In this new era when people are beginning to speak out against abuse and victims are transforming into survivors, the pain suffered by LaTasha Unseld of Schaumburg has forged her into a fierce advocate.
"I never really knew about domestic violence," Unseld says. Her education began Aug. 29, 2014.
Together for more than 20 years in a relationship that produced two children, Unseld and Demetrius Singleton of Schaumburg had argued like this before. Singleton complained that Unseld gave more of herself to the kids, relatives and work than she did to him. Unseld's usual response was to ignore him. But this time she had had enough.
"I can't do this relationship anymore," Unseld said as she sat on their bed. "I think we need to separate."
Singleton shut the door. Then he locked it.
"He gave me this strange look I'd never seen before. He balled up his fist and punched me on the side of my head," Unseld says today, remembering her shock when their typical argument turned violent. "He hit me so hard, I fell to my side and I was bleeding from the first punch. I sat up and he hit me again."
And again and again.
"I can't even count, it was so many," Unseld remembers. "I was begging him to stop. I was apologizing, saying, 'I'm sorry,' just to get him to stop."
Their 7-year-old son, the only other person home, heard the awful noises.
"Our son was crying and screaming and knocking on the door," remembers Unseld, who couldn't see from the blood streaming down her face as Singleton's vicious assault continued. "He threw me in the closet and tried to make me perform oral sex on him."
At 6 feet, 3 inches and 243 pounds, Singleton easily wrapped her hair around one hand and hit her with the other. "One time, he stopped, opened the door and told our son he was sorry," she remembers. "Then he shut the door and started punching me again."
He wrapped an extension cord around her neck. She tried to pull it away to give her room to breathe, but he bent back her fingers. She passed out.
"When I came to, he started punching me again," she says. "I was trying to get the blood out of my eyes, and I couldn't see."
He pulled the extension cord around her neck and she lost consciousness again.
"When I woke up, he was on top of me. He was using his thumbs and pressing my eyes in," remembers Unseld, who says she was too weak and battered to respond. "He kept telling me he loved me. He told me if I moved he was going to kill me."
He took off her pants and underwear, raped her, threw his clothes into a few garbage bags, and took her debit card, truck keys and cellphone. "Look what you made me do," he told her before he headed to the garage.
"The rape was the hardest part of it," Unseld, 46, says now with a calm confidence that she attributes to Kristin Jordan, a social worker with the Schaumburg Police Department, who has shepherded Unseld throughout her long recovery, the trial, and this journey to speak out now. Unseld also gives credit to Schaumburg therapist Larry Frank, members of a domestic violence ministry at Second Baptist Church in Elgin, and others.
"I have a lot of supportive people, mostly strangers," Unseld says, noting she's ready to be the one helping others now. She got her bachelor's degree in psychology in 2014 from Argosy University in Schaumburg and says she plans to get her master's degree and become a counselor.
"There are so many aspects to domestic violence," says Unseld, who spent a week in the hospital after the attack. Walking with crutches when she came home, she remembers being able to open her right eye a bit after a week of recuperating. "I saw myself in the mirror and I didn't recognize myself," Unseld says. She was depressed and took pills to relieve her anxiety and help her sleep until she was able to return to work nearly six months after the attack.
"Domestic violence doesn't know any income, racial or class boundaries. It's power and control issues," says social worker Jordan. "The time a woman is most at risk is when she's leaving a relationship."
For all but one night of Unseld's two decades with Singleton, she didn't realize she was being abused.
"There were a lot of good memories. We had a lot of good times together," Unseld says. The weekend before the beating, Singleton "gave me a surprise graduation party," she says.
Singleton, who generally worked in factory jobs, took time off work to care for Unseld after a couple of surgeries. He cooked most of the weeknight meals, cleaned, did laundry and "did what a man is supposed to do," says Unseld, who was the family's major breadwinner through her job as a senior customer service representative. Her independence was an issue.
"It was a lot of verbal, more of a controlling aspect about what I wore, my hair, where I went, when I got home from work," Unseld says. Shortly after their daughter was born, she caught Singleton cheating on her and left him. A year later, they were back together. During a family gathering in 2003, he pinned her down and cut her hair in front of people, and she left him again. A year and a half later, they were together again.
"I loved him," Unseld says. "My father died (of a heart attack) when I was 12. I fought to stay in it (her relationship with Singleton) because I wanted my children to have a father."
Now, Singleton, 43, is an absent father, having been sentenced in December by Cook County Judge Joel Greenblatt to 25 years in prison after being convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated domestic battery. Singleton was at large for 22 months after the attack and sent messages to Unseld blaming her for his plight and demanding to see his children. Unseld said she was scared to leave her home. Schaumburg police arrested Singleton in 2016 in Champaign.
Sitting through his trial and delivering a powerful victim impact statement transformed Unseld from victim to survivor. She hopes that other women and abusers might see themselves in her story, heed the warning signs and take steps to prevent violence, she says.
"I knew I had to do something for me and for other women who couldn't speak for themselves," Unseld says. "It taught me to speak up for myself. It gave me the voice."