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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I never imagined I would find myself trapped in an abusive relationship, let alone end up in jail for shooting my abuser -- but that's where I am.

My live-in abused me for years. Once our son was born, his brutality increased, and my baby was used as a pawn to prevent me from calling the police. The one and only time I did call for help, all they did was tell my partner to leave the house and sleep somewhere else. Never was I advised to get a protection order or offered any other assistance.

Once my baby's father saw what he could get away with, the beatings increased in frequency and severity. If I'd attempt to call 9-1-1, he would grab our son and his diaper bag and threaten to disappear with our child if I made the call.

When I actually tried to leave with the baby, my abuser promised he'd kill me before I reached the door. He said if I managed to get away, he'd track me down at my parents' home out of state and "take care of me" there.

I was too ashamed to tell my co-workers, friends and acquaintances that I was being abused. I covered my bruises with makeup and was careful to keep my distance for fear someone would see the marks. I was afraid if anyone discovered the beatings, this man would abuse me more -- or kill me -- so no one knew how terrified I was.

After hearing our toddler scream in terror as he watched his father give me the worst beating of my life, I finally decided to protect myself. I bought a gun (complete with child safety lock), thinking that when he came after me again, he'd see I had a gun and leave me alone.

I had never owned or fired a gun in my life and didn't intend to use that one. It was meant to be a scare tactic, but he was accidentally shot fatally.

In a state of panic, I hid his body for two months before being arrested. I was charged with murder and now face the death penalty.

My little boy is in foster care. My abuser's relatives, who ignored him for the first 20 months of his life, are now fighting my parents for custody. I have not seen my child since the day I was arrested. My parents' world has been turned upside down.

Abby, please urge every abused woman to speak out and tell people what is happening at home -- AND THEN RUN. Run as fast and as far away as possible. It's better to run than to have someone lose their life. Some may fear if they run, they'll lose everything. Wrong! They'll lose everything if they STAY.

If my letter saves just one victim of abuse, it will have been worth it. My life and future are over. I traded the prison of domestic abuse for a real-life prison. Sign me ... LOST IT ALL IN PHILADELPHIA

DEAR LOST IT ALL: My prayers are with you, and I hope you are dealt with more compassionately by the legal system than you were by the person who drove you to desperation. I also hope that others will learn from your bitter experience.

Tomorrow I will print once again the 15 warning signs of an abuser.

A NOTE TO PARENTS OF YOUNG CHILDREN: Tonight is the night when wee witches and goblins collect their loot. Please supervise them so they'll be safe.

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