It was 75 degrees outside. Not a cloud in the sky. The kind of weather San Diego is famous for, and a perfect Easter Sunday. Reena Becerra was already dialing her boyfriend as she got off work. She could barely wait to see him, even after five years, even after all they'd been through.
But he didn't pick up. She went to his place, and found his cell phone on his couch, and tried the last couple of numbers on it. Nothing. Not knowing what to do, she decorated the house, cooked an Easter dinner, and finally got in her car and went home.
As she pulled in she saw him. He was standing in his underwear, drunkenly trying to punch the numbers of her security code. "I had a feeling it was going to be a long night," says Reena, now 37.
"What are you doing?" she demanded. "Just let me in the f...ing house," he seethed. On the way, he knocked her down two flights of stairs. She got up, planning to end the whole thing. Once inside, he kicked her dog, who flew across the room and hid. "The next thing I know," says Reena, "we're in the kitchen and he's telling me, 'I'm going to kill myself tonight and I'm going to kill you too. I'm going to chop you into little pieces. Do you know who Laci Peterson is?" At one point he slammed her with a frying pan; at another he was banging her head against the linoleum floor so hard the neighbors below screamed, "Shut up, we don't want to hear you."
And then, Reena says, "He's on top of me and, I'm blacking out, and I can't breathe. He's got his hands around my neck and I can see his eyes are dead. They're cold, there's no feeling in them. I thought, OK, this is it. I'm going to die."Reena Becerra
Somehow she managed to call 911.
HERE'S THE PROBLEM: After we wrote about the law and choking-and by that I really mean strangling-many of you posted your own chilling stories. I wanted to find out more. Why is this deadly aspect of domestic abuse so swept under the rug? And what can we do?
Here's what I've discovered about when a lover tries to strangle you...
1) KNOW THAT YOU ARE LIKELY TO DIE. Most people blow off choking as just one more smack, fist, black-eye-par for the abuse course. It's not. This is a sign the man has crossed the line. A study done by Nancy Glass, PhD, at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing showed that attempted strangulation increases the odds seven-fold that he will end up murdering you. "Choking an intimate partner is one of the top five leading indicators that the violence is likely to become deadly," says Linda Fairstein, former Chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in New York and author of Hell Gate. "Choking and saying, 'I'm going to kill you?' Off the charts."
2) SEE A DOCTOR: Strangling cuts off oxygen to the brain. Even if you feel fine, women sometimes regain consciousness only to die three days later from brain damage or other internal injuries. "This is like you've been shot or stabbed," says Gael Strack, CEO of The National Family Justice Center Alliance, who has done more than almost anyone to educate the world about choking, and train victims, doctors, police, and prosecutors to take it seriously.
3) GATHER EVIDENCE: At least half the time, Strack's research found, this crime leaves no visible trace-at least to the untrained eye. But there are symptoms. Anything you can document or photograph will help your case. Check for:
Raspy, hoarse voice (if you call 911, it will be recorded on the tape)
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
"Petechiae" -red pinpoint marks (ruptured capillaries) around the eyes and neck
Swelling or redness on the neck
Very faint small bruises made by a thumb or finger
Involuntary urination or defecation (embarrassing as it is, Strack advises, don't wash or throw out the clothes; they're good evidence)
4) WATCH FOR LONG TERM EFFECTS: "There may be risk of future stroke and lost cognitive ability, memory and concentration," says Glass. If you're having trouble thinking, see a specialist who deals in brain injuries.
5) LEAVE THIS MAN: Reena got Mike convicted of a felony. Three years later, it's hard to believe this pistol of a woman, who works two jobs, just got into a PhD program for psychology, and is the chair of the domestic violence advocacy group VOICES, had let herself end up on the kitchen floor. The thing of it is, she'd left this guy twice for cheating, and dragged his ass to two different couples therapists. But, as anyone who's been down this road can understand, by the time she discovered he'd killed a man over drugs, the cycles of controlling and isolating, beatings and diamonds, had caught her from behind. Her mind was runny-she was a mess.
"I still wonder why I stayed," she says now. Knowing others will too, she decided, after sharing her story with me, that she didn't want to use her real name for Shine.
But a moment later, she changed her mind. She has moved on to helping others. "Let people think what they want," she said. "It's not about me anymore."
Share your story?
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[Photo Credit: Getty/Image Source] [Photo Credit: Reena Beccera]