MADISON (WKOW) -- Often we don't hear about domestic violence until its too late. In 2009 alone, there were seven domestic homicides in Dane County.
27 News Reporter Jamie Hersch had the chance to hear from two women about their fight to break away from the men who tested the limits of the once-sacred vow: 'til death do us part.
For 10 years, Jenny would cry herself to sleep night after night, trying to make sense of the emotional and physical abuse she endured. Afraid to stay, but terrified to leave.
"People like me who have low self-esteem will hold on to whatever they can get, and as long as he told me he loved me, that was enough for me, I guess," she said.
Another victim we'll refer to as 'Joanna' stayed with her husband through 20 years of abuse.
"He would pin me against the wall, he would scream in my face, tell me I was a stupid, worthless woman who couldn't do anything right, over and over and over again. I thought I could love him out of it, if I could just love him enough. If I could just be a better partner, then maybe everything would be okay," she said.
But things were not okay, and judging by the record number of domestic homicides last year in Wisconsin, the problem is only getting worse.
What police called "the worst homicide ever in Dane County" was a quadruple murder with domestic violence at its core.
Suspect Tyrone Adair had a history of harassing women, a history that ended in December with murder and suicide.
Shannon Barry runs Madison's primary abuse intervention program, known as DAIS. She says highly publicized cases like this only make it harder on those still stuck in an abusive relationship.
"Oftentimes abusers will use media coverage of these cases and point out to their victims, 'Look, this could happen to you,'" said Barry.
Jenny says that's exactly what she fears.
"What if I'm the next press conference they have when they find me dead? I sleep with my window open at night, in 30-below-degree weather, because I'm afraid he's going to come at night," said Jenny.
Jenny's abuser was taken to court on two misdemeanor charges and two felonies, all for domestic abuse.
But two years, one mistrial and a plea bargain later, his punishment was 18 months probation prohibiting contact with Jenny.
"What is a restraining order? It's a piece of paper. That's all it is. I have to die before they do anything to him," she said.
Here in Dane County, cases like this are far too common.
District Attorney Brian Blanchard says domestic violence is the most under-reported crime in Dane County. Still, it accounts for one-third of all arrests. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why the problem continues to grow, but the DA admits there's a problem with the justice system.
"In Dane County and across the state, we have victims essentially lining up and competing for the attention of the district attorneys," said Blanchard.
Blanchard says until the state devotes more resources to funding and staffing DA offices, there's not much they can do to speed up the court process.
Plus, jail time often makes the problem worse for the victim once the abuser is released.
But where the legal system may fall short of providing immediate, fail-safe protection for victims, places like DAIS are eager to reach out a helping hand.
"We have a lot of expertise to plan for safety, whether they choose to leave the situation or stay in the situation," said Barry.
Barry wants to remind all victims that they are not alone, and DAIS' confidential shelter is open 24/7.
Joanna has seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and after 20 years of fear, freedom.
"It was about two months later I realized I'd left him on Independence Day. I thought that had a special kind of irony," said Joanna.
After years of therapy, and a new, healthy marriage, Joanna is publishing a book in March about her past called But He'll Change.
She says her greatest wish is that somehow, the thousands of victims in Wisconsin who are trapped in abusive relationships will find a way to reach out for help before it's too late.
You can contact DAIS at any time by going to its website or calling (608) 251-4445.