SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Five months after calling 911 for medical treatment, Natalie Cupp shared her story of domestic violence with the community.
“Exercising my 1st Amendment rights, I’m writing this story and submitting the unquestionable, attached evidence with photos and the supporting police report. I hope to achieve bringing attention to not just a subject, but a reality that I am afraid happens way too much right here in our beloved Sevier County. In fact, it happens to women on every level of society but remains stealth and unheard, definitely unseen,” Cupp started off in her post.Natalie Cupp, Facebook post
Normal beginnings…with bad days
Cupp, 29, told WATE News she was 17 years old when she met her husband Anthony Compton, who’s three years older.
After about six or seven months of dating, the two got married.
“It’s like any relationship. I mean, you have the good days and you have the bad days. It’s just your bad days are worse than other people’s bad days,” Cupp said about their relationship as a whole.
She said her husband’s controlling nature took over fairly soon into the relationship.
Cupp was in nursing school, taking a few classes on campus, but travel became an issue.
“We only had the one vehicle because he refused to buy a separate vehicle. I had to ride with him when he went to work. I’d have to stay at his job for a couple of hours, or I’d have to wait in the car for a couple of hours, so we thought it would be better if I just took online classes,” she said.
She said her husband never bought internet service for the house after she dropped the other classes.
Nothing changed when children came into the picture.
“When I was pregnant with my youngest, he flipped the kitchen table during an argument. Then he cornered me in the kitchen and he went to hit me, but instead he hit the cabinet right next to me. He ended up shattering his hand,” Cupp said.
Cupp said out of the 11 years of their relationship, police have been called only three times and she’s only been to the hospital once.
Most of the abuse she endured was emotional.
She said the first time she called authorities she was home with their son, who was one year old at the time.
“He don’t calm down like a normal person. It would either go to the point of he would either hold a gun to his own head or he would just snap on me,” Cupp said.
In those situations, she didn’t know what to do. She said her son was crying and Compton wouldn’t calm down. Finally, she said she locked her and her son in the bedroom and called the police.
Cupp said there were several times she thought about leaving her husband, but then reality would set in.
“It becomes a control thing to where you can’t support yourself or your children and you solely need that person to live,” she explained.
Cupp said her husband would give her a $300 allowance every other week for food and other items.
She eventually had a vehicle, but she said whenever it broke down, her husband wouldn’t take it for repairs.
The relationship caused her so much stress, she said she was prescribed anti-anxiety medicine. Often, she felt belittled, guilty, or sorry for him.
During the last couple of years, Cupp was able to get a part-time job at a nonprofit organization. She said the job created more issues between her and her husband, but she said it was good for her.
“Luckily I kept my job through the issues because I wouldn’t have been able to support me and my kids now,” Cupp said.
The last time
The incident Cupp posted about on Facebook was the first and only time she needed to be treated for her injuries.
The day it happened, she said her husband was irate the entire day.
They went out for breakfast on Feb. 3, and Cupp said the servers even asked if she needed help.
“He kept on grabbing my keys to the car and just leaving for 10 to 15 minutes at a time,” she said.
After they finally left to pick up their children, she said he jumped out of the car while she was driving. He then walked a few miles to her father’s house.
Later that night after she took her anti-anxiety medication, she said she felt him pull her out of bed and drag her into the kitchen.
“He just started throwing me into the cabinets, into our oven, into the stove. He started kicking me, punching me,” she recalled.
She said he started strangling her, to the point where she started to get light-headed.
She thought she was going to die, but then he stopped.
“He unlocked his own phone and Googled the Sheriff’s Department’s number for me to call and he was like, ‘you need to get help.’ Because he’d seen how bad he had beaten me,” Cupp said.
She later found out that their 7-year-old son heard the whole incident, but was too scared to call for help.
Cupp wanted to share her story so others in a similar situation knew they weren’t alone and they can get help.
Help from Safe Space
Cupp turned to her family for support and to Safe Space of East Tennessee for help.
Safe Space is a nonprofit organization that provides help for victims of domestic violence for Cocke, Jefferson and Sevier counties.
Van Wolfe, executive director of Safe Space, said Cupp was more fortunate than some others in a similar situation.
Like Cupp, Wolfe said many women in abusive relationships are dependent on their spouse for nearly everything.
She said about 96% of domestic violence victims are women, and about 1 out of 3 women has either experienced domestic abuse or knows someone who has.
Wolfe said anyone could end up in an abusive relationship.
“When relationships start, abusers are not monsters on the front end. If they were, no one would be in these relationships,” Wolfe said.
Warning signs are subtle, slow
She said the relationships are all about power and control. There are signs from the beginning, but sometimes they aren’t noticeable at first.
“It starts off very slow. It’s, again, maybe jealously. Not wanting her to spend as much time with friends or family; wanting to make all the decisions,” Wolfe said.
She said the partner doesn’t typically start with demands and force.
“Let me help you do this;” “You don’t need to work, I make enough money. Just stay home and enjoy yourself;” were some phrases Wolfe said abusers use.
She said the victim starts to lose their independence, but doesn’t realize they are dependent until it’s too late.
Then, even when the victim might start to notice the controlling tendencies or abusive behavior, Wolfe said the victim often gives their partner excuses.
“‘He was just in a bad mood,’ or ‘he had a bad day at work.’ Those kind of things because you want this person to be the person you fell in love with,” Wolfe explained.
She said the physical abuse usually doesn’t start until a commitment has been made; whether that’s moving in, marriage or children.
Wolfe said there’s as many reasons why victims stay in an abusive relationship than there are people in this world.
“They can’t afford to leave, they’ve never had a job, they have three kids,” Wolfe said.
In Sevier County specifically, it can be hard to afford the average cost of living and childcare with the majority of tourism jobs that are available.
When a domestic abuse victim leaves
Wolfe said a victim will leave five to seven times before she leaves for good.
“We’ve had clients that have never learned how to drive,” she said.
Wolfe also said victims often don’t tell anyone about the abuse because their embarrassed or scared. Their families might not know until law enforcement gets called.
Victims often struggle to file charges or stay away from their abusers because the criminal justice system doesn’t work as they think it does, she said.
Wolfe said Tennessee has good laws to help victims, but there’s a chance that the victim has to go to several different courts for several different court hearings.
Some states have family court where domestic violence cases are heard.
Preventing domestic abuse
Wolfe said the main way to prevent domestic abuse is through awareness. And, teaching children what a healthy relationship looks like.
Anyone experiencing domestic violence can seek Safe Space for shelter.
Cupp’s husband has been charged with aggravated domestic assault, aggravate kidnapping, interfering with emergency communications and two counts of harassment.
Compton’s next court appearance is scheduled for August 19.