Brian Walkup has close-cropped hair covered by a ball cap, striking blue eyes, and a silver chain around his neck. At first glance, you wouldn’t know he has been to prison six times, has been arrested 50-60 times, stabbed, shot, was jumped by the Aryan Brotherhood, and was a domestic abuser.
Brian is from Worcester, Mass., where he was raised by a single mother in the projects. He calls himself a “career criminal” since he started dealing drugs and hanging out with gang members as a teenager. When Brian turned 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at the insistence of his mother and uncles to straighten out his life.
“I wasn’t thinking long-term goals. The job I picked was infantry. For a kid who was already violent, that was a bad combination because I spent the next four years of my life, in essence, just training how to kill people every day just in case war happened,” Brian says.
When Brian turned 19, he took a trip to West Lafayette, Ind., to build a relationship with his estranged father. Six months passed, but Brian says he didn’t feel any closer with his father. He did, however, meet a woman, which enticed him to stay in Indiana.
But after 11 years of living amongst the Hoosier cornfields, Brian found himself in and out of prison six times for various reasons, through two marriages and divorces and “a whole lot of trouble.”
After serving his sixth prison stint, Brian decided that he was done with being a career criminal. That resolve didn’t last for long, because two years out of prison, Brian got arrested again for domestic battery in 2014.
“I sat in a jail cell for 12 hours and kind of just kept playing it in my head. Most times I got in a fight, it would be over with, and I couldn’t care less. The next day I sleep fine. But that [the assault] really bothered me,” Brian says. “Part of it was because she was a girl, and I never really viewed myself as physical with women before and the realization that I could have killed her hit me.”
As he was walked from his cell to the courtroom, Brian says he was overcome with guilt, and he pled accordingly. His sentence: two years of unsupervised probation and 26 weeks of Abuse Awareness Accountability (AAA). Led by Harry Heyer, the program helps those like Brian remedy their abusive behaviors. Sometimes, Heyer says, participants don’t acknowledge that their behaviors were or are abusive.
“We define abuse as anything that breaks the golden rule, so by that definition everybody on the planet is a perpetrator at some level and a victim at some level,” Heyer explains.
After completing his court-mandated 26 weeks of the program, Brian kept coming back for more classes until he decided to become an AAA instructor. Brian says that decision changed his life for the better.
Heyer understands Brian. The director of AAA was once arrested for domestic battery and struggled with alcoholism. Like Brian, he was mandated to the 26-week program, and kept coming back for more classes.
Seeing the program’s influence, Heyer began to train as a program facilitator and then decided to get a master’s in social work at IUPUI. He shared his own personal struggles in his classes.
According to Heyer, abuse stems from multiple factors, but the problem emerges due to many people not being taught in a healthy way to recognize and deal with fear.
“We are taught to shift fear to anger,” says Heyer.
This fear and anger can create stress that causes people to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking and smoking. Heyer recommends doing what you can to eliminate stress from your life, because these behaviors, paired with abuse, can be a dangerous combination. Brian and Heyer are just two examples of how it can play out.
PART TWO: BREAKING THE NARRATIVE MOLD
If you type domestic abuse into your browser, you’re presented with hundreds of images of bruised and battered women cowering from a threatening male figure. And that’s the majority of narratives that surround the issue of domestic violence: the man hits the woman. However, according to the Association of Domestic Violence Intervention Providers, rates of female-perpetrated violence are higher than male-perpetrated—28.3% vs. 21.6%.
According to the Duluth Power and Control Wheel, domestic abuse encompasses far more than the physical. Emotional abuse, isolation, denial, and intimidation are just some of the ways that women can abuse.
PART THREE: NOT JUST A STATISTIC, BUT A PERSON
Melanie Jones was 26 when she met her abuser. Having a degree in social work, she thought she knew what domestic violence looked like and would recognize the signs before falling into an abusive situation herself.
Melanie completed her undergraduate at Anderson University in 2004 and subsequently spent two years at Anderson University’s School of Theology and Christian Seminary before dropping out due to a heartbreaking situation. She fell in love with a female classmate during a time when the university was not accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Her classmate, who was studying to become a minister, was moved far away from Melanie by the ministry.
“I literally just fell off the face of the earth and walked away from my community and from most of my friends,” Melanie says.
It was during this low point that she met her abusive ex.
Being a part of a Christian community meant that it was difficult for Melanie to connect with others who were like her because homosexuality was considered taboo at the time.
“I was so terrified of being alone the rest of my life that it was kind of a situation of the first person who showed any interest in me. My ex was very manipulative. She was good at figuring out what I valued to make herself seem like that person,” says Melanie.
Three months into the relationship, Melanie says she realized it was abusive and tried to break it off. However, Melanie’s ex suffered a heart attack right around that time, so it was easy for her to guilt Melanie into staying. A lot of the red flags that Melanie noticed early on included emotional abuse and controlling behavior.
Melanie specifically remembers one instance when her abusive partner confronted her for having a phone conversation with her dad without consulting her. She still recalls being lectured about supposedly hiding things and how guilty it made her feel.
“It would turn into making herself the victim. It was very easy for her to play off a lot of her bad behavior that way,” Melanie says.
PART FOUR: LOOKING INSIDE
It may seem like the obvious decision to leave an abusive partner at the first red flag. But for many people, including Melanie, it isn’t always that simple. The constant guilt-tripping and manipulation tactics that preyed upon Melanie’s weaknesses and her generous nature kept her in the clutches of an abusive relationship for nearly eight years.
For example, Melanie says her partner often took in people and animals who needed a home. Since Melanie was the primary wage earner in their household, she felt pressured to stay and care for them.
One night, her partner’s lecturing turned into threatening to destroy her property and cut off her mode of transportation by blocking her vehicle. She even physically cornered Melanie in the hallway. Soon after she fell asleep, Melanie sat in her car, doors locked, and made a call to the domestic violence hotline. After explaining her situation, she was transferred to the local police, who she says were unhelpful.
According to Melanie, the police stated that they could come out if she felt unsafe, but ultimately, they couldn’t force the person who caused that feeling inside of her to leave.
“It didn’t matter that it was my house. It didn’t matter that she was making all these threats to me. None of that matters in the end. I did eventually get a protective order against her, but it took me three tries,” Melanie says.
After her first protective order was denied, the legal system decided to send Melanie’s ex a notification that she had filed a protective order, which Melanie says made matters worse.
Even with help from the Muncie Victim Advocate program, filing the second restraining order was difficult for Melanie. She says she believes her requests were denied because her abuser was a woman. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), nearly 45% of LGBTQ+ victims of intimate partner violence do not report the abuse they experience to the police because they believe they will not be helped.
In Melanie’s case, the third time really was the charm. With the help from the Muncie Victim Advocate program, she was finally able to file her protective order.
Shelby Looper leads the Muncie Victim Advocate program as its director, helping people like Melanie with anything ranging from protective orders, assistance in court, and necessities such as providing information regarding their case, counseling, and more.
“The criminal justice system as a whole is centered around offenders. So the criminal justice system was made because of bad people if you will, and at its core, the victims are left out. So, until we make better efforts to make sure they’re included, like forming programs like mine, it’s going to be that way,” Looper explains.
Domestic violence isn’t just black and white, Looper says. There is a myriad of reasons why victims don’t leave their abusers, including children, finances, and homelessness.
Domestic abuse does not always leave a physical scar. According to Looper, some indicators of domestic abuse victims include avoiding eye contact, apologizing frequently, and being heavily dependent on their partners.
Abusers and their victims could be anyone. But people can change, and so can the narrative surrounding abuse.
Featured Image: Kami Geron
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