Domestic violence survivor shares experience, encourages awareness

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Survivor shoots ex-husband in self-defense to flee abusive relationship.

By Ansley Lewis

Victims of abuse often have to be pushed into seeking help, a survivor said Monday in a program sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement in the health promotions office.

The abuse survivor was Rosalinda Zapata, administrative assistant in UT Outreach, which provides college readiness services to students at the University of Texas at Austin.

She told an audience of 12 she endured two abusive marriages until her supervisor urged her to get out of the second relationship. The supervisor later became her third husband.

She spoke along with Sister Patricia Connolly, a licensed professional counselor.

Zapata said she married too young  to escape a broken home.

“I grew up too fast. By the time I was 15, instead of having your normal quinceañera that most girls have, I was actually getting married,” Zapata said. “I think that was my way of removing myself from the household.”

Zapata said her father was always drunk and her mom was never home, but she never saw physical abuse until her first marriage.

“I thought getting married was the answer to everything,” Zapata said. “I thought I was going to be a little princess and get taken out of the home and live this perfect life. Well, I didn’t.”

Zapata got pregnant and was forced to drop out of school to take care of her child.

“Here I was — a 15-year-old with a child — and no education. I had a husband that would come home and hit me and do whatever he wanted, and I had no way of defending myself,” Zapata said.

Zapata managed to get out of one abusive relationship and became involved in another.

“His abuse was even more severe than the first because the first abuse wasn’t really physical abuse — it was more mental and emotional,” she said.

Zapata said she kept thinking, “Either I’m going to kill him, or he’s going to kill me.”

It was not until Zapata shot him in the leg in self-defense that she was able to escape the abusive relationship. Zapata said she was still taken into custody by police and questioned but was not charged with a crime.

Zapata said it was very difficult to live through the ordeal, and it has taken her years to not cry when telling her story.

Zapata is currently to the man who first asked her to seek help for her abusive relationship.

“We’ve been married for 18 years, and these have been the best years of my life,” Zapata said.

In June, Zapata will receive a master’s degree in information technology from the University of Phoenix, and she gives advice at women’s shelters on how to escape abusive relationships.

Connolly works with the Daughters of Charity Services of San Antonio, which helps neighborhoods get access to basic necessities, such as medical care, social services, education and counseling, according to its website.

“Basically, I believe, we live in a very violent society,” Connolly said. “It’s all over the place. Often in forms we don’t even think about.”

Connolly said it is important to understand the pattern of abuse and be able to recognize it in other people.

“Being an abuser is not unlike being an alcoholic,” she said, noting abusers are likely to repeat abuse when in situations that trigger that response.

Connolly said because a lot of people are too embarrassed to ask for help, she had to find new ways of informing those in need of support.

“People were too ashamed to come forward,” Connolly said. “We put signs in bathrooms — in the stalls — so that people too embarrassed could see the fliers.”

She said the public is more aware of the problem now.

Connolly said most abusers use fear as a way to control and manipulate their victims.

“I knew this woman whose husband would not let her go out with her sisters because he was afraid she would meet some guy. She couldn’t go back to school because she might meet someone at school,” she said.

Joseph Liedecke, minister for the Catholic Student Association, asked if there was any truth to the belief women are sexually abused because of how they dress or look.

“I don’t think there is truth to that,” Zapata said. “In my personal opinion, I feel if I couldn’t wear makeup or shorts, it was his insecurities, not mine. They make you feel like you’re attracting these guys. It’s never about them.”

Connolly added, “I think when most women dress provocatively, they’re not asking to be raped. Not even a prostitute seeks to be raped. But at the same time, it requires some sense of responsibility.”

Mary Elise Ferrer, coordinator of student success, said students involved in abusive relationships who need guidance and support are welcome to visit the health promotions office 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or call her office at 210-486-0415.


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