By Eric Peterson
As a certified domestic violence professional, Ruby Nava today can recognize her own abusive relationship as a nearly textbook case.
But as with so many others, even family and friends couldn’t help the now-Streamwood resident recognize her situation for what it was while she was in the thick of it.
Not until her former husband’s jealousy became so intense that he struck her on the back and head when she turned away to cradle their crying infant son did realization dawn.
“That jealousy toward my son is what turned on the light for me,” Nava says. “It occurred to me that he didn’t love his son. I thought if he doesn’t love his son, he’ll never learn to love me.”
Nava — who has since remarried and uses her married name — will share her story and the lessons others can learn from it Thursday, when Roosevelt University and the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence host “Break the Silence on Relationship Violence,” organized to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The event is from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Roosevelt’s Schaumburg campus.
Nava is both a member of the alliance and a full-time student at Roosevelt, where she’s completing her psychology degree.
She wants to become a counselor focused on domestic violence issues.
The relationship, which began in 2000 at a West suburban high school, seemed almost too good.
“Abusers tend to be Prince Charming in front of you and your friends,” Nava said.
But little by little he became more controlling, until the friends who initially warned her about the changes were virtually excluded from her life.
Her mother’s advice — that exposing him to their non-abusive family would change him — reinforced her own bad instincts, she says.
Nava’s mother even supported their decision to marry in December 2001 when Nava was 16 and he was an 18-year-old high school senior.
Nava graduated a semester early the following year — two months before her son was born. Once during her pregnancy, her husband kicked her in the stomach.
Nava never pressed charges.
She filed for divorce in 2005 and was granted an order of protection that was later revised and extended.
She initially got help from an agency that moved her into a shelter.
But her then-husband learned the location of the shelter on her first night there, from a relative.
During her divorce, Nava worked in a currency exchange behind protective glass.
Even so, he would stand in the lobby and shout at her.
Her husband was in another relationship by the time their divorce became final in 2006, and he now lives downstate.
And only in the past couple months have they been able to see each other face-to-face when exchanging custody of their 8-year-old son, she said.
Police change tactics
Nava found that police in the various towns she lived in did little to help.
Her husband showed no respect for authority, and police left it up to her whether to pursue charges.
Today, however, Schaumburg is among the communities that are approaching domestic violence differently.
Police Chief Brian Howerton said in years past, the police policy on domestic calls was to merely separate the parties.
They didn’t even document the call if the victim didn’t press charges. As a patrol captain in 1998, however, he ordered officers to start documenting every call of domestic abuse.
Later as chief of operations, he rewrote the department’s policy to say that an officer “will” arrest — not just “may” arrest — the offender in any domestic violence call.
He believes this policy is what has caused the number of repeat offenders in the village to drop dramatically. Today there are only two or three homes that officers have visited five or more times in the past six months, he said.
More significantly, there has been only one Schaumburg domestic violence death in the past eight years — and that was the tragic case of the mother convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her adopted 6-year-old son.
Responding to domestic violence calls is considered among the least glamorous aspects of police work, but Howerton tries to keep his officers’ morale up by telling them, “Effective domestic violence intervention results in homicide prevention.”
A public response
Despite statistics that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will be victims of an abusive relationship at some point in their lives, Nava says that for too long society has tried to make domestic violence a private issue.
That’s why Roosevelt University felt it had a role to play, given its institutional mission to foster social justice, Schaumburg Campus Provost Doug Knerr said.
In fact, he’d like to see the campus eventually develop a center on domestic violence for either political action or scholarly research.
“That’s what a university can do,” Knerr said. “That’s what distinguishes this from just a place to go for classes.”
But as much help as exists, Nava said the hard truth is that it won’t be used until victims recognize for themselves that they’re in an abusive relationship.
All her personal and professional experience can’t expedite that process for someone else by even one day.
“I believe everyone comes to the truth in their own time, in their own way,” she said.
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