a little clearer. It’s made me look a little deeper and reevaluate my relationship with him. He’s currently incarcerated at a correctional center in the mainland and will be released in late 2016. I was a client with the Domestic Violence Action Center for 2 years and during the time spent with my advocate, I ranted and raved about my dysfunctional relationship. My advocate told me that she would have to close my case because I was still choosing to be in the relationship with the person who abused me and was somewhat still abusing me. Not physical abuse but a different form of abuse. The Domestic Violence Action Center stands for helping everyone and anyone who seeks to get out of relationships where there is domestic violence, like mines, but I was deciding to stay in this relationship hoping that it would get better and be the relationship I always wanted it to be. The last thing she said to me was “Leilani, one day he’s just going to push you over the edge to where you just don’t care. Nothing he says or does is going to matter.” He pushed me over the edge. He would still accuse me of cheating and going out with my girlfriends. He would believe all the things that his friends in jail would say about me when I don’t even know them and they don’t even know me. I would always have to justify myself to him to make him believe me. I was just so sick of it! He never understood that all my time goes to caring for the girls. I realized that it’s the same old story. I’m the one who takes care of our babies. I’m the one that has to be responsible. First responsible decision I’ve ever made was having the courage to say “I’m done with this relationship” and standing strong in my decision.

From the first meeting with my advocate till the last, she had taught me so much about domestic violence. I remember we were doing our monthly meeting and she had brought some domestic violence education papers. One of them had a picture of a wheel and in each piece of the wheel it had categorized traits of an abuser. I remember as we were reading through each of the traits, I began to realize that my boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) was at least one or more of those traits in each category. At one of our other meetings as we were finishing up, she had given me homework. The homework was to write out the pros and cons of being in the relationship. I went home thinking that it was going to be a piece of cake and that I would come up with more pros than cons, only to realize that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I sat there looking at my list and realizing that it contained more cons than pros. I sat there even longer trying to come up with more pros and nothing came to mind. I just had to stop living in my fantasy world and come back to reality and ask myself “Is this really the man you want to spend the rest of your life with?”

We also had done a lot of safety planning. One of the many safety precautions we would always talk about were TROs. TROs were most important especially if there were children involved. Other than TROs, My Dad had taken it upon himself to make our house as safe as possible. He installed motion sensor flood lights around our house, he changed some of our house locks and also made sure that the alarm system of our house was working properly.

After my advocate had closed my case, I still had a good relationship with her. A week or two after I had ended my relationship, I reached out to her and told her that I would like to meet with her to share some new and exciting things that were happening in my life. We set a date of when we were going to meet and the day couldn’t come any faster. When I arrived to our meet up I had brought my original testimony. My testimony was the first thing I had shared with her. I let her read it and waited patiently to hear what she thought. We both got really emotional after she had read it because it was a long journey from where I started to where I am now. My life had changed completely just because of one decision that I made. It changed my life for the better.

After making the decision to leave my relationship I had to start thinking about having custody of my daughters. I had taken the step to get the custody paperwork but I was unsure on how to fill it out. I reached out to my advocate on if she could help me with my paperwork and she suggested that I go to Legal Aid. I made an appointment to come in for help and Legal Aid was tremendously helpful. I don’t think I would have been able to do all of that paperwork on my own. Soon enough the custody court hearing had arrived and I was filled with nerves and anxiety but My Advocate, Christina and her supervisor, Mandi had accompanied me in the courtroom, which made my nerves calm a little more. The court hearing had gone really well, we were all surprised at how smooth it had all went.

When I had first shared my testimony with Christina she had asked me if it would be okay for her to share my testimony with other young men and women and I told her that that would be more than fine with me. Since then, I have been given opportunities to share my story with others. I have shared my story with high school students, probation officers and college students. Not only does it make an impact on the people who hear my story but it gives me a feeling of empowerment. It gives me that feeling, that I’m giving a man or woman hope after an abusive relationship. That’s the number one reason on why it’s so important to share my story and why others who have been in an abusive relationship should share theirs. Every time I think about what has happened to me I’m not going to let the negative drag me down. It was like a blessing in disguise. It has given me the chance to make a little difference in this crazy world we live in.

Till this day, I still have a good relationship with my advocate. She’s the one I go to when I’m having a difficult time making decisions when it involves my ex-boyfriend. She’s there for me when I just need to rant about my daughters and how raising them on my own can sometimes be very stressful. I can talk to her about future relationships and how it feels so hard for me to start over. My advocate still plays a big part in my life even after I’ve ended my abusive relationship. She’s not only my advocate but she’s my confidant, my mentor, my therapist and most of all, someone who I consider my friend.

IV My Life Now Today, I am a single mother of 3 girls. I was also awarded sole custody of my daughters as of summer 2014. I have a full time job. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week I am dedicated to taking care of my daughters. When I manage to have a part time job, I have to depend on my parents who have to come home from a long day of work to watch my daughters. I sometimes have to depend on my younger brother to watch my daughters after he comes home from a long day of high school. After I’m done with work, I have to come home and take care of my daughters and get them ready for bed so my parents can rest and be well rested for work the next morning. I don’t have time to be thinking about the next relationship I’m going to be in because I don’t plan on being in a relationship anytime soon. My priorities are completely different compared to the person I was when I had no worries and only had to take care of myself.

V My Experience Thinking back to when I was in high school, high school really hasn’t changed much. I think every high school student wants that special someone who you can share everything with. That special someone who can be your best friend as well as your lover. But if that special someone is causing you pain (physical, emotional or mental pain or loneliness) that isn’t love. Your special someone shouldn’t be hurting you or isolating you from the world. You need to seek out a friend who you can trust and who can be the voice of reason. Just so your friend can give you their advice and thoughts about how you can resolve it before it continues to escalate. Something as serious as domestic violence shouldn’t be taken lightly. It should be brought to attention immediately before it can amount to serious injury. I say, the most special relationship you should have, should be the relationship between you and your friends. No relationship can ever overtake the power of friendship. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Leaving this relationship wasn’t easy. After 3 years of being in a relationship with this man, I finally realized that every “I love you” and promise made were just a bunch of meaningless words. The Domestic Violence Action Center has given me so much knowledge from learning to see the signs of an abusive relationship to learning that the abuser has to recognize that they need help. Every victim in an abusive relationship must understand that they are not responsible for the actions of the abuser. If I didn’t have the Domestic Violence Action Center to lean on during the period when I was being abused, maybe I would still be in the relationship. Maybe I would still be miserable, hanging on to that little inch of hope that he will change. Maybe I would be lying on a hospital bed because he beat me up real good. Today I am standing strong, stronger than I’ve ever been. I want you all to know that you can rise above it. Don’t lower your standards! Because you are much more valuable than that! There is a brighter future for you after an abusive relationship. It may have an impact on how you look at your future relationships but it just makes you look a little deeper. I hope my story has impacted you, in some way. Be courageous and strive for a better future.