SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Domestic violence victims seeking to leave an abusive situation are often taking an enormous leap of faith.
Experts and victims KOLR10 News has spoken to in "Courageous Conversations" have explained this moment can be dangerous and scary, often making things worse before it gets better.
The journey can take months, even years, to come out on the other side. However, victims in the community do not have to fight this battle alone.
"I thought if I was nice enough and kind enough things would work," said "Alex," a domestic violence victim.
As the male breadwinner in his household, it was difficult for Alex to come forward as just that -- a male victim.
"When the marriage counselor has to call the police because of my ex-wife you know, I guess I don't know -- it took a long time to recognize it as abuse because a big muscular guy that served in the military -- how can I be hiding from my wife in the bathroom," Alex said.
The abuse Alex suffered impacted every facet of his life -- whether it was his ex-wife running up huge debts in his name, calling his work or tormenting him at home physically and verbally.
"Sometimes they're able to tell me things to make it easier to tell their counselor or attorneys or things like that to really get more of the professional help they need in that capacity, but they have to tell the story to someone first," said Brigitte Walker, an Outreach Coordinator at Harmony House.
Walker became the first soldier Alex enlisted in his fight against an abusive situation. Walker directed him toward legal help and counseling, walking him through every step of the nearly two-year journey to severing ties with his ex-wife.
"I couldn't just leave," Alex said. "I had to secretly plot how to escape for like 8 months. [I had to] save up money, secretly get an attorney, secretly have a place to go."
Alex eventually found a helpful attorney, church programming, multiple counseling avenues and family and friends to help him through his situation.
"It's about a year before they really kind of start growing," Walker said. "For me to really be able to see the change in them and just the way that they carry themselves, and the way they talk about themselves and interact with other people, it's just really amazing to see that growth there."
"[I'm at] three counseling sessions a week, down from five, but I had to get better," Alex said. "I couldn't live like I was living anymore. It was so awful, the amount of stress of going through divorce, all the abuse, all the threats, all the kids, all the finances, I couldn't have any of it anymore."
Harmony House is able to shelter hundreds of victims each year, but hundreds more must be turned away.
But victims like Alex will find if they consult the victim center or harmony house, the staff can help with safety planning and point them in the direction of all kinds of resources to help them in their time of crisis.
Alex laid it all out on the line and today has something once thought improbable -- freedom and legal custody of his children.
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