“It was basically the wedding — the wedding night — and then I was like ‘Oh this is a little bit different than I thought it would be like.' I just brushed it to the side and things were good.”

FORT WALTON BEACH — When Christal Terec was getting married for the second time, she thought she'd found "the one."

“He seemed like the person who wanted the same things I wanted in life. That would make a great compatible husband,” she said.

Terec met her second husband while they were working together at a restaurant; and before committing to him, she even took note of how he treated the customers.

“On a daily basis I watched and he seemed to be a very friendly, very easy-going person that could handle a lot of interactions with stressful environments,” she said.

But hidden underneath his seeming kindness was a dark side.

“It was basically the wedding — the wedding night — and then I was like ‘Oh this is a little bit different than I thought it would be like,'” she recalled. “I just brushed it to the side and things were good.”

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Terec’s initial suspicions were confirmed once she became pregnant and her husband began to dictate who she could speak to and when.

The last straw for Terec was when her husband accused her of being pregnant with someone else’s baby after an argument.

“I knew that the relationship was going in a very bad direction," she said. "And to know that there was a little person coming into the world and with him thinking that it couldn’t have possibly been his child for some odd reason, was just more abuse.”

It was then that Terec called the Shelter House, a domestic and sexual violence center based in Fort Walton Beach.

“Often it is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation, because a lot of the people that we see as abusers are not the person in the dark alley that is creeping around," said Rosalyn Iovieno, the executive director of Shelter House. "I mean these are people just like you and I, they are attorneys, lawyers, they are working at the grocery store.

“Domestic violence in our area is a big problem and just because we have beautiful beaches and just because it is a nice place to live does not mean that we do not have problems here."

 

'No cookie-cutter cases'

In the last year alone, Shelter House received 1,300 crisis hotline calls. And in the past year more than 250 men and women stayed in the shelter — 45 percent of which were children.

“The most dangerous part in a domestic violence relationship is when the person decides to flee,” she said. “And so for us we encourage everyone to call that 24/7 hotline, we not only do crisis counseling, but we do safety planning and for us it is all about keeping them safe, especially early on when they are trying to leave. They say it takes a person seven times to leave an abusive relationship.”

And with some 1,752 domestic violence related arrests last year along the Emerald Coast, domestic violence is a surprisingly common occurrence that can be hidden underneath the veneer of a seemingly normal, suburban, "picket-fenced” lifestyle. Five of those arrests in 2016 were for domestic violence related murder in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Lisa Burrus, a victim advocate supervisor at the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, says that although domestic violence is a national issue that needs individual attention on a case-by-case basis, identifying its underlying causes can be difficult.

“We don’t know exactly what leads to domestic violence," she said.  "There are no cookie-cutter cases. There are multiple factors and circumstances in every case. Each has to be given the time and attention that it deserves to properly document and investigate on an individual basis.”

 

'Get out while you still can'

Aaron Ethridge, an investigator with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office who oversees the domestic violence unit, said the causes of domestic violence are behavioral.

“Personally, what I have observed in our cases is that they are having a lot of problems with impulse control, it’s the same for several crimes, theft, burglary, they want something and they want it then, that’s the issue with those crimes,” said Ethridge. “As far as these crimes (are concerned), they are getting mad, they are getting aggravated, they want to take their aggression out and they don’t have the control to stop that. So when they get the impulse to lash out, they lash out on the closest thing to them, which is their spouse, their child, animals."

And for those who have been continually subjected to abuse, like Terec, breaking away from an abusive envioronment can be difficult.

“Throughout my entire life I have had abuse occur, so to be an advocate and to break that cycle is an amazing thing,” said Terec.

Terec is now moving in a positive direction. She was recently approved for a home loan and even has a good co-parenting relationship with her ex-husband and their 8-year-old son.

Her advice to those living in an abusive situation is to stand up for yourself and get out while you still can.

“Stay strong, the moments that seem so horrific pass,” she said. “They don’t ever go completely away, though they pass and you learn through them and you are stronger to be able to stand up and say ‘no’ and ‘enough is enough’ that nobody, nobody — man, woman or child — on this earth deserves to be abused.”