October was domestic violence awareness month, and we here at the YWCA of the University of Illinois were inspired to interview domestic violence survivors and share their stories with all of you.
Below is the true story of Reanell Jones, and her struggle to find safety for herself and her son. We are grateful that she chose to share her story with us!
Content warning; domestic violence, gun violence, stalking
Reanell Jones, like many women today, was in a relationship characterized by violence for way longer than she expected. Through misunderstanding the nature of domestic violence, we are often encouraged to question the victim and assume that they are to blame with questions like “why didn't you leave?” However, no matter the reason for Reanell or anybody staying in an abusive relationship, the blame for the violence is always on the perpetrator. When we spoke, I assured Reanell that none of the horrible things that happened to her were her fault. Reanell agreed to share her story with us all in hope of persuading other women to leave abusive relationships and to encourage survivors to keep going.
Reanell describes her troubles as starting when she was 15 and her mother died. This played in a big part in Reanell beginning to be on the street more than home and school. Without guidance, Reanell turned to the streets in hope of healing the wounds that aren’t quite visible. Anxiety and depression are just two of the struggles Reanell faced growing up motherless and in a very violent neighborhood.
By the time Reanell reached adulthood she had developed a regular routine of being in and out of jail for theft, drug abuse and prostitution. She resorted to these strategies partly as a way to get by, but often found that she was pushed into them by an abusive partner. One horrific thing she remembers from this time in her life is having to deal with a constant stream of verbal and physical abuse from her partners.
By her mid 20’s Reanell had a son whom she adored. Unfortunately, the child’s father (and at the time partner) was abusive towards her and now viewed their son as another means to hurt Reanell. He began to verbally abuse their son even as a newborn. She attempted to talk to her partner and explain to him that verbally lashing out a newborn was unacceptable. Reanell was in a difficult position as a mother: since she was a little girl, Reanell was taught and firmly believed that a child needs both their parents. Her own loss of her mother and lack of a father further motivated her to keep her own family together even in difficult circumstances.
The breaking point for Reanell was when her ex threatened to hurt her in front of her son. She not only feared for her life, but for her son's life. The next day, Reanell knew that she and her son had to escape. She pretended to take her son to go see family and used the opportunity to run. She got a restraining order against her son’s father and stayed with a friend, but it was tough. Looking back, Reanell says, “my son was the only thing that kept me going during those times”.
What seemed to be relief didn’t last long. Abusers relish the control they have over their victims, and Reanell's ex wasn't going to let go. He began stalking her, threatening her friends and family, and popping up everywhere she went. He even went so far as to tap her phone. Under a continuing threat of violence, Reanell "had a bad feeling" that hiding at her friend’s house was no longer safe enough. She had to get far away. With a plan to escape town, Reanell went to pick up her things from a friend.
On their walk home Reanell's "bad feeling" came true: her ex spotted and confronted her. He wanted their son, and when she told him that the baby was out of town, he pulled out a gun. Reanell and her friend ran, but did not get far before he shot them both. He shot Reanell twice, in the side and back, causing her to fall; on her way down he shot her once again in the face. She lay still and he left her for dead.
When he left, Reanell got up, ran to her nearest neighbor's house and, panicking, begged them to call the cops and “get her son” to safety. She almost didn't notice that she had three bullets lodged in her, she was so worried about her baby boy.
Police in the neighborhood were able to respond quickly to the shooting. They got Reanell to safety, while friends got her son. When they arrested her ex, they did not tell him immediately that she had survived the shooting, in order to secure her safety.
Reanell bears the scars of the attack to this day. She lost her eye to the shot to her face, and now has a glass eye. Sadly, disfiguring damage is all too common.
Reanell got out, but many do not. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. Indeed, 46 women are shot to death every month by a current or former partner in domestic violence related homicides.
Her advice is to avoid abusive relationships at all costs by making sure that - first and foremost - your partner not only respects you, but their own family too. “Because a man that disrespects any woman means he disrespects them all.”
You can help women like Reanell: urge your House Member to support this bill against domestic violence homicides, and your Senator to support the companion bill in the Senate.