The 27-year-old woman could have continued endlessly the constant war of words with her longtime boyfriend. But his physical punches, blows and beatings - especially in front of her three young sons - wore her down.
"We'd keep arguing," she said. "He thought I was talking to guys, looking at guys, but he was just jealous for no reason."
His insecurity led to nights when he'd punch her in the back of the head, even as she held her baby in her arms.
"Boom, boom, boom, he hit me, for wearing tight clothes," she remembers. She'd get kicked in her legs and on her sides "as hard as kicking a football for a field goal." Then, after months of abuse, one night she got choked so bad, she couldn't speak, felt the room spin around her and staggered about in a daze.
"My chest hurt, my sides hurt, my throat was out of control and I just told myself 'I cannot do it anymore,'" she said, choking up as she recalled her 8-year-old son's insistence on staying away from his dad.
That was the moment she decided she had to get out. She had nothing on her, not even her purse, but a kindly woman saw the mother and her children wandering by themselves and gave them shelter for the night. The next day, she called A New Leaf's Autumn House, a Mesa domestic violence shelter, which took her in a month ago.
The woman, like the other domestic violence victims interviewed for this story, does not want to be identified by name. She's one of the lucky ones to escape the cycle of violence and find a place to call home in her time of crisis. If not for the shelter, she'd probably be out on the streets, hustling for money and food, she said. Instead, she's working on earning her GED and getting a job to take care of her family.
Other victims have not been so fortunate.
As of Sept. 21, there have been 84 domestic violence-related deaths in Arizona, including 17 in the East Valley. Arizona ranks 10th in the nation in women killed by men in the single-victim, single-suspect homicides category, according to the Violence Policy Center, a national research and advocacy nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
Nationally, there are reports of increased domestic violence since the economic downturn. The National Domestic Violence Hotline released a study in January suggesting a link between financial stress and domestic violence. The hotline saw a 21 percent increase in the number of calls it received, compared with the previous year, and an 18 percent increase in October.
Allie Bones, executive director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said while the downturn may not be directly tied to abuse cases increasing, it could be exacerbating existing domestic violence situations. An abuser who's been laid off, for instance, could shift the loss of power at work on to the partner by increasing the abuse, she said, adding that call volume to their legal advocacy hotline has increased "significantly."
Other local advocates are hesitant to connect the economic downturn to instances of domestic violence, but acknowledge it's a factor in the abuse possibly increasing of late because of the added stress.
Worse, with families struggling financially, there's increased risk of victims choosing to remain in their situations, rather than leaving, because they depend on the abuser for money, said Connie Phillips, charter member of the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Domestic Violence Council.
Earlier this month, the council marked its 10-year anniversary. Council chairwoman Diane Enos noted how combined regional efforts have helped decrease the incidence of families being turned away from shelters by more than 40 percent. The council was formed after a mother of six was stabbed to death by her husband when she couldn't find shelter.
"This is not just about a place for people to stay," said Dana Martinez, program coordinator at Autumn House. "It's often a matter of life and death."
Despite 14 shelters in Maricopa County, up from a handful two decades ago, Enos said budget cuts are making it difficult to provide services to those in need, especially much-needed legal services.
Advocates also are concerned about funding for child care, job and rental assistance. These resources help women get back on their feet once they're done with staying 120 days at a shelter. But over the last 12 months, the Department of Economic Security has lost about $3 million in domestic violence resources. Bones said if things worsen, shelters may have to close beds or offer fewer opportunities for the abused to rebuild their lives.
Currently, 8,000 children are on the DES waiting list for state-subsidized child care. Some women trying to become self-sufficient after depending on an abuser's financial support are forced to take their children along on job interviews because they have no child care options.
Dr. Alesha Durfee, assistant professor in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Arizona State University, noted that beyond the emotional ties that often keep a victim from leaving, of late women may be realizing there are not enough options out there for them to rely on.
"Right now, food banks are swamped, shelters are packed and social services are getting cut. So all the traditional resources are getting slashed," Durfee said.
Courtney Langer, executive director at Community Alliance Against Family Abuse, an Apache Junction shelter, said call volume at their shelter doubled in the last one year. The shelter has 16 beds, but with a couple of layoffs in support staff, they've lost critical manpower.
"That affects our ability to deal one-on-one with the victims," Langer said.
A 24-year-old former Mesa resident with a 5-month-old son has been staying at the CAAFA shelter for about a month. She doesn't have a job, and worse, her credit's shot because all of the bills - cell phone, utilities, rent - were in her name. Her abuser hasn't paid those in months. Abused over anything from being low on food to forgetting to take her prenatal vitamins, this single mom is now left with a shattered nose with plastic pieces used to rebuild it, and thousands of dollars in debt. She plans to move out of state, closer to her parents, and become independent again.
"Who knows how things will turn out, but I can only work hard and stay focused. I have no other option," she said.
Yvonne Taylor, director of domestic violence programs at My Sisters' Place in Chandler, said women are finding it hard to get jobs to support themselves. For those already working, it's hard to stick to their jobs because often their abuser knows where they work. So they fear they'll be stalked or harassed there.
Another recovering victim, a 28-year-old mother of a 2-year-old girl, had to quit her job in north Phoenix because she didn't have any way to commute from her East Valley shelter. Her former employer is willing to rehire her, but she's too scared to go back, afraid that her abuser might track her down there.
Despite a degree in accounting, she's willing to find any job in this economy. She's grateful for the temporary shelter.
"It's not an easy place to be in," she said. "But on the other hand, if I weren't here, I'd still be in that (violent) situation."