By JANET PECKINPAUGH
April 18, 2010
A year before I met him, my roommate and I saw his picture in our college yearbook.
He was the most astonishingly handsome man either of us had ever seen. He played basketball at our school, Indiana University, belonged to the best fraternity and was from an upper-middle-class family, as was I.
One year later, when he returned to school after a stint in the Marine Reserves (this was during the Vietnam War), we met. Three months later, we married. I was entering my junior year and he, who had supposedly graduated and gotten a job, was starting graduate school. At least that's what I thought.
On the second night of our marriage, he beat me.
I had discovered he hadn't graduated and there was no job. There were also no clues, no signs of his violent nature. He began stalking me. He would hide outside my classrooms or somewhere in our apartment, watching to make sure I wasn't talking to anybody.
The beatings increased. He often attacked after I made a friendly phone call to a girlfriend or had an innocent conversation with a professor on the way out of class. Rape usually followed the beating.
Then, he forbid me to see my friends and threatened me with a worse fate if I told anyone our secret. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. He had found a job, and I saw an opening. One day in October of that year, I dropped him at work and — with a packed overnight bag already in my car — I just kept going. I drove seven hours to my parents' house in Ohio.
They never knew why I left. I just told them that I couldn't be married anymore. I couldn't tell them the truth. Fortunately, they supported me and rebuffed him when he arrived at our house with the police in an attempt to reclaim "his property."
Even after getting away from him, I feared there would be a stigma associated with this behavior if anyone knew what I had endured. It's only been in recent years that I've been able to share my story and only with people involved in helping battered women. Domestic abuse can lead to murder. We should talk more about it and try to understand the triggers.
Several years after college, when I began working as a television reporter and anchor, I discovered that my job exposed me to potential stalkers daily. The first time was when I was working for a station in Richmond, Va. A man carrying a shotgun walked in and told the receptionist that I was his wife and had run away from home. Luckily, that incident was peacefully resolved.
One stalker in Richmond ran my car off the road at night and tried to pull me out of the vehicle. A passer-by called the police before he could hurt me. Yet another man hid on my bedroom balcony and watched me undress each night after I got home from work.
There were many others during my 30-year television career, but the worst was the man who tried to kidnap my precious baby. I saw someone strange on the street in front of my house as I drove away to work, then, sensing something was wrong, I circled back and arrived just as my nanny had opened the door with my child in her arms. The man, who was arrested later that afternoon, had an assault and rape rap sheet a mile long.
Stalking is a serious crime. The victim lives in constant fear, never knowing when the perpetrator will strike. Police always told me I'd be safe as long as the stalker didn't try to get close to me, close to my work, home or family.
Our laws, however, still prohibit police from interfering until they believe a crime has been committed. We must find more effective ways to protect women such as Johanna Justin-Jinich, the Wesleyan University student killed by a stalker last year, or Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who was shadowed and filmed undressing in her hotel room.
Stalking takes place on every college campus and in every city in the country. Abuse happens behind closed doors in every neighborhood, from the poorest to the wealthiest. Education and communication are key.
I shared my story with my son soon after he started dating. He's in college now. I hope by sharing my story publicly I will help others and they will be spared the shame, humiliation and pain that abuse and stalking bring. I hope it will prompt a healthy discussion at your dinner table tonight.
•Janet Peckinpaugh runs Peckinpaugh Media Group. She will be a panelist April 27 at Wesleyan at a Key Issues Forum, "The Person You Think You Know; Signs and Solutions of Campus Violence."
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