Adaeze Amaram had a good job as an accountant, a home with leather furniture on a quiet Virginia cul-de-sac, and a growing family. But she also had a secret.
Almost from the beginning of her marriage to a self-proclaimed pastor on Oct. 5, 2000, Amaram said she was verbally assaulted. The physical abuse, she said, started when she was pregnant with her first child.
But she didnt talk about it and it took her a long time to realize she was a battered woman and needed to escape her violent situation.
I didnt have much experience with men. I was very naive. I had never really dated and had just one boyfriend in high school, so I didnt have much of a reference point as to what was normal, said Amaram.
He would tell me it was my fault. Looking back I was very stupid, but I had a trusting heart, said Amaram, who filed for divorce from Kurke Q. Howard in early 2011.
Now in Florida with her four daughters Adachi, 10; 7-year-old twins Ananyah and Aman, and 4-year-old Ahlai Amaram is trying to rebuild a life, looking for work in her profession and hoping that telling her story will help other women.
For years she just endured. But a tipping point came in early 2006, when her husband violently assaulted her, twice pointed a gun at her and threatened to kill her, according to a temporary protective order she obtained in Henrico County, Va.
But she dropped it after her husband apologized. I forgave him and things stayed sane for a little while before the abuse began again, she said. Then he started to cheat on me, I complained and he moved out.
When he was gone, Amaram said, I had time to think and hear the truth. Ultimately it was her children who motivated her. I did not want my girls to think that what they were seeing was OK, she said.
The couple officially separated on Dec. 28, 2009 under Virginia law a couple must live apart for one year before they can file for divorce. But it was in the fall of 2010, when she separately petitioned for custody of the children that things once again turned violent.
First, Amarams husband threatened her that if I find you out, I will kill you, according to a temporary restraining order. The next day, he returned to Amarams home when she was away, according to the order, kicked in the door, grabbed the babysitter, pulled her away from the children and broke her cell phone.
Amaram got an emergency protective order in September 2010 requiring her husband to stay 500 feet from her Henrico County home and to have no contact with her or the children. But in a final order, Howard was required to stay away from her but not the children.
That November, an agreement giving Amaram sole legal and physical custody of the four girls was reached and it was entered with the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Henrico County the next January.
The night her husband kicked in the door Amaram fled the home with her daughters and stayed with a friend way out in the country for five months. She came back to the house but even after her divorce became final in June 2011, she still didnt feel safe.
In October 2011, she discreetly packed up some boxes, left all her furniture behind and headed a rented van toward Florida where she had arranged a two-week stay at a condo. I had that and prayer, said Amaram, a deeply religious woman who describes herself as an Israelite a child of God.
She didnt really have much of a plan except to put distance between herself and Virginia.
But she also had a word that had come to her in a dream: Avinu, which means Our Father in Hebrew. When she looked up the word on the Internet, it turned up the Kehilat Bet Avinu synagogue in Davie.
When her condo rental ran out, she turned to Women in Distress of Broward County, a domestic violence center that offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency shelter, counseling and other support services.
But the Women in Distress shelter was full, and Amaram took a chance and called the rabbi at Kehilat Bet Avinu, a non-affiliated messianic synagogue. He offered her a place to stay for the weekend.
As I lay down for the night, I said, Lord, my whole situation is in your hands, Amaram said.
As it turned out, a member of the synagogue had a contact at Women in Distress. The next day, two taxis arrived to take the family to the shelter where they stayed for more than three months as they got their feet on the ground.
In fiscal 2013, Women in Distress, which nominated Amaram for Wish Book, served 2,382 domestic violence victims the vast majority of them women. Nearly one in four women in the United States have experienced violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amaram enrolled the girls in school, filed for food stamps and applied for Medicaid.
Now she wonders whether that paper trail helped her ex-husband track her to Florida. On Feb. 3, 2012, after picking up her daughters asthma medicine at a pharmacy, Coral Springs police officers surrounded her car.
Her car caught my attention as she was driving down University Drive, said Coral Springs Det. Steve Lerman. Her ex-husband had accused her of parental kidnapping and there were Virginia warrants for her arrest.
Lerman called for backup. As she came out of the drug store, police took her into custody. Her oldest daughter, Adachi, was with her.
Fortunately, she had a packet of documents with her that showed the restraining order and the order giving her custody of the children.
Adaeze was very calm when she explained it, said Lerman, but she was obviously scared.
Lerman was sympathetic, but the officers were obligated to pick Amaram up and hold her on the Virginia warrants. If there was a way I could have legally prevented her from going into jail I would have, but I couldnt, said Lerman.
He and his partners talked. We decided her side of the story was definitely something that needed to be looked into, Lerman said. We investigated and determined that she was being railroaded.
When Amarams ex-husband heard she was in custody, he drove down to Florida and burst into the lobby of Coral Springs police headquarters, expecting to take the children with him, said Lerman. He went away empty-handed, he said.
And Amaram was never extradited to Virginia. We worked with the courts and the hearings were held down here. There were a lot of people removing a lot of barriers to get her before family court quickly, said Lerman. I was very proud the Florida system worked so well on this.
The Virginia warrants were eventually quashed but not before Amaram spent nearly two weeks in jail and her children went into protective custody until she was released.
Lerman still keeps in touch with Amaram to see how she is doing. She is a good woman, he said. Shes been through a lot, but her kids are immaculate, respectful.
While she was in jail, Amaram and her children lost their place at the Women in Distress shelter. Since then, they have bounced from place to place and Amaram has worked cleaning homes and at odd jobs to make ends meet.
Her savings are nearly exhausted, she said, and her parents had to help her out with her recent rent check. Random acts of kindness also have kept her and her children afloat at critical times, she said.
Its been a tough situation for her. Childcare has been difficult for her, housing has been difficult, the doors havent opened on a job so quickly, said Shari Randerson, therapy department manager at Women in Distress.
Still, Amaram said, Life is a whole lot better now. At least we have the safe factor.
After she first moved to Florida, all her children were in counseling for about a year. But where there used to be rage and tantrums, Amaram said now there is only sibling rivalry.
Theyve adjusted well. My oldest got straight As. The twins are getting good scores on behavior. The youngest is in Head Start, she said.
Amarams top wish this holiday season is to get a job and help with childcare so she can look for a job. It is only now that Amaram said shes feeling comfortable enough to put out résumés: I was scared. Now Im finally at peace enough to start working.
First and foremost she needs a job. She is a CPA (certified public accountant); she is qualified, said Randerson.
Ideally, Amaram would like a situation that allows her to do work at home, but if thats not possible, she wishes for a discreet employer who understands her need to keep details of her living situation private.
Keeping her family secure is her top concern. Home is a sanctuary and to remain so, it has to be secret. Not even her childrens school knows the familys address and she is enrolled in an address confidentiality program with the Florida Office of the Attorney General that provides an alternative mailing address for victims of domestic violence.
Amaram also would like to get her 1999 car fixed. Theres a problem with the drive shaft and it needs maintenance, she said.
As her children snacked on French fries a rare treat for them at a fast-food chain, they outlined their own wishes. The youngest, Ahlai, would like a scooter; the three oldest girls would like bikes.
Ten-year-old Adachi dreams of a Cubes Game System, but Amaram said what the girls really need are sneakers, school shoes and clothes.
She also mentions that the familys new apartment has a slot for a dish washer. Its Adachis chore to wash the familys dishes. With five people, its a lot of dishes. A dish washer would really make her happy, said Amaram.
Another wish is to be able to get out and share her story more.
Id hate for this to happen to other people, Amaram said. Hate and violence transcends income and I know there are others who share some aspect of my story. I hope by telling it, it might help so people can get free.