Isle woman survives 17 years of abuseAt first, life with him was exciting.

"He wowed me," said Denby Toci, the manager of the East Hawaii Domestic Abuse Shelter Hale Ohana.

"I was bored, and he was this exciting, on-edge person. I was experiencing the wild side of life."

But in a matter of months, Toci said she started to see a darker side to her boyfriend's demeanor.

"At first, he was very good, and kind. But in the third month, his violence showed. I started to backpaddle," she said. "He was too wicked. Too emotional. I feared to leave him, and he threatened me with death."

Toci said she filed several temporary restraining orders against him over the years -- but she always went back to him.

"I was weak," she said. "I endured living with a person like that. All the time I was walking on egg shells, but I kept thinking 'I can change him.'"

For 17 years, Toci lived in fear. She had four children with a man who could be loving and kind one moment, and terrify her the next.

"He told me if I left the island, if I took the kids, he would kill my parents," she said. "One night, he broke into their house and waited for them, just to show me he could do it."

The physical and emotional abuse escalated.

"He had substance abuse issues," she said. "Alcohol and cocaine. ... He stopped alcohol for a three-year period, and things were better.

"Then he started up with the meth.

"There was the erratic behavior. He would come home at night and just punch me in my sleep. Once I was just standing there and he laid a good one on me. It just buckled my legs under me."

Toci says there were plenty of reasons why she stayed. There was the embarrassment at her situation, and the isolation as she avoided friends and family. There was the denial, the low self-esteem and the need to mother him.

Then came the event which Toci says "snapped her out of it."

"In 2000, the father physically abused our 5-year-old," she said. "The children were trying to stop him from beating him."

After that, Toci said she took her kids and flew to Denver for six months.

But still she returned.

"I started dialoguing with the father, and we made a pact. I would come home and return to school, and he would be better. We started to go to church together," she said.

"But he was superficial in making that commitment and I saw the abuse slowly coming back. At that time, I was strong, and more focused. My goal was to attain education so I could support my family.

"Then my children spoke up and said, 'He belongs in jail. We can't do it anymore.'

"Hearing their voices made me say, 'OK, we can do this together,'" she said.

Toci took her children to the Keaau police station and they turned their abuser in.

"They already had plenty of records and documentation on him. They interviewed my children, the abuse was confirmed, and they made the arrest."

Toci said when her boyfriend was sent to prison, a wave of relief washed over her.

"It was just the right time in my life. I was ready. For all those years prior, I was building up the courage to get to that point," she said.

Toci said she was one of the lucky ones.

"Throughout the whole relationship, my family knew what was going on, but they couldn't help me," she said. "I had to be the one to make the decision. Whenever I needed to be picked up, or whenever I needed money, they were there for me. That was key."

Toci said several factors had to combine to give her the strength she needed to change her life for the better. Among them, education was a major push.

"When we live with abusers who are constantly putting us down, we lose our sense of self. Part of the recovery of moving towards being a survivor is to regain confidence and self esteem, and through education we can overcome a lot of barriers," she said.

For Toci, that meant returning to the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She graduated in 2004 with a degree in administration of justice, sociology and philosophy. Now, she is pursuing a master's degree in marriage and family therapy.

Attaining that education led her to her current occupation. Toci helps other women -- and men -- like herself, people who have borne years of physical violence and emotional attacks. She wants them to know that they don't have to feel like they are alone and helpless.

"I talk to them about them. 'Tell me about your needs, your desires. What are your wishes for yourself now?' I want them to know they matter," she said.

Toci said it can be hard to see people making the same mistakes she made, but she knows that if she can get someone to make a change, she could be saving a life.

"If somebody can learn from my experience, it makes it all worth it," she said.

E-mail Colin M. Stewart at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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