My name is Jennifer and I am a survivor of strangulation.
I’m a physician and mom of two children. I met my abuser when I was a medical student on clinical rotations. He is a prominent surgeon who has no past criminal history, and is 19 years my senior. He was my attending and supervising doctor, and in a position to control my future career.
Two months into our relationship he almost strangled me to death and I feared for my life. The strangulation occurred at his house and lasted for approximately five minutes. After the assault he walked out of the room and started pacing the hallway. I was able to escape to the closet and call 911 for help while hiding in between clothes. It was the first time in my life I had dialed 911. I vividly remember not knowing his address when the operator asked for my location and the sheer panic I felt thinking no one would be able to find me. I hung up the phone and walked back to the room because I believed he would kill me if he found me with the phone. The operator had been able to track the phone during our conversation and sent first responders. I was standing in the room when the police arrived and knocked on the front door. My abuser walked in the room, looked at me, and said “is there someone at the door?”
I stood there frozen in time and didn’t say a word. He turned around and proceeded to answer the door where he was arrested and charged with a third-degree felony for strangulation. Police officers came in the house and started obtaining history of the assault and took pictures of my injuries. When they handed me the strangulation report it was difficult for me to outline what just happened because I was in shock. I was also hesitant to give full details because, although this man had almost killed me, I was worried about his medical license. EMS then arrived and I was subsequently taken to the ER by ambulance. Fortunately I did not sustain airway or vascular damage.
After posting bail he was released within one day of arrest. As soon as he was released he came to my house to apologize. He was crying, in disbelief of what happened. He told me he had never in his entire life hurt anyone and he couldn’t believe he hurt me. He told me how much he cared about me, and how badly he wanted us to continue our relationship. I was still in a state of shock about the assault and never had time to process what happened to me. Although hesitant, I forgave him and we continued dating.
Over the next few months our life together seemed to be improving. He asked me to help him get the felony charge dismissed, and I told him I would. He hired an attorney to “protect me” when meeting at the district attorney’s office. I was now in a position where I couldn’t talk to anyone without my abuser knowing exactly what I said. I was disarmed and unable to have a voice in the prosecution of the case. Although my “attorney” had met with the defense attorney and together they had met with the prosecutor to get the case dismissed, my prosecutor said no and was going to move forward and present the case to a Grand Jury and prosecute. She also told them she wanted to meet with me. Little did I know she wanted the opportunity to let me know she was going to help.
I met with Kelsey McKay, the prosecutor assigned to my case, who specializes in domestic violence and strangulation. Together my “attorney” and I told Kelsey we wanted the case dismissed. I was lying because I knew my “attorney” was going to report everything said at the meeting to his defense attorney. Kelsey, who had thoroughly reviewed the photographs and evidence collected from the night of the assault, listened to me and told me she understood why I chose this path, but that dismissal was not an option because what he did was wrong. She knew it was a horrific near-lethal strangulation – the photographs showed petechial hemorrhage in my eyes, a sign of impending asphyxia.
My face was swollen and his hand-print was wrapped around my neck. She knew he is dangerous and did not care about his professional status as a prominent and respected surgeon. The defense brought her a binder full of pictures of him operating and saving patients across the world and several letters from those he had saved. Kelsey was not impressed. She saw past his superficial image – she saw the perpetrator who almost killed me. There was no way she would allow this case to be dismissed.
Soon after our meeting, while Kelsey was preparing the case to present to Grand Jury and prosecute, his defense attorney went above Kelsey to her supervisors to try and keep the case from being indicted. When they said no, he took the case to the top and requested a meeting with the elected DA. Kelsey and his defense attorney met with the DA together, after which his defense attorney requested I meet with the DA in private to personally notify her of my request to dismiss the case.
Meanwhile, my abuser and I were living together and started talking about a family. We conceived our first child and it was at this point he became violent again. He would pick me up and throw me into walls. He would pin me down on the bed and scream and spit in my face. There was one incident where he grabbed my hair and threw me to the ground, dragging me across the floor. He also bit my finger so badly it caused an avulsion. I was terrified of him and knew he was capable of killing me. He started blaming me for his abuse. He told me certain things I said or did caused him to act out. I started to believe him. How could this man have come this far in life as a prominent surgeon in a well-respected group in the city we live, as the chief of surgery in one of the major hospital system, as a transplant surgeon, if he had ever been violent before? It probably was my fault. I didn’t know what to do. I was a fourth year medical student, about to be a busy resident physician, and pregnant with our child. I continuously told myself it would get better, that we would both make changes for the better, but I was always wrong and the violence continued.
I met in private with the elected DA when I was five months pregnant. Kelsey was not there. There was no one there to advocate for me, and I wasn’t in a position to advocate for myself. I told her my relationship with him was great, lie. I told her there were no other violent incidents, lie. I told her I wanted the case dismissed, lie. But I was in too deep at this point. Part of me wanted to separate from him but the other part was fixed on the idea that in time everything would be better. There were many reasons I stayed, the most important being I loved him and we were about to have a child together. We also wanted to portray to our parents, colleagues, and friends that we had a stable and happy life. I was soon to be a resident and we would need one another’s support. At the end of the meeting, the elected DA gave me her personal phone number and told me to call her if there was any future violence. I felt relieved as I was leaving because I knew my abuser would be pleased I attended the meeting (on his behalf) and I thought the violence would stop. All the while I secretly hoped Kelsey would prosecute the case despite the lies I had told. Although I had only met her once, I had faith she would continue to fight for me.
My “attorney” messaged me after the meeting to ask if the case would be dismissed. Never did she ask if I was okay.
For the next year and a half, the case remained active because Kelsey would not sign the dismissal. She was not permitted to present it to the Grand Jury, but would not dismiss it.
I graduated medical school and two days later our daughter was born. Two weeks after our daughter was born he strangled me a second time. I finally told my parents, in particular my father, about the abuse. His immediate thought was that I needed to leave him, and he was seconds from driving to take my daughter and I to safety. But the idea of being a new single mother, compounded by starting residency as a new physician, created an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety. And… what would my abuser do if he found out I was leaving? I told my dad I wasn’t ready to leave and the plan was aborted.
We conceived our second child a couple months later. During this time he assaulted me again while I was holding our infant daughter. He forcefully carried me up stairs with one hand holding my flank while she was in my arms. I was able to bite his finger and escape. I remember getting in the car and driving while hysterically crying. I thought about how badly I wanted to leave him, but was afraid of what he would do if I left. If he was so reckless as to assault me while I was pregnant and in the presence of our newborn daughter, how would he react if he found out I was leaving?
Months past and there were no assaults. I found out he was having an affair with another medical student. I began thinking this man is a predator. He is using his position of power to coerce medical students into having sex with him. He adamantly denied the affair despite direct evidence (nude pictures and text messages) that proved he was lying.
When I was eight months pregnant with our son he assaulted me for the last time. He shoved me into a TV and I fell over. I remember thinking “you could have just caused placental abruption and killed the baby and I.” The father of my children who I now shared custody of my babies with didn’t care. I told myself that was it - he would never stop assaulting me and I didn’t want my children exposed to the violence so I had to leave. But I had no idea how. As soon as my son was born I met with a real estate agent and signed a lease on a home. I met with a family law attorney to discuss custody agreements and told her we would have joint custody. I thought once I remove myself from the situation there will be no violence and the kids will be safe. I began to buy furniture in preparation for the move. I also started packing my belongings – who knew packing would forever change my life. I stumbled upon a box in a closet that was labeled “personal”. I opened the box to find hundreds of pictures, cards, letters, from his past lovers, girlfriends, and ex-fiancé. Mesmerized, I started looking at every photo and reading every word.
And there it was – a good-bye letter from his ex-fiance.
I honestly don’t remember the vast majority of what was written in the letter, all I remember is at the bottom it read “I just need to feel safe again.” What? I just need to feel safe again? My heart was pounding, chills ran through my blood and across my skin – I was not alone, she was also a victim of his violence. I was able to contact her and we had a long conversation on the phone where she told me about how he brutally assaulted her years before. She told me the story of how she returned to their home one night when they got into an argument. She said his eyes suddenly turned black and he grabbed her by her hair, slamming her head into the ground until she went unconscious. She never filed charges and stayed with him seven years beyond the assault. I then told her my stories and about the strangulation felony charge against him. I asked if I could share her story with the prosecution and she said yes. With this I called the elected DA with the phone number she had given me the year before. She immediately notified Kelsey and the next day Kelsey and I were talking to one another on the phone.
I was in the car with my dad in a parking lot of a frozen yogurt shop.
“Kelsey? I’m so sorry for not listening to you.”
“Don’t apologize, this is normal.”
“I think he had kids with me to make me feel cared for in order to dismiss the felony.”
“I do too, it’s called pregnancy entrapment.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I’m presenting the case to the Grand Jury this week. I’m going to make sure you’re safe during this process.”
Within days my abuser was indicted with strangulation felony.
I am so thankful for Kelsey. I am thankful that for over two years she refused to dismiss this case. I am thankful she is an expert on strangulation. I am thankful she cares about victims and their suffering. She fought for my children and I, among many other women who are victims of domestic violence.
I currently have joint custody of my children and finish residency this summer. I am now certain my abuser is a violent sociopath who went so far as to have children with me to rid a felony charge in order to protect his medical license. He is solely responsible for his rage and violence.
There has been significant delay in prosecuting this case for numerous reasons, but a trial date has finally been set. A third victim has also been discovered.
Although Kelsey is no longer with the DA’s office she is still my advocate and someone I heavily rely on. Speaking with her brings me peace and hope no matter the circumstance. She expects nothing in return. Her work is saving lives, she is validating voices, and she is changing the world for the better.
When I thought I was going to die, someone was there.
When he was manipulating me, he did couldn’t manipulate was her.
When I lied for him, she saw the truth.
When I couldn’t speak, she listened anyway.
When I couldn’t fight, she fought for me.
When I declined her help, she helped anyway.
When I was living in denial, she knew the truth.
When he continued to be violent, she knew.
When I was ready to leave, she opened the door.
When I was leaving, she welcomed me.
When I was free from him, she was there.
When I was living in fear, she made me safe.
When panic and worry overcome me, she calms me.
When she was no longer the prosecutor, she is still there.
When I speak, she listens.
When I said I was ready to change the world, she said we are.