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Children are caught in the cross fire of domestic abuse every day in the Sacramento region, and throughout California. According to Sacramento-based WEAVE Inc., nearly one in every three women will experience abuse at some time in their lives – abuse that is defined as between intimate partners, where one partner is using physical or emotional abuse to gain power or control.
The cycle of violence, which includes a tension phase, explosion, and a honeymoon period often repeat until, ultimately, someone is damaged beyond repair.
Enter Juliani Cardenas.
Juliani Cardenas is a name that every Californian has come to recognize.
An unfortunate four-year old who unwittingly graces the spotlight with his megawatt, missing-tooth smile, thanks to Jose Esteban Rodriguez’ abusive behavior and desire to control an ex girlfriend.
But Rodriquez is just one of many abusers to make headlines, and there are many more whom we will never hear about at all.
According to Sergeant Brian Dean, of the Folsom Police Department, most domestic abuse goes unreported.
“When we arrive at domestic violence calls, the person will frequently tell us this has happened before, but that he or she didn’t report it,” he said.
There are several reasons that abuse might go unreported. Sergeant Dean explained the victim might be afraid of retribution, or feel like he or she deserves the abuse. Also, the abuser might be the main breadwinner in the family.
“Frequently the violence goes unreported because the likelihood is that one of the parties is going to go to jail,” Sergeant Dean said.
Would Juliani be safely ensconced in his family home if Tabitha Cardenas, Juliani’s mother, had reported the abusive behavior?
According to statements from Amparo Cardenas, Juliani’s grandmother, Rodriguez’ three-year relationship with her daughter was “tumultuous due to his possessiveness and jealousy.”
Though Tabitha Cardenas had broken things off with Rodriguez, he continued to drive by the home – stalking behavior that must have raised red flags for the family.
Possessiveness and jealousy seem to be prime catalysts in the abuser’s arsenal of anger.
Jennifer Sanders, a petite blonde whose tired appearance ages her by 10 years, though she’s only in her mid 30s, knows how abusive a jealous lover can be. Married in 1992, Sanders’ husband, now divorced, kidnapped her at gunpoint, tortured her, and spirited her away to his mother’s home for three days.
While Sanders’ husband went to prison for his crime, the horrific night he abducted her was the first time he’d been caught, but was not the first time he displayed jealousy with his feet, fists and firearms.
The marriage was a dangerous one right from the start.
“I had a daughter from another marriage, she was five years old in 1992,” Sanders explained. “Not long ago my daughter asked me, ‘mom, do you remember when he would tie you up and make me go sit in the closet’? Everyone was afraid of him,” Sanders admitted.
When Sanders’ husband went to prison – just a three-year term, according to Sanders’, because of the fact that she was a drug addict, her husband still exerted control.
“He would keep me on the phone, from prison, practically all day and night. I would have to beg him to let me get off the phone long enough to give my daughter a bath, or to walk to the store to buy food,” Sanders said. “He made me move in to an apartment across the street from his mother, and God help anyone (male) who made eye contact with me.”
Sanders said she was too scared to reach out for help. “Everyone was so afraid of him; the whole family was,” she said.
Mona Iki, a 28 year old plump-cheeked and smiling young woman, was a victim of domestic abuse as well. She knew her husband, now divorced, was abusive when she met him.
“He had just gotten out of prison for beating another girl, but I thought I could save him,” she said. “It started slow; manhandling me, grabbing me, but it eventually progressed to full-blown punches.”
Iki said her husband was paranoid; always thought she was cheating on him.
“If we were going anywhere, I would have to look down. He would sometimes think I had a man in the house – he would frequently search. There was just no winning with him,” she said.
Today Iki’s ex husband is in prison for beating yet another woman.
Abuse is frequently repeated; a familial pattern or cycle from both the victim and perpetrator’s perspective. According to Nancy Atchley, pastor and executive director for Powerhouse Ministries, the cycle of abuse frequently begins in childhood.
“Usually trauma begins as a small child. Those people (victims) usually select partners who are abusers as well,” Atchley said. “Usually their self image is low, and often they are dealing with pain and trauma in their lives by self medicating with drugs or alcohol.”
Atchley believes that for abusers, the cycle frequently begins in the childhood home as well.
“It’s a big problem with our youth. Some young men have a father in prison, and have seen violence growing up. A lot of our men are insecure, as well,” Atchley said. “They want to be respected, and that comes out in dominating ways.”
Powerhouse offers programs that teach youth about appropriate and acceptable behavior.
“At our ‘Love on the Backseat’ event, we talk about domestic abuse, teen pregnancy – a lot of parents don’t talk to them,” Atchley said. “For some kids, this is the only sanity in their lives.”
With programs offered through organizations like Powerhouse Ministries, Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE), and drug and alcohol treatment programs, situations like little Juliani’s might be prevented.
But for now, the Patterson community holds its collective breath and waits – for a sign, a clue, or God forbid, something even worse.