One out of every three women in the United States has experienced physical violence at the hands of a romantic partner.
That’s an alarming statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though domestic abuse is more common an experience for women, it’s not limited to them — men fare only a little better, with one out of every four exposed to violence from their partner.
Visualize what those numbers mean in the real world for a moment. Think about how many people you see on a daily basis. Those of us with active lives and jobs see perhaps thousands of people daily, whether it’s at work, at the grocery store, at the mall or hanging out in Old Town on the weekend. And out of all of those people, a significant number have experienced domestic violence.
Despite its commonality in our lives, it’s not something we often talk about. Only a quarter of domestic violence incidents get reported to police. Even fewer get reported in the media.
That wasn’t the case when Carlie Dew, then 17, was attacked by her boyfriend early in the morning of June 16 at his Temecula home, a crime for which he faced charges. That incident likely would have been a domestic violence call unremarkable enough to never become public knowledge outside of the court system, if not for the identity of the assailant: Carlie’s ex-boyfriend was a high school champion wrestler whose accomplishments had previously been chronicled in local media. And it still wouldn’t have even been known publicly if the police hadn’t been called and Carlie hadn’t pressed charges.
Carlie’s ex-boyfriend declined to comment for this story when reached after his conviction on a domestic violence charge.
The relationship started innocently enough, Carlie said.
“Ryan messaged me on Instagram one night, and that’s how we met, and we started dating pretty soon after that — we started dating after about four months,” she said. “He was really good in the beginning.”
She said she would later find there was more than that beneath the surface.
“That’s a cornerstone of someone who is abusive,” Carlie said. “I mean, he’s very good at manipulating. Very quickly he started exhibiting abusive behaviors. He started fighting with me, started verbally abusing me, started manipulating me and trying to isolate me from my family and friends and it worked.”
That lasted for a few months before she broke up with him.
Carlie said after the break-up, her ex-boyfriend did things like show up at her house and call her, her mother and her sister.
“Breaking up with him didn’t work,” as far as trying to get her ex to leave her alone, Carlie said. “He was supposed to leave in early June for wrestling to go to a university, so I was like, OK, I’m just gonna wait until he leaves.”
But then, while she was coming back from a graduation she had attended in San Diego, she received a call from her ex-boyfriend. Carlie said he asked her to pick him up.
“He was drunk,” Carlie said. “So I went to go pick him up. He lost his keys, so we drove around to his house and back to the party.”
According to Carlie, her ex-boyfriend got angrier and angrier about losing his keys, and blamed it on her.
“So that night ended up being what he was arrested for,” she said.
Carlie said after she dropped her ex off at his mother’s apartment, he didn’t want her to leave.
“I shut the door, and I was so angry and frustrated, I was walking away and I slowly began to realize, ‘Carlie, he’s gonna chase you, he’s done it before, why aren’t you running?” she said.
That thought occurred to her too late.
“I remember being at least two feet off the ground. He picked me up like a doll,” Carlie said.
Then, she said, he knocked them both to the ground.
“He was yelling at me the whole time,” Carlie said. “I had no idea what he said. Just red, and I — that is the main image I remember to this day is his face. And he just had pure fear in his eyes that I was running away from him, and he knew that.”
She said he picked her up again, and she started screaming.
“I understood if I do not start screaming, I’m never gonna get away from him if he’s not gonna let me,” Carlie said.
Still, no one immediately came, and Carlie said her ex picked her up and took her back inside his apartment.
“At that point, he had changed his tune, and he was saying, ‘babe, I’m so sorry, it’s me, it’s me,’” Carlie said.
One of the neighbors eventually came to knock on the door and was able to wedge her foot inside to prevent Carlie’s ex from closing the door in her face.
“All I heard her say was I am not leaving until I see that she is OK,” Carlie said.
Carlie said she was able to convince her ex to let her run outside. There was another struggle, she said, when her ex tried to chase her and the neighbor down, but a relative of her ex showed up and subdued him.
Carlie said security from a nearby club also became involved and were able to help her leave by forming a circle around her car to allow her to back up without interference from her ex.
Carlie at first did not want to press charges, then changed her mind, she said. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested the day after the incident and later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, and was sentenced to 116 days in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s work-release program, plus 20 hours of community service, fines and a yearlong domestic violence program.
Carlie said it was a difficult, scary experience for her, but she doesn’t want the system to lock her ex up and throw away the key.
“He has every right, should he change as a person and recognize what he did and fix it and become better, I believe he has every right to be an equal member of society after he finishes what he’s asked to do,” she said. “And we should be looking at these people as how do we make them productive members of society?”
But living through domestic violence, and dealing with the aftermath, was an experience Carlie said changed her.
“It was very hard to go through heartbreak after pressing charges,” she said. “It was very upside down, it’s very backwards, it makes no sense, and it’s altogether just heartbreaking.”
She says she almost doesn’t recognize herself, seven months later, and that she has grown stronger.
“That girl, she did so many things that I never would do now,” Carlie said of her previous self. “I think if anything I’m stronger. I’m not as afraid of anything. I feel like in daily life I can recognize red flags about people who may be abusive. And there’s more people out there like that than you might think.”
Now having lived through domestic violence, Carlie has advice for others who may be experiencing the same thing.
“To a person who is blind and in love and being abused anyway, the first thing is, of course, write down anything. Save all of it. Take pictures of your injuries, date them, make notes,” she said. “You need to recognize also that you cannot change the person that you are with. That is like a textbook issue. The person being abused thinks, ‘I can fix them.’ It’s not your job, you are never going to.”
Now a freshman student at UC Santa Barbara, Carlie said she is soon planning to change her major to psychological and brain sciences, in part because of her experience with domestic violence.
“I don’t want to understand what was wrong with him, that’s not my journey in life,” she said. “But I want to be able to help someone help something, and I feel like that is gonna set me up to do so.”
And, Carlie said while she may have been scared seven months ago, that’s no longer the case.
“I would love to stare him in the eye and for him to see that I’m not afraid of him,” she said. “His main goal for me and for the girls before me was to fear life without him, and I want him to understand that I don’t.”
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.