It was December 2009 when Tampa resident Audrey Mabrey’s youngest son’s first birthday was approaching. A time she should have been picking out decorations and a cake, but instead was waking up confused from a six-week coma in an intensive care unit. A coma she slipped into after she was hit on the head with a hammer four times, covered in gasoline and set on fire by her husband, the father to her two young sons.
After weeks of speaking with doctors and undergoing physical therapy, Mabrey finally felt she was ready to look at her injuries. What she saw in the mirror wasn’t the same woman she knew, one who had won beauty pageants as a child. Instead she was looking at what she describes as a horror-film monster like Freddy Krueger. More than 80 percent of her body had been burned. In that moment a flood of memories from the attack came over her.
“[My now ex-husband] might have robbed me physically, but I refused to allow him to rob me mentally, emotionally or spiritually.” – Audrey Mabrey
“I could see that butcher knife held to my throat as he attempted to rape me,” Mabrey says. “I could feel him bludgeoning me in the head over and over. I could taste the gasoline in my mouth. I could smell my burning flesh and I could hear my neighbor screaming as she rushed to my aid.”
Although it was overwhelming, Mabrey made a choice as she stared at her reflection to hold onto hope.
“My thought process in that moment was [my now ex-husband] might have robbed me physically, but I refused to allow him to rob me mentally, emotionally or spiritually,” Mabrey says.
Three years later Mabrey’s abuser was sentenced to serve life in prison and in the nine years since the attack she’s undergone many plastic surgeries to restore her former appearance as much as possible. She’s also kept her determined, positive spirit alive by traveling the country to spread awareness on domestic violence, an issue that affected more than 12 million men and women in the United States last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Confidential Campus Support
One of her recent speaking engagements took place earlier this month at the annual Light Up the Night event, which is held every October in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and is put together by UCF Victim Services. The organization provides crisis intervention, safety and security for anyone in the UCF community that’s been impacted by crime, violence and abuse.
“We give [victims] their options — the good, the bad and the ugly — ask them ‘What do you want to do?’ and listen to them,” says Lauren Portal ’11, who began working as an advocate for Victim Services in 2014. “We’re completely confidential, which is extremely important. We don’t call the police over if [victims] don’t want us to, we don’t report incidences to Title IX and things of that nature.”
On college campuses, 43 percent of women who date report experiencing some sort of violent or abusive dating behavior, with more than half of students finding it difficult to identify these problems at all, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“Abusers are very good at presenting things in a way like they’re loving and caring about their partner.” – Christine Mouton ’02MS,
“The problem is those things happen over a long period of time and people don’t recognize them as the signs they are because they’re so incremental,” says Christine Mouton ’02MS, director of Victim Services. “Abusers are very good at presenting things in a way like they’re loving and caring about their partner, so their partner doesn’t initially perceive it as a controlling behavior.”
Changes in behavior and clothing, not wanting to hang out often and always checking in with their partner are some of the signs Mouton says to look for if you suspect someone is experiencing domestic violence.
Challenges With Coming Forward
Victim Services has provided help to 600-800 people affected by a range of crimes each year for the past three years.
Although recent movements like #MeToo and events such as the Brett Kavanaugh investigation before his Supreme Court confirmation have increased the national conversation around sexual harassment and violence, Mouton says she hasn’t found any indicators of increased cases reported at UCF.
Men, particularly, have a hard time reporting abuse, she says. It can often feel emasculating for them to admit a woman is their abuser, although there are now more than ever before. Often the abuse takes the form of scratching, screaming and other demeaning behavior.
“We’re seeing this on both sides, in all types of relationships,” Mouton says.
How to Get Help
Anyone seeking help from Victim Services can call the 24/7 hotline at 407-823-1200 or text 407-823-6868. They can speak with an advocate, who has at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, has completed 40 hours of victim-designation training, and regularly attends conferences and workshops to advance their training. From there, the caller will be provided with campus and community resources to find the right support for them.
“A lot of times victims won’t like to talk about it because it makes it more real, but we’re literally an ear.” – Lauren Portal ’11
“We have a relationship assessment that we give [victims when they contact us] and it goes from less serious to really serious behavior,” Mouton says. “When you put a list in front of them, once they see all those checks, it’s a reality check for them.”
The advocates will also talk through a list of reporting options with the victim, such as filing a police report, injunction or order of protection, but will never try to persuade someone to do so if they aren’t comfortable.
“A lot of times victims won’t like to talk about it because it makes it more real, but we’re literally an ear,” Portal says. “We want to listen to you. We’re not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
For more information about Victim Services, visit victimservices.ucf.edu. You can also visit their main office in Suite 450 of the College of Nursing building on Research Parkway or their on-campus locations on the second floor of the Health Center and the Green Dot office in the John T. Washington Center.