– In 2009, Amal’s husband grabbed and dragged her alongside his car until she fell to the pavement at a busy intersection. He then backed the car up and tried to run her over as she lay unconscious in the street. She says it was the best thing he had ever done for her.
The oldest daughter of two college professors, Amal grew up in the mid-west. Her father was a prominent scientist, who immigrated to the United States from Iraq in the 1950s. Culturally, her teen years were impacted by Middle-Eastern culture.
“There was no dating – no emotion. My parents were very strict,” she says. “There was a level of expectations far different from typical American life in the 1970s. In the Mid-Eastern culture, the only way for a woman to advance in class was to marry well, unless you were very beautiful or very well-educated.”
Amal chose education. She threw herself into her studies, entering college at 16. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Kentucky before launching into her masters at San Diego State, where she met Philip.
Young and socially inexperienced, Amal met Philip on a blind date. He was attractive, charming and clearly interested in her, but early on, she had reservations. He was also arrogant and pushy. When she declined a second date, he claimed she would learn to love him. Every day for the next three months, he showed up at her apartment, bearing a gift – a flower, candy, jewelry… until she agreed to date him.
“No one had ever shown that much interest in me,” she recalls. “I loved college and was serious about my studies. I had no interest in dating, but even so, we started dating.”
The two married and by the third year, Philip’s controlling behavior became increasingly abusive – first sexually, then physically, emotionally and financially. The couple owned a successful business and by outward appearances, they lived a plush lifestyle, but Amal’s life was anything but plush. Each week, she was rationed $5 and a tank of gas. When she questioned him about his extra-marital affairs or refused his demands, he would become violent, first abusing her and later on, threatening and/or beating their two sons in retaliation.
When she discussed her marital struggles with her family, Amal’s mother sympathized, but her father advised her to “be a better wife.”
Over the years, law enforcement was called to their home on many occasions, most often by neighbors. On one occasion, Philip actually called police, reporting she had abused him. The bloody hole where he bashed her head against the wall and the blood on Amal’s hair proved otherwise and he was arrested. He called her from the police station.
“Don’t blink!” was all he said and then hung up.
Amal lost their third child to miscarriage after Philip threw her down a flight of stairs. Hospital personnel appeared skeptical, but he did all the talking and had an answer for every question. In fear for her sons’ safety, Amal convinced her husband the boys should attend boarding school.
But she remained.
In her own way, Amal formed coping mechanisms, planning escapes that never materialized. She became an expert at saving up bits of cash secretly diverted from the couples’ business. At one point, she had over $100,000 hidden in a shoe box. Instead of financing a new life, the stash would inevitably be exposed and used for unexpected household or business expenses.
After placing the boys in boarding school, Amal became deeply depressed and suicidal. She decided to seek counseling, found a therapist online and paid in cash to keep the sessions from her husband.
“At the end of the first session, I got up to leave and the therapist mentioned the word, ‘domestic violence.’ I thought, ‘That’s crazy. Who the hell does she think she is? I’m not here to talk about domestic violence, I’m here because I’m depressed.’”
Amal’s final assault took place in 2009. In an amazing turn of events, it was the same year she had been accepted to pursue her doctorate through an accelerated program at Harvard Business School.
“I was so excited. It was the beginning and the end of my life,” she says, adding she never completed the program.
The day of her final assault, in a fit of anger over money, Philip grabbed Amal and dragged her alongside his car until she fell to the pavement at a busy intersection. Bystanders watched in horror as he backed up and tried to run over her unconscious body.
“I always say that he did me a huge favor in that he did it in broad daylight and at a busy intersection because had this happened in the privacy of our driveway, I would probably still be with him or I would be dead,” she says.
When she awoke in the hospital, Amal knew she would not return to the relationship. Philip was charged with assault with a deadly weapon (the car being the weapon) and throughout the ensuing contentious divorce, he was charged with an additional 59 felony no contact violations. At one point, he was ordered to wear an ankle tracking device, but he continued to threaten her. Ultimately he served three months in jail and pled the charges down to two misdemeanors resulting in three years of probation.
While packing her house to leave, Amal found several recording devices hidden throughout the home – behind furniture and in drawers; strategically placed to spy on her when he was not at home. Because all of her electronics, phones and car were tied to business accounts, he had complete access to her whereabouts through the Internet, cell phones and GPS on her car. In addition to knowing her logistics, her husband also broke into her email account, reading details of legal filings from her attorney.
“He knew exactly where I was at all times and gained access to my Internet email accounts as soon as he got out of jail for the assault,” she says. “When you have been victimized for so long, helplessness is so deeply ingrained in your mind and your soul that when your eyes are opened to such an offense you are left simply gasping and wondering, ‘Who have I been living with?’”
Philip dissipated their $4 million estate. Amal never received any alimony or child support. She left the relationship with her personal belongings, her dogs and a car. Unable to continue the tuition for boarding school, Amal and her youngest son came to the Naples area to live with her father. It was here that she learned of The Shelter’s Women of Means program and began attending group sessions.
After starting her hew life in Florida, she says she began to notice strangers following her. When a former employee shared that her ex-husband had offered him $5,000 to find out where she was, she no longer felt safe in her father’s home. Shelter advocates suggested she and her son move into the emergency shelter. For Amal, it was like hitting rock bottom.
“I was scared and ashamed,” she recalls. “Here I was in my designer clothes, entering a shelter. I didn’t think I would relate to anyone there. I was crying. I could not believe what my life had become. I was horrified. I went to my room, got into bed and wouldn’t come out.”
That night, Amal slept soundly for the first time in 20 years.
“I actually slept through the whole night,” she says. “I felt safe and I actually felt rested the next day. Life with my husband had been like walking on egg shells. I never knew what he would do. It was like prison camp.”
It took several weeks and a patient advocate to bring Amal to the point of facing her reality.
“I holed-up in my room but my counselor would come and check on me every day. I wouldn’t talk to anyone and she never forced me to do anything. One day, she laid a notebook on my bed and said, ‘Maybe we can communicate this way.’”
Then one morning the light went on.
“I made the decision to get better for my son,” she recalls. “I realized I had it better than 90 percent of the women in that shelter. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself, remember who I was, what I had, and start using it. I could build another business. I was good at it; I had been accepted to Harvard Business School.”
Amal embraced The Shelter’s services and signed up for every program offered, including an economic empowerment class. When it was time to leave the emergency shelter, she qualified for The Shelter’s Transitional Housing program and spent two years building her new life from the bottom up.
She took a job for $8.50 an hour, working the cosmetic counter at a department store and later became a sales representative for one of the cosmetic lines. The pay was a far cry from the $22,000 a month generated by her previous business, but she says, “It was the best job I ever had.”
Thanks to the Transitional Housing program, Amal was also able to return to school and complete credits toward her counseling degree. Today she is employed with an organization that assists juveniles in crisis. She also has her own life coaching service.
“It took many years to recover from the abuse inflicted upon me and my children,” she says. “I can now say the only feeling I have for [Philip] is indifference and that is very freeing. I am married to and very much in love with a wonderful caring man and my children have gone into the world intent on becoming the opposite men that their father is. Had it not been for the love of my family and the support of The Shelter, I would have forever forgotten who I am. I live my life from a place of love, not fear and I am grateful for every day.”