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Finding Hope in the Midst of Domestic Violence (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 10/20/2015

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Doris Rivera-Black tells her dramatic story of escaping the physical, emotional and sexual abuse she endured in her previous marriage. She offers hope to other victims of domestic violence as she discusses the healing she's found through her relationship with Jesus Christ. (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Transcript



Mrs. Doris Rivera-Black: She came to me crying on day at 11-years-old and said, "Mommy, I'm really scared for you." And it completely shocked me and I said, "Okay, baby, what's wrong? Why are you scared?" And she says, "I know that you and James fight at night." And it was like a stab in my heart and I said, "You do?" And she says, "Yes, I hear you all of the time and I don't go to sleep, mommy." And I said, "You don't?" And she said, "I sit outside of your bedroom door with the phone, 'cause I want to be ready to call the police, call 911 if he hurts you."

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That's a horrifying comment and it comes from a wife and mom, describing her journey through a nightmare of domestic violence and we're going to address this important issue on today's "Focus on the Family with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, every now and then we have a topic that breaks my heart and this is one of them, because God designed marriage to be a deeply loving, intimate and tender relationship. There's one problem with it thought. We are selfish human beings and that level of selfishness can be brutal and we're gonna talk about a story like that today.

Marriage is meant to be a reflection of who God is and how much He loves us and cares for us, but as I said, we live in a world that's marred by sin and as a result, some people will do and say terrible things to the very people they should be loving the most. And we're right in the middle of National Domestic violence Awareness Month here in the U.S. and we know this airs in internationally, but that's a time that we reflect on domestic violence. Typically that is abuse against women. It happens in both directions, but again, usually it's men perpetrating harsh, violent actions toward women and usually, their wife or their girlfriend.

Maybe we're talking about where you're at today and you've been too scared to acknowledge what's going on. I believe this program's gonna help you hear the warning signals of what you need to be aware of and then what actions you'll need to take.

John: And we're here for you if you're sensing something has to change, but you don't know where to turn. Our help line is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or we'll have some resources and helps for you at


Jim: John, as I said, this is a challenging topic and some people might be saying, why would we be talking about this on Christian radio? Well, the sad truth of it is, some of this happens within the Christian community, too, and we don't want to bury our head in the sand. We need to talk about it so women can be equipped to do what is necessary to get safe.

Let me introduce our guest today. She is Doris Rivera Black, who lives right here in Colorado Springs. She's an author, speaker, an advocate for women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. And I want to say, I so appreciate her willingness to come, to share her story which is difficult and share it with that vulnerability and that desire to help you if you're in a similar situation. Doris, welcome to the program.

Doris: Thank you so much for having me.

Jim: Probably the place to start is to define "domestic violence." We didn't say in the bio that, and it comes out in the story, but I'm gonna spill the beans on this part, you later become a sheriff, El Paso County Sheriff, so you know law enforcement firsthand. You worked in the field. Define "domestic violence."

Doris: Well, domestic violence is simply when one party in a relationship exercises power and control over the other party. And so, it's really all about power and control and the abuse is not always physical. It can come in the form of emotional. It can come in the form of manipulation or psychological manipulation.

Jim: Most of us would know that kind of violence as physical, I mean, someone who is harmed physically, but you're right. It's kind of the combination. I think what I've seen in the research is oftentimes, there's a pattern where it begins as verbal, emotional, moves to manipulation and then eventually it can become physical. Is that fair?

Doris: Absolutely and what we call it is "the cycle of violence." So usually at first, you have that person charm you and they make you believe they are the greatest person in the world, and slowly but surely, you begin to realize that they are a different person than the person they perceived themselves to be. And it does start subtly. It's not always obvious at the beginning.

And it begins with maybe a sign of jealousy and not that jealousy in itself is going to say, well, this person is abusive, but it kinda begins with unfounded jealousy. It begins with wanting to isolate you from friends and family. Sometimes that person wants to exercise control over financials in the home.

Doris: And at first you may think it's something, oh, well, this person just loves me and this is why they care so much about who I'm hangin' out, around with or who my friends are or who--

Jim: How I'm spending the money.

Doris: --right, how I'm spending my money. But then it becomes, that subtleness becomes more intense and before you know it, you're sort of trapped in this relationship that you feel you have absolutely no control over changing.

Jim: Let me ask you in terms of the formation for you. You come out of what you described as a nominally Christian home. It wasn't a large commitment. It was—

Doris: Right.

Jim: --what it sounds like. Kind of give us a picture of that and then talk about that and then talk about how you met James.

Doris: Right, so I grew up in a family who, well, we loved the Lord and unfortunately, the way I was brought up was God is a punisher and you must fear Him and if you do anything wrong, it's because He's punishing you for something you've sinned in your life. Or if you sin, you better be ready, 'cause He's gonna come down with His wrath.

Jim: And that's important in your story because you felt at times in your marriage with James and the abuse that would come later, that God was actually the One punishing you for behavior. Is that fair?

Doris: It is fair. I had been married before James and I were married, and I was married young. I was 17 when I became pregnant with my first child, [with] my first boyfriend. We were young and very inexperienced in life—

Jim: Sure.

Doris: --and so, we chose to kinda just end it. It was the easy way out and so when I was with James and seeing myself in this situation, I thought, well this is my punishment because I didn't try hard enough in my first marriage.

Jim: And meeting James, I mean, it was the typical kind of romance, right? Romantic and you didn't see anything at that time?

Doris: Absolutely, James was just my Prince Charming when I first met him. He told me everything that I felt I think at that time I needed to hear. "You're beautiful. You're worthy. You deserve a man who will love you and respect you. You and your daughters deserve somebody in your life who will make you feel good and they deserve a good father." And so, he told me all of these perfect things and completely swept me under my feet.

Jim: Right off your feet and you ended up getting married, right?

Doris: We did get married.

Jim: And then things began to change.

Doris: Right.

Jim: What did you notice in your relationship? You kinda described again some of those general attributes, but those were the things that you saw—that control, manipulation. How did that play out for you in your relationship with James?

Doris: At first, what I didn't realize back then is what I realize now that we had always worked in the same location since we met.And so, it didn't occur to me that, that was his way of maintaining some control over me and watching everything that I did.

Jim: Well, you were unaware at that time.

Doris: Right.

Jim: There wasn't really overt activity, abuse or anything like that, but this was the beginning of it, right?

Doris: It was; it was and there was some intimacy problems that I noticed, as well, that I didn't realize at the time that were controlling situations, but there was some intimacy problems that came up and more of the power and control type situations and I just kind of rationalized it at the time.

Jim: In that regard, we don't want to be too explicit—

Doris: Right.

Jim: --but it was just, you thought okay, this is what he thinks about or where he's coming from and you want to be a good wife and—

Doris: Right.

Jim: --I mean, so that, but that was a red flag for you.

Doris: It was.

Jim: Yeah.

Doris: It was.

Jim: As you moved through the relationship, what did that emotional and verbal abuse look like?

Doris: Well, you know, it's not as common as most domestic abuse situations. So, James never talked down to me as far as, "You're not good enough," "You're ugly" or anything like that. We do—

Jim: So, that would be common—

Doris: --see that.

Jim: --in other situations.

Doris: That is extremely common in a lot of domestic abuse situations, however, James was more psychologically manipulative and so, he would, for instance, if I wanted to go to the gym to work out, he would often ask me why I wanted to spend so much time at the gym, that is there a reason why I wanted to look good? Or is there a reason why I wanted to work out so often?

Jim: So, you had to defend just being in shape.

Doris: Really, that's exactly it and he often would show up when I went into my next career. He would often show up unannounced at work to bring me coffee, to bring me donuts, to bring me flowers. But this was a constant situation. It wasn't just every once in a while. And of course, we all think at the time, "Wow, that's really sweet," but it was, looking back, it was a way for him to keep track of me and to know exactly what I was doing at that time and who were my coworkers and who was working around me and so, that was another way that he manipulated our marriage.

Jim: Doris, you probably began to sense something wasn't quite right. I'm curious if other people noticed that, as well. Or did James behave in ways that went unnoticed?

Doris: He was very careful with that. He didn't want others to see the manipulation. He didn't want people to hear our arguments, so he would wait till night.

Jim: So, outside in the relationships outside the home, he looked like Prince Charming still.

Doris: Oh, yes.

Jim: But inside the home and even away from your daughters, that's where it would happen.

Doris: Right.

Jim: Now you didn't mention physical abuse. So, I mean, in terms of being hit or something like that, that was not occurring at this point.

Doris: At this point, he was not physical. There was some sexual abuse, but he was not physically abusive at this point in time. So, there was never any hitting or pushing or anything like that.

Jim: Now some people again, because of that definition, maybe they missed the top of the program, as you defined "domestic abuse," physical is only one aspect of it. You talked about emotional abuse, manipulation, trauma. What were, for the person who's joining us just now, what would he be saying to you? What would he be doing to you to kinda cage you in?

Doris: Right, so what his normal routine would be was to attempt to start an argument with me over whether I was late from work or who was I speaking to during work? And who is this male person and how often do I talk to my male coworkers and things like that. And because I didn't want to argue and because I wanted my rest before I went into work the next day, I would just let him know, I don't want to do this right now. I need to get some rest. And so, I'd go into the bedroom and he would follow me into the bedroom and I would lay in the bed and he'd rip the covers off of me and he would often say, "We're gonna deal with this now."

And if I continued to ignore him, he'd turn on the television as high as he could and if I continued to ignore him, then he would take the drawers out of our dressers and dump 'em all over the floor, just to try to get a rise out of me and try to get me to argue with him.

John: Well, we're hearing about some of the warning signs of domestic violence and abuse and some of the hidden things that go on behind the scenes. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller. Our guest is Doris Rivera-Black and as we noted earlier, we have resources and helps for you if you're going through any sort of situation in the home that you think might be headed down this path. And our phone number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Jim: And John, just let me add, if you need us, I hope you'll call us. Doris, those tactics that your husband was using, had to be exhausting for you. I mean, they're so juvenile and so petty, but you wanted this marriage to work and you were in, even though James was trying to manipulate your emotions. But he soon began to apply more pressure toward you in pretty desperate ways, right?

Doris: Correct, once we began to experience marital problems, I would suggest that maybe we needed a short separation to kind of see where we're at. And as soon as he heard that word "separation," he would go into his suicide mode. And I remember a specific time where we were having an argument at night and I told him I had, had enough. This was after quite a few years of the abuse and he ran downstairs to the kitchen. He grabbed the knife and he stuck it to his neck and began to tell me, "If you leave me, then I have no reason to live."

Jim: How did that make you feel inside, not what you maybe expressed? But what did that do to your psychology, the way you were thinking about your situation? Was it fearful or was it rescuer?

Doris: I was both terrified and in rescue mode. I truly believed he would move forth with a suicide had I not told him exactly what I thought he wanted to her—

Jim: Which was?

Doris: --at this point, which was, "Okay, we can work things out."

Jim: Okay.

Doris: "I'm not going to leave you." And that became a cycle for him. He knew it was a great way to manipulate me and …

Jim: Did you ever go to counseling in that time?

Doris: We did at the end of our marriage. We attempted counseling. That was one of the last ultimatums that I gave James, is we can try this again, but we have to go to counseling. We have to go to Christian counseling.

Jim: Let me ask you about that spiritually because you talked about coming from a home where everyone loved Jesus, but it was nominal in practice is what I—

Doris: Right.

Jim: --hear you saying. With your first marriage and two children, you find yourself as a single mom. That was a teen marriage and it dissolved. You marry James and where is God in this picture? Are you connected to Him? Are you going to church? Are you reading the Word? Or have you become distant in your relationship with the Lord at this time?

Doris: Well, at this point in time, I was seeking God. I just did not know how. I knew He was there. It felt as though He was out of reach and I felt so ashamed of the situation that I was in, that I almost felt as though I wasn't worthy of asking for His help.

Jim: Were you still feeling that all this difficult you 're going through, your first marriage breaking apart, the two children that you had, this now troubled marriage that you are in, were you still feeling like this was God's way of getting at you because of your sin?

Doris: I did feel that somewhat at the time and I also thought, well, I just need to try harder. I can't fail at another marriage. And I began to think that there was something wrong with me.

Jim: Doris, what's so beautiful in one respect and I find this amazing capacity in women to look into their own heart first. I mean, the Lord, I think when He was talkin' about the log in your own eye and the speck in your brother's eye, I think He was really aiming that at men (Laughter) because women do it so well. And I see it in my wife. She can turn inside quickly and say, "Where have I failed?" And she can, I think like you, carry guilt for certain things that she should not and women should not carry guilt for. And that's kinda what you're describing here—

Doris: Right.

Jim: --is how in this kind of marriage relationship, you're carrying that guilt of, what have I done? And then even saying, maybe God's loading that guilt on me.

Speak about that and how you broke free of that. I know that's a little later in the story but how you came to the conclusion that this is not God's design. He doesn't load you up with guilt, conviction perhaps, but talk about how you came to grips with that guilt load that you were carrying.

Doris: Right and this would come later, definitely later in the story. I knew there had to be more. I knew that this couldn't have been His plan for me.

Doris: And I realized that this relationship, that this marriage was becoming a very dangerous marriage and it took my children to open my eyes and to remove those scales from my eyes, to realize that this wasn't okay. And I think that my "aha" moment and "aha moment's" probably not the appropriate word, but my--

Jim: Realization.

Doris: --realization really was when my 11-year-old daughter, she came to me crying one day at 11-years-old and said, "Mommy, I'm really scared for you." And [this] completely shocked me and I said, "Okay, baby, what's wrong? Why are you scared?" And she says, "I know that you and James fight at night." And it was like a stab in my heart and I said, "You do?" And she said, "Yes, I hear you all the time and I don't go to sleep, mommy." And I said, "You don't?" And she said, "I sit outside of your bedroom door with the phone and 'cause I want to be ready to call the police, call 911 if he hurts you."

Jim: Think of the pressure of that.

Doris: And it was a blow to my chest and I just broke down crying and I held her in my arms and I asked her to forgive me and I said, "This is not gonna happen anymore. I'm done. We will no longer be in this situation." And I thanked her for being brave enough to come to me.

Jim: The next step though, I mean, how the next night, if it was the next night, I mean, how did that conflict go? And what did you do to keep your word to your daughter--

Doris: Well—

Jim: --and then, you know, still confront James in a way that kept you safe?

Doris:--right.So this is a wild story. I knew I had to have this conversation with him. And I said, "We can't do this anymore. I'm done. We need to separate." And of course, this had been separation [number] four or five in our marriage. And he cried and apologized and said he had issues that he needed to work on and all of these things. And I said, "But I need some time. I need you to go and live with your mom for a little while I sort out my thoughts and figure out what I'm gonna do." And there was no fight there. There was no fight there and he was playing the victim role and he packed some of his things up and went. But he was very much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He would be emotional and victim role and then he would just switch it to rage.

Jim: Huh.

Doris: And so, he left and went with his mother and I immediately took action and I changed locks on the door. I informed my employers.

Jim: Well, we need to disclose that, because you were working as an El Paso County Sheriff at that point. We mentioned it early, but this is at the time when you've a sheriff.

Doris: Right.

Jim: Talk about that before we continue in the story because that had to be, it almost seems like two different worlds for you. Here you're a powerful person, a powerful woman, working as a sheriff, gun strapped to your side, arresting people that are perpetrating violence and then you go home at night and you have this other world going on. How did you keep these two things together? I mean, it must have felt like you were in two different worlds.

Doris: It sure did. It was completely as if so I was playing two different roles. I believe I excelled being a deputy sheriff. I was considered small and mighty at the sheriff's office.

Jim: That was your title, huh?

Doris: It was, yes.

Jim: She may be small—

Doris: It was—

Jim: --but she's tough.

Doris: --(Laughing) exactly. Some people call me "Throw Down." (Laughing)

Jim: Throw down.

Doris: But (Laughing)—

Jim: Watch out, John. (Laughter)

John: I'm going to move away a bit here.

Doris: --so, you know, it was a way of me, I guess proving to myself that I was indeed strong.

Jim: So, that was all the years of growing up packaged into this career now that gave you some power over your—

Doris: Yes.

Jim: --circumstances.

Doris: Right.

Jim: That's quite amazing actually.

Doris: Right and as a little girl, I had been sexually molested by a trusted family member and so, I had bottled in those feelings for a very long time. I tucked it away. Growing up I refused to show emotion. I was often kind of a tough sweet girl, if you can imagine that.

Jim: Right, don't cross me.

Doris: Right, sweet, but don't cross me, but it was really my attempt of bottling those emotions of unworthiness and shame and guilt and I had a lot of insecurities growing up.


John: Doris Rivera-Black has been sharing part of her remarkable story with us on today's "Focus on the Family."

Jim: John, I have so much respect for Doris. She's a strong person and you can hear that, to have endured as much abuse as she did, even as a child. And I really so appreciate her vulnerability in sharing her story with us today. But this is only part one and this story gets even more incredible and perhaps in some ways, even darker. Her husband, James came back for revenge and kidnapped her at gunpoint, but God intervened and we'll hear next time how Doris miraculously survived and discovered God's love and eventually, His supernatural power to even forgive James for what he did and I know you're not gonna want to miss that.

And as we said earlier, if you or someone you know is suffering from an abusive relationship, please get help right away. Don't be caught in trying to figure out if it's right or wrong. If it's not safe, get that help. Here at Focus on the Family, we have resources that can assist you, like our counseling team and a free Play-It-Safe guide that offers you practical instructions about how to understand and get away from a domestic violence situation. So, contact us today and don't put it off any longer.

John: Our number here is 800-232-6459 or we've got help for you at

And if you'd like to join our efforts to rescue those who are hurting, we really would appreciate your prayers and your financial support. Every gift of $29 or more can help heal a hurting individual or family; $29 provides counseling, follow-up resources and a referral to a local Christian therapist. And the fact is, that so many who need family ministry the most, can't afford to support it, but you can help us provide advice and encouragement that literally, will change lives. So, please consider a generous gift today--$29 for one family or perhaps you can donate more. Contribute online at or on the phone, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And it'd be a privilege to say thank you for your gift of any amount by sending a complimentary CD of our two-part conversation with Doris Rivera-Black, which will include today and also tomorrow's discussion.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time as we hear the incredible conclusion to this story and once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Doris Rivera-Black

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Doris Rivera-Black is a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence who has made it her personal mission to bring hope and healing to other victims. This journey began when she shared her powerful story as an overcomer on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007. Doris is now a sought-after public speaker and the author of a new book titled Clothed in Strength. She is also the founder of NEVER a Victim, a program where women are taught about domestic violence/sexual assault and how to defend against it. Doris is also the co-founder of All Hope Restored, a faith-based domestic violence support group. She and her husband reside in Colorado and have three children. Learn more about Doris by visiting her website,