We dated briefly in high school and I she came to visit my studio when I moved back to Floyd County in 2004. We had lunch and talked about old times. She married shortly after graduation from high school and they remained in Floyd County.

She seemed happy…until a phone call last week asking to meet for lunch, not in Floyd, but in Christiansburg.

I noticed the big, goggle-sized sunglasses when I walked into Cracker Barrel. She wore them at the table.

"What’s with the sunglasses?"

She lowered them just enough for me to see the swelling and bruises around her right eye.

"Who did this?"

"He did," she said, referring to her husband, a man I’ve also known since high school.

"Has this happened before?"

"Yes, many times."

"So, why do you stay?"

"I love him."

After sexual abuse, spousal abuse is one of the most unreported crimes in America. According to the Take Back the Night project at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte:

Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all adult women are beaten by their husbands or lovers at some time in their lives. 14% of American women acknowledge having been violently abused by a husband or boyfriend.

92% of women who were physically abused by their partners did not discuss these incidents with their physicians; 57% did not discuss the incidents with anyone.

In the U.S., every 9 seconds a woman is physically abused by her husband.

Within the last year, 7% of American women (3.9 million) who are married or living with someone were physically abused, and 37% (20.7 million) were verbally or emotionally abused by their spouse or partner.

Too many women stay with men who beat them. They become dependent on their abusers. They use love, children or dozens of other excuses for living in fear in their own homes. They feel trapped and unable to leave.

Sometimes they reach out, as my childhood friend did recently, because they finally realize they need help.  We discussed options. I made some phone calls and found her a bed at an abused women’s shelter out of the county, away from her abuser.  I found a lawyer to file divorce proceedings. I urged her to file charges against her husband. She isn’t ready to do that yet but, with the help of counseling, she may soon.

I visited her husband and gave him a short lesson in non-verbal communication, letting him know the lesson would be repeated tenfold if he ever went near her again. Let’s just say he felt her pain and got the message.

With help, and luck, she may escape the horror of living with a spousal abuser. But how many still live among us, trapped in a cycle of violence that never ends?