Domestic abuse survivor describes her experience as recent college campus assaults highlight issue

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Dating violence landed another metro student athlete in trouble, as UMKC’s Martez Harrison was kicked off of the basketball team Tuesday – just days after the Kansas Jayhawks benched forward Carlton Bragg for the same offense.

Harrison is also suspended from the university for a year. The school said the senior guard violated the university's Title IX policy by "committing acts of dating-intimate partner violence."

KU’s Bragg is charged with battery after his girlfriend claimed he struck her and shoved her down stairs.

Joan Schultz, the executive director of the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, Kan., declined to comment on the specific cases. But she was willing to speak in general about reports of domestic violence among athletes.

“By the exaltation of athletes, probably exacerbates it a bit,” Schultz said. “But it does not cause. There is not a causation.”

“There are many, many things that cause domestic violence and first I would ask the abuser, ‘What happened to you? What made you this way?’ It`s not sports. It`s usually what is in the family history. But it`s not sports or athletics per se.”

Domestic violence experts say recent campus assaults have more people talking about the problem. It's a sensitive topic one metro woman was willing to talk about with FOX 4 in an effort to help others.

“He had taken me down to such a level, that I actually thought that I was totally worthless,” said Jilli Nel, a domestic violence survivor.

It was the darkest time in Nel’s life – a life usually filled with bright colors splashed throughout the British artist's paintings but that was suddenly cast with a shadow.

“It started with him throwing things at me,” she said, “calling me names and all sorts of things, and then punching the walls, throwing furniture, smashing things.”

She described escalating abuse from her former husband – a man she fell in love with and moved to America for – but she quickly realized she didn't know so him well when things turned violent.

“I actually just knew that if I didn’t get out,” she said, “then I wasn’t going to end up getting out in a body bag.”

Nel endured the pain for years before one day finding the strength to finally call police.

“That was probably one of the most horrific days of my life,” she said. “Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”

It's the type of situation Schultz hears about often.

“There are always red flags,” Schultz said, “but many times we don`t see those red flags. We look for controlling behavior. We look for stalking behavior. We look for anger.”

Schultz said the violence stems from a desire to have power and control over a partner.

“Are they in power in this relationship?” Schultz asked. “If they aren`t, or if they do not see that they have power and control, they will take it in a physical way, or a psychologically and emotionally abusive way.”

Schultz said Willow offers a slew of services to women and men in danger, while Nel now offers a voice to those who are too afraid to speak out.

“If I could help just one woman,” Nel said, “it would be worthwhile. All of this would’ve been worthwhile.”

Nel is now protected by a lifetime protection order against her ex-husband.

For more information on domestic violence resources and how you can get help, visit these websites:

The Willow Domestic Violence Center
Rose Brooks Center
Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA)
Hope House