DES MOINES, Iowa - Ellie Van Dam’s charmed upbringing in Des Moines’ Beaverdale neighborhood was a far cry from where her life ended up last year.
“I had a wonderful childhood," Van Dam said. “[I] came from a good Christian home.”
One year ago, she was trapped inside of a drug house by the boyfriend who would eventually shoot her in the head.
“He became violent really quickly and he held me at gun point regularly,” Van Dam said. "In the winter, he would take my shoes. He would take my coat.”
Van Dam had been in controlling relationships long before she crossed paths with Brian Case.
“Now, looking back, there were all kinds of red flags [such as] if your boyfriend wants to right away move in with you or move you into their house,” Van Dam said. “[Or] badmouthing your friends and saying [your friends and family] don't really care about you or making it seem like nobody else was there for you but [the boyfriend].”
As far as Case was concerned, he owned her.
"[He] took over my phone, my passwords, changed my passwords so I couldn't get into anything,” Van Dam said. “Then he brought my family into it and my son. I have an eight-year-old-son. He would say, 'I'll kill your kid. I'll kill your mom. I'll light your mom's house on fire.’”
Van Dam kept going back thinking she would save them, and on a day last April, it nearly killed her.
"The bullet went in behind my left ear,” Van Dam said. “There's a real hard bone right behind your ears and that's what saved my life. If it would have went in anywhere else, I would have been dead."
She is now deaf in her left ear. The fragments are still in her skull. The bullet severed the nerve that controls the side of her face.
"Luckily, I'm alive though so I don't really dwell on that," Van Dam said.
Van Dam’s case is one of 1,300 domestic violence cases that Shannon Archer's office handled last year. The Assistant Polk County Attorney had the pleasure of sending Van Dam’s attacker to prison for 45 years.
If you're being abused: She wants to help you, too.
"You're not alone. There are people that will stand beside you and will support you whether your decision is that you need to leave, or your decision is that you need to stay, but your offender needs to get help,” Archer said. “So, sometimes the answer isn't always to leave. But we need to address some of the concerns that are in the relationship, whether it be substance abuse help, mental health help, or anger management.”
"People need to understand that when they want to know why did she keep going back to him? How stupid can she be? It's not always that easy and they break you down,” Van Dam said. “They know. They calculate every move and they break you down to where you're not yourself anymore. You're empty and you're scared."
One year after the bullet nearly killed her, Van Dam’s message to the crowd at this year’s “Take Back the Night” is that women can get out of an abusive relationship before it escalates to what she experienced.
"I really can't emphasize enough about getting a safe plan together,” Van Dam said. “You can't expect somebody just to leave when they have a gun to their head and their family's head.”
That is why Van Dam is working to become a volunteer advocate, helping abused women design their specific plan.
"Now, I feel like I'm free of all of that, and I mean, life is good," Van Dam said.
- Iowa Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-0333
- List of local hotlines: http://cfiowa.org/programs/domestic-violence/iowa-domestic-violence-hotline/
- Children & Families of Iowa: http://cfiowa.org/
- LUNA: http://www.lunaiowa.org/
- Monsoon: http://muawi.org/
- Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.icadv.org/
- Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault: http://www.iowacasa.org/
- Polk County Attorney’s Office: https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/attorney/
- Polk County Crisis & Advocacy Services: http://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/cfys/services/crisis-advocacy-services/
- Iowa Protective Order Notification for Domestic Abuse (IPONDA): https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-crime-victims/iponda/