When Lisa Lara was 16 she fell in love and she just knew he felt the same.

Sure, he deleted all of her male friends from her Facebook page and didn’t like it when she spent time with friends and family, but that just meant he loved her a lot, she reasoned.

Yes, he got a little rough with her at times, but that was just because she said or did something stupid, she thought to herself.

For two years, the relationship continued, while those with her friends and family broke down.

The Graham County resident became depressed, began using drugs and alcohol with her boyfriend and became a hateful person all around, Lara said.

And then, she ended up in the hospital. In a fit of rage one night, her boyfriend jumped upon and down on the car she’d worked so hard to buy, smashed his foot through her windshield, dragged her outside of it and continually smashed her head against the pavement.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it that night, I really didn’t,” she said.

After much convincing by a police officer, Lara agreed to press charges against her abuser. He was convicted of assault and sentenced to two years’ probation and two months in jail.

Not long after that, Lara learned of the existence of the Mt. Graham Safe House and the work they do helping victims of domestic violence. Now 23, Lara has been working at the safe house for the last two years while working on two associate’s degrees at Eastern Arizona College in psychology and sociology. Next semester she’ll be transferring to Arizona State University where the plan is to earn her bachelor’s, master’s degrees and ultimately, her doctorate so she can become a clinical psychologist.

For the first time ever, Lara recently shared her story at a Domestic Violence Awareness Month event sponsored by the Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce. Soon, she hopes to go into local schools to do the same.

“I really want teenagers and kids my age to know it can happen to them,” Lara said.

She wants them to understand what normal dating behaviors are and equally important, she wants them to know there is a place where they can get the help they need, she said.

“I met my abuser at 16 and within the first three months he wanted to be serious,” Lara said. “I thought ‘Oh, he really likes me.’”

The first time he pushed her, she’d been pouring her heart out to him about other things going on in her life and he became angry and belittled her feelings, Lara said.

He later apologized and she forgave him. It was a cycle that would continue many, many times over the next couple of years.

“He said ‘I’m sorry you saw me like that. I’m not normally like that and then he blamed me for it,’” Lara said. “He was a really, really good actor. He convinced me I was crazy and that’s why all of these things kept happening. He convinced me I needed to be punished.”

When she finally got up the courage to leave, he scared her into staying.

“He threatened to hurt the people in my family and he threatened to kill me and himself,” Lara said.

When not threatening physical harm, he threatened to post nude pictures he had of her on the internet, she said.

After getting out of jail he continued to stalk her for awhile, but eventually stopped, she said.

To this day, she remains fearful of going places by herself, but she has come so far, Lara said.

“I have always wanted to speak out, but I just wasn’t in the right place,” Lara said. “Now, though, it’s time for me to speak out about it. I might even write a book.”

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