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By Lorena Bobbitt Gallo

When I was young and first married, I didn't know what domestic violence was; I believed that what my husband was doing was something that only happened to me. I didn't realize that there were millions of people — mostly millions of women — who suffered from domestic violence. I never even realized that I was a victim.

When it happened, over 25 years ago, things like what happened to me were seen differently. People are more aware and more sensitive about domestic violence, sexual assault and marital rape than they were then. And especially right now, people are looking at situations like mine through the lens of the Me Too movement. We have broken the stigma against talking about violence against women, and I hope that we will be able to talk even more. We have come a long way, and done a lot, but there's still so much more to be done for people to understand how domestic violence works.

I agreed to participate in the documentary about my case to shine a light on the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and martial rape for future generations, to help people understand what really happened. And I think the documentary does show both how terrible and traumatizing it can be for a victim, and it also how aggressive and brutal the perpetrators are.

I was a naïve young woman then, thinking that I was looking for the American dream and, unfortunately, things didn't happen the way they were supposed to. I didn't expect my own husband to hurt me; I was never really able to comprehend why my husband was hurting me.

But I loved my husband, and believed that he would change. And, because of my religious and cultural background, I didn't believe in divorce; being divorced was taboo. All of that contributed to the cycle, where he would get triggered by something — for example, me not being able to cook his favorite meal or anything about money — and he would react to that with anger until he exploded. Then, after he'd hit me or, eventually, rape me, he would calm down, tell me that he was sorry, that he felt sorry for me, and beg for forgiveness. I'd forgive him, and we would go through this honeymoon-type period when he was calm.

And then it would start all over again: Something would trigger him again, and so it began again. It was a psychological conditioning: I was traumatized by the violence, unable to understand and being asked to forgive the person I loved. He would beg for forgiveness, and I would accept his forgiveness, and then hope that he would change and never do it again. But that, of course, never happened; on the contrary, it escalated.

At one point, I tried to leave, but I couldn't. He usually said to me, "If you ever leave, then I will follow you and I will kill you." To me, those were very strong words coming from my husband; I was scared that he really would do it. And, I didn't have anywhere to go; I couldn't jeopardize my friends, because I knew that he would follow me and maybe hurt my friends.

I called 911 many times, but the dispatcher didn't even know how to help me because, back then, we were just starting to learn about about domestic violence. Besides which, my husband said that, if I called the police and told them that he threatened me, he would kick me out of the country, or that the police were going to kick me out of the country.

(That happens still today: A lot of the crimes against immigrant women get under-reported because of their vulnerability in this country. They're afraid to talk or call the police because they feel threatened twice.)

I can't turn back time; I can't rewind anything. But I've learned that silence is not an option. It is important to be able to talk, for people not to suffer in silence and to feel strong and feel their voices will be heard.

By talking about what happened to me, I hope to shine a light on the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault, but also to show that there is hope for survivors. People need to know that they are not alone — I felt very alone — and that you can get help. You can find a community of survivors and other well-trained people who can actually help if you in a bad situation.

Take the Domestic Violence Hotline, a whole community of people who are willing to help the victims of domestic violence. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year; they can translate calls in more than 200 languages or chat online in both English and Spanish.

By breaking my own silence, I hope that society will really understand that domestic violence is not a joke, and that sexual assault in general is not a joke. Again, 25 years ago, society was not ready to comprehend how damaging and traumatic domestic violence is, or how to help victims like me. Things have changed, definitely; there is help for women today that wasn't there for me. And I want them to know: Try to save yourself. You are important.

As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.