By the time her family was about to see her again, Salter was covered in bruises and abrasions. She was also dead.
Earlier this month, Todd Goff, 25, was convicted of murder for strangling Salter on July 7, 2012. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
As Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis noted, there were no winners in court that day.
Salter’s family told the judge that for seven years, Goff controlled every aspect of Salter’s life. She wasn’t allowed to attend her grandmother’s funeral or meet her brother’s children, they said.
“That’s a big worry sign for family members to watch for,” said Aimee Hall, the executive director of SafeHomes.
An abuser will cut off contact with friends and family to maintain control, Hall said. An abusive relationship builds over time, she explained.
At first the isolation is seen as affection – “You don’t have to work because I’ll take care of you,” or “Don’t go to your mother’s, stay with me tonight,” Hall said.
As the isolation intensifies, intimidation becomes easier. The name-calling and degradation and threats break the victim down, Hall said.
“They beat you down before they beat them up,” she said.
Family and friends should watch for change in behavior, such as a person becoming fearful to have contact with anyone but the abuser. The abuser, Hall said, will seem normal because he doesn’t act abusive in public.
Salter – who made good grades in school and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian – had to drop out of school. She couldn’t visit her family. Her phone calls were monitored. She wasn’t allowed to have her own Facebook page.
Physical abuse doesn’t begin at once, Hall said. By the time a victim is broken she feels trapped because she is isolated from family and friends who do not understand why they have been cut off or have given up hope that she will leave the relationship.
The best thing to do to help is to keep trying to establish contact, make sure the victim knows she can have sanctuary, and listen to her, Hall said.
When a victim does find the courage to leave, that is the most dangerous time, Hall said. An abuser does not want to lose the power and control the relationship provides.
Salter’s aunt said she believed Goff killed her niece because she wasn’t going to take the abuse any longer.
Hall said it’s important for the victim to plan ahead, entrusting essential items as a birth certificate or driver’s license to someone before she leaves the home.
Family and friends of abuse victims suffer, too. It wears one down to not be able to end the violence, and there’s also guilt, Hall said. But in the end, he said, the abuse victim has to choose.