Jean Houghton has horror stories.
There was the time she backed her vehicle into the driveway and bumped into her first husband’s motorcycle, knocking it over. It wasn’t scratched, but when he found out what happened he picked her up and threw her to the floor.
One day Houghton had a disagreement with him as he drove down the highway. He stomped on the accelerator, speeding the car up to 100 mph until she agreed with him.
Another time he got upset when he learned a male friend of his had dropped by when he wasn’t home. He grabbed a gun and held it to her head, demanding to know what had happened between them. Nothing had happened.
He pulled her by the hair. When she didn’t arrange his meal correctly, he threw the plate against the wall and then made her clean up the mess. He threatened to kill her family if she tried to leave. After she gave birth to their first child, he told her, “I’ll just take off with the baby one day.”
Houghton is now 59 and lives in the midcoast area. It’s been years since she has seen her first husband, but she still doesn’t use her real name publicly. She said she’s still afraid of rounding an aisle in the grocery store and seeing him. She has nightmares about taking him back.
Houghton is lucky to be alive. She survived not just her first marriage but a second abusive relationship. She said she tried to hide the abuse, was ashamed of it and thought it could get better. She described herself as feeling brainwashed and terrified.
In the 17 years she was married to her first husband, she said the violence progressively got worse. But when he wasn’t cruel, he was engaging and loving — the type of husband she wanted. He blamed his temper on his own abusive childhood, cried and asked her to forgive him. She wanted to help him.
But “the rage is always underneath the surface.”
He was eventually convicted in the early 1990s of terrorizing with a gun, and they divorced. But she continued to picture herself walking out of work and getting shot.
“When they say they will kill you and your entire family, do they mean it?” she asked.
When an offender is caught and punished, but the victim continues to live in fear for her life, how can we say there has been justice?
Much more work is needed to curb domestic violence. Legalizing electronic monitoring bracelets in Maine should be part of the effort. A device worn around an offender’s ankle can set off a notice to warn a victim when the offender enters a certain geographic area.
Houghton said she would have appreciated having her ex-husband wear a monitoring device. She said she also wished she had been taught when she was younger the warning signs of a potential abuser.
A teacher, she tells students what she was never told. Emotional or physical abuse will get worse, not better. Leave a relationship immediately when one person tries to control your activities or demean you. Tell someone.
She didn’t share details of her abuse when it was happening. But she’s doing so now, through a book called “Beware of the Dog.”
“The best thing I can do now is teach other people: Don’t be fooled,” she said.
“The fear never goes away.”