Holly Collins Presents at the 2011 Battered Mothers Custody Conference

"People Like Me"
I have been working for months on some sort of presentation that I could give today that would be unemotional and factual so I would be considered a valuable asset to this conference. Just a few days ago I learned that my attorney was able to make arrangements to be here as well and he reminded me “don’t be afraid to tell how you feel.” So the day before I left I was in panic searching through court files and old journals to try to find the words of what I was feeling and I came across this entry that I made when my children were actively being abused in 1994. It was right before I decided to rescue them and go on the run. It’s called “People Like Me”

My name is Holly Collins. I am a battered woman and I always thought that was DIRTY word and that ‘People Like Me’ are not special, social or likeable. Heck, we don’t even have the right to be. There is something about me that makes other people upset and makes them think that I owe them whatever they desire and demand. I wish I knew what was wrong with me and why I tend to bring out the worst in people.

I was severely abused as a child. The physical abuse was terrifying. The sexual abuse was debilitating. The verbal abuse was defeating. I don’t agree that verbal abuse is worse than the physical. It’s the beating that will kill a child. It’s the rape that scars forever. It all feeds each other. It’s the combination of terror, enforced by immense physical pain and unbelievable cruelty which influences the person I am today. I know I am responsible for whom I am supposed to be, but sometimes I also think that it’s just too late. I was only a little girl when I was told by my own parent “You are not lovable, hell you are not even likable.” And ‘People Like Me’ somehow believe it to be true.

When I was a kid I tried to escape the abuse in many ways, but somehow always ended up back in the hands of my abusive parents. When I was 17 I became pregnant and married a violent man. I thought that I was lucky to get away. Even though he beat me severely and put me in the hospital 3 times in the first month we were married, he still wasn’t as frightening as my parents. I was 17 years old, 5 months pregnant and I accepted that this was just the way life was for ‘People Like Me.’

My husband was in the military and we moved around. I never had the chance to make friends and I always thought that was because of the moves, but I realize it was because of his isolation. He made sure that I had no one except him. The abuse escalated to such severity that I am still ashamed to reveal. During one beating when I was 5 months pregnant, I fell to the floor and he started kicking me in the stomach. I knew that I should have stood up, but I just gave up at that point and I felt so guilty that I was not a good mother because I did not protect my unborn baby. I began to hemorrhage and when I got to the hospital, the ultrasound confirmed that my baby was dead.

My husband worked in the military hospital and his superiors were contacted because they suspected abuse. My husband was clever and calculating. Instead of curbing his abuse, he came up with this bizarre idea that I had a disease which caused spontaneous bruising. He would suddenly punch me in the face and then tell me it was for my own good so the doctors would realize that I had this disease and could they find a cure.

One night when my husband was beating me as usual, I just couldn’t keep my cries silent. I knew that I was being selfish, but I just didn’t want to risk dying alone that night. My 4 year old little boy came to my rescue and tried to protect me and his own father beat him so severely that he fractured his skull. Again I knew it was all my fault and that 'People Like Me' don’t even deserve to be a parent.

I sought the advice from our priest who told my husband that he had to move out and seek professional help. My husband hired an attorney who drafted papers giving him unsupervised visitation. That scared me more than anything so I took him back. Then the priest or doctors made a report to child protection. Child protection threatened me that if I didn’t leave then they would take the children away and I would be charged with “failure to protect.” Because 'People Like Me' are supposed to protect their children.

When I left for good, the case was transferred from Juvenile court to family court and right away the children were forced to go alone with him. I went child protection and begged for their help. I begged them: “I told you this is why I wouldn’t leave him. I told you… Now there is no one there to protect my children.” They just dismissed me that it wasn’t in their hands anymore and said that I needed to tell the judge, but the judge wouldn’t listen. Because 'People Like Me' make other people uncomfortable when we describe horrific abuse that no one wants to hear.

My children came home with bruises and stories of beatings and torture. My son blamed me many times “My dad hit me because of you. I got in trouble because of you...” No one would protect my children and I just couldn’t bear to send them alone with someone who was hurting them. I couldn’t believe what happened next. HE called the police claiming that he was the victim of a vengeful ex-wife. They would enter my home, pull my children out from underneath their beds and hand them to the man who was beating them. My daughter would cry so hard that she would throw up. Instead of confirming the children’s fears the police reports were used as evidence that I was uncooperative. And that is how 'People Like Me' find them selves at the mercy of their abusers again.

Even though the judge found that my ex-husband was abusive he was angry at me for my incomprehensible fear. I have the court transcripts of the judge actually saying “I’ve seen him and I’ve seen her. She was shaking like a scared little bird. I thought he had just beat her with a belt and then I find that they have been divorce for 2 years and that is not the behavior of a woman who has been divorced for 2 years”. And that is how 'People Like Me' loose custody of their children.

And now I have to admit that I don’t even know if there are any other 'People Like Me.' Society shuns me because 'People Like Me' do not loose their children unless they have done something terribly wrong. I keep trying to figure out what I did so wrong. It must be all my fault. My children are being abused and I can’t find a way to protect them. They look at me with such desperation and betrayal that I am the one person that should be helping them but I don’t.

I don’t know how to fix it but all I do know is that I can not stand by here and do nothing as my children also become 'People Like Me'.

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