"People can make you feel like a slave," Maria Perez says as she watches rain go down the gutter. Domestic abuse is a vicious cycle that consumes entire families, generation after generation.
In the past five years, there have been more than 800 aggravated assaults in Ventura County, California; domestic cases make up a large portion of these assaults. Anything can happen behind closed doors. Maria Perez is from Mexico City. She moved to the United States to start a better life with her husband.
Maria's husband, who was abused as a child, physically and verbally abused her for 18 years. She had a daughter with him when she was 20 years old, and a son four years later. Her daughter, Elizabeth, has also found herself in an abusive relationship, which resulted in her quiet and submissive demeanor. Maria's 16-year-old son, Mario, currently lives with her in Ventura, California.
Maria's daughter, Elizabeth, right, became pregnant with her daughter at the age of 16. Two years after having her daughter, she gave birth to her son, Richard. Six months this photograph was taken, Elizabeth's husband kicked her and the children out of the house, forcing them to live in various homeless shelters in Ventura and Santa Barbara, California, until they felt comfortable that Victor would not look for them at Maria's. Elizabeth and the children have since moved back in with Victor despite the recurrence of physical violence. Due to his actions, Victor doesn't enter Maria's house when they visit, so he sits and waits on the porch until they are ready to leave.
Elizabeth's 6-year-old daughter, Mariela, left, keeps to herself to avoid being yelled at by her father. Four-year-old Richard, center, is often aggressive and violent toward his uncle, Mario, right. Richard tugs on Mario's hair and spits in his face, then screams excitedly and runs in circles around his grandmother's table. Victor, who is sitting on the porch, yells, "Shut up Richard! Don't make me come in there." Richard immediately starts crying and hides behind Mario.
Maria divorced her abusive husband in 2009. She stilll has a restraining order against him because they live within a few miles of each other in Ventura, California. Maria sees both her daughter and granddaughter experience domestic abuse. Maria struggles to fight the urge to go back to her new boyfriend. She tries to break up with him every time she sees him, but she continues to pursue it. Maria believes that this abuse is part of her culture, and watches it happen generation after generation.
When Maria was living with her ex-husband, he was very possessive and didn’t let her leave the house alone. Maria is a house cleaner in Santa Barbara, California. When she would get ready in the morning, he would ask who she was putting makeup on for. He often accused her of being unfaithful. They lived in this house with her ex-husband's mother, who was also abused by her husband. Maria's ex-mother-in-law would listen to Maria being beaten in the other room, but never did anything about it. Maria prays before she goes to bed every night in her home in Ventura, California.
During an argument one night, Maria's ex-husband started beating and choking her. Elizabeth, Maria's daughter, who was 4 years old at the time, walked into the room while her mother was being choked. Maria told her daughter to leave. "He was telling me, 'Oh, it's good that you tell her to go away, because she doesn’t want to see how I'm gonna kill you.' My daughter ran to the woman renting the room next door and said, 'My dad is gonna kill my ma.' Then the lady called the police, and the police came and took him," she says. A hole was left in hte wall where Maria's husband slammed her head, and that was enough evidence for the police to take him away. "People alone cannot change. If they don’t get help, they're going to do the same thing again and again," Maria says. His mother paid his bail the next day, and he was released from jail. A few month later, Maria got back together with her husband because her children cried, saying they missed their dad.
Maria is currently dating someone else. He often drinks and becomes physically rough with her. "My new boyfriend did this to me, and I told him that I don’t like it because that reminds me of the way I was living with my ex-husband," Maria syas. She knows that she keeps falling for the same type of man, but doesn't know how to stop it.
"Maybe we get attracted to the same people because we want to help them. But we don’t realize that we need help. Before we help another person, we need to help ourselves," Maria says. She is currently reading a book on codependency, but is too busy with work to attend a support group for women coping with abuse.
Maria has come out stronger and more independent because of the hardships she has experienced, but still doesn't know how to break the cycle. During a walk in the rain, she stops and stands tall in an empty lot on Ventura Avenue in Ventura, California.