BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In Maryland alone, at least one person a week dies a victim of domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. That risk is double for African American women.
Gospel singing susperstars James and Cheryl Fortune kept their violent relationship a secret until Cheryl feared for her life. Now she’s opening up about her years of abuse, and her courage to break away.
James and Cheryl Fortune appeared to have it all.
“I would even see how people would post on social media and put the hashtag #relationshipgoals,” says Cheryl.
A gospel power couple with followers, fame and fortune. With one chart-topping hit, after the next. But what their fans didn’t know, Cheryl was telling her painful story in every word.
“I just said that ‘if I’m not taken out of this, if something doesn’t give, I’m going to die,'” she says. For 14 years, she tells WJZ, she lived with abuse at the hand of her husband.
“A lot of control, fear, a whole lot of fear,” she says. Cheryl says her breaking point finally came in October 2014, during a fight at their home, investigators say James hit her with a wooden stool, kicked her and even threw her against the wall.
[Jonathan McCall: Is that why the secret came out?]
“I did not have any broken bones, but I did have fractures and I did have a lot of internal bruising,” she says.
While at the hospital, a doctor whom she calls an angel had four simple words for her, that would give her a new act: “Have you had enough?”
A decision she knew was a matter of life and death.
“Either I’m going to take my life out, or I’m going to die at the hands of another man,” she says.
Every year, 10 million Americans are in violent relationships, many of them women 18-35. Last year in Maryland, 55 people died victims of domestic violence.
“I walked away with literally nothing. I didn’t ask for alimony, I didn’t ask for any of that. I literally wanted my life,” says Cheryl.
Experts say money, comfort or even kids can keep some victims with their abusers. For the mom of four, she says her kids were the strength she needed to finally walk away.
“I wasn’t always a good mother, because of what I allowed them to stay in,” she says.
With her life now on a high note, she’s singing a new tune. Her new album titled “Simply Cheryl” features her hit single “Fighters,” a self-proclaimed anthem for victims of abuse.
While she has forgiven James, she wants her story to inspire other victims to get out before it becomes too late.
“One of the best things in that song is feeling worthless inside. I know how that feels. One of my favorite lines says ‘I know what it also feels like to feel worth it now,’ and I just want to tell somebody that.”
James pleaded guilty to assaulting Cheryl. He served five days in jail and cannot have contact with her for five years.
In Maryland, there are 24 shelters set up for victims of domestic violence. For that information and contact numbers CLICK HERE.