Domestic violence victims can look like anyone

Published: October 13, 2021 10:40 AM EDT
Amal Bernal pictured with one of her sons while she was in an abusive marriage. Credit: WINK News

Domestic violence does not discriminate. People of every age, race, religion and tax bracket are abused. Sometimes, even people whose lives might inspire envy at first sight are undergoing a traumatic struggle.

10 years ago, Amal Bernal was one such woman. She curated a collection of more than 123 pairs of shoes, but they were for holding emergency cash.

“They came in handy because I learned that they were good hiding places,” Bernal said. “Even though we made millions, I was given $5 spending money and a tank of gas a week. That was a way to control me.”

And that was not the only way. Bernal says besides her three beautiful boys, there was very little to envy about her life and absolutely nothing to envy about her marriage.

“He would open-hand slap me on different parts of my body… or he would dump ice buckets on me while I was in the shower,” Bernal said. “On one occasion, he retrieved me from the shower, in the middle of winter in Salt Lake City, and threw me outside—naked—of our house and locked the doors… the threat was, ‘Your body will be cold in Mexico before anybody even knows you’re gone.'”

She says it is impossible to describe every instance of abuse she suffered over 20 years, though she does describe the last.

“He threw me out of the car, the moving car, and then tried to run over me,” Bernal said.

She went to the hospital and he went to prison. He called her from a jailhouse phone to deliver this message: “I will see you and the children in a cardboard box under a bridge before I give anybody a cent.”

Bernal says he kept his promise: He drained every last dollar, every last cent from their finances.

“Millions declared bankruptcy right away,” Bernal said. “So all the debt fell on me.”

All she had left were her shoes. She sold all 123 pairs and used the money to support her boys, moving to the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

“I’ll tell you, they were so patient with me, because I was mortified that I was in there,” Bernal said. “And I just, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was so depressed.”

To encourage women to get out of bed and back into the world,  the shelter requires everyone to get a job or go to school, so Bernal applied for a job at Macy’s.

“They hired me for $8.25 as a part-time fragrance clerk in their fragrance department,” Bernal said. “It gave me a reason to get up and get out of bed. And you put your hair and makeup on and your high heels and you walk out of the shelter into the world. As a person who is ready to do what’s necessary, even though it was $8.25 an hour, that wasn’t the value of that job. The value was reminding me that I’m capable, that it’s okay to start over.”

10 years later, Amal Bernal has started over and has a life truly worth envying: She remarried a wonderful man who she says loves her unconditionally, who met her when she had nothing and waited 13 dates to kiss her. Together, they adopted a son. Bernal is now a therapist who specializes in trauma, with a practice of her own.

“Amal,” it has been pointed out, is an Arabic name, meaning “hope.”