Amanda Brickhaus was only 17 when she met the man who would later become the father of her two children.
"The first year we were together he was Mr. Fabulous. He would take his shirt off his back for anybody," she said.
After a year the two moved in together and he began supporting her. Brickhaus quit her job and went back to school to become a dental assistant. Her boyfriend left her money for everything she needed.
While everything was going great, it all came to a crashing end the first time Brickhaus was hit by her boyfriend.
"He was mad because he caught me smoking a cigarette," she said.
Brickhaus packed up her things the next day and moved out. Over the next few months she said her boyfriend contacted her, apologized and sent flowers.
"He called and promised that it would never happen again and said ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before,’" she said.
She came back to him and began a cycle of abuse that would last for the next eight years. It wouldn’t be until she left him for the last time that she found out he lied about never hitting a woman before.
"I found out later that he did it to his ex-girlfriends after I had to get police reports to bring to the courts for custody. So he had a long trail of it going back to when he was 19," Brickhaus said.
By that time it was too late, she had two children with him and they had spent the better part of a decade together.
Throughout their relationship, she left him eight times before she finally left for good.
"The cops would come and they would just shake their heads at me. ‘Oh God, we’ve got to come to this address again.’ People don’t understand it. I didn’t understand it. I still fully don’t understand it," she said.
Now that she has gone through counseling, Brickhaus has learned that she was an average battered woman.
"Typically it is the seventh or eighth time that a battered woman will physically leave their abuser before they actually stay gone and that is pretty much right," she said. "It took me eight times physically leaving my abuser before I said ‘I am done. I’m not doing it again.’"
In addition to the physical abuse, which included being choked when she was pregnant with her first child, Brickhaus said she was subjected to emotional abuse and her boyfriend’s drug and gambling addictions.
"We have two children together so it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but I had to look at my little girls and say I don’t want my little girls growing up thinking this is OK," Brickhaus said. "I don’t want them to grow up and have some man hurt them because his father beat his mother."
Since 2008, Brickhaus said she has slowly been piecing her life back together and becoming independent for the first time.
As part of that process she has been attending women’s self defense classes provided throughout the year by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.
"For me, it gave me back that confidence level that I didn’t have," she said.
In the class, students learn to fend off male attackers by any means necessary such as blows to the groin area and scratching and gouging eyes.
"They strongly suggest that you don’t fight with your attacker or abuser - you just want to get them off of you so you can get away," she said. "I think that is the most important thing they stress."
She said that by attending the course and sharing her story she hopes not only to empower herself, but other women as well.
"It’s about all the women because I want us to be stronger," Brickhaus said. "If women are stronger as a community then it will help my children too in the long run and somebody else’s child too."
Brickhaus said it is her hope that more classes are made available and more women take the opportunity to take them.
The Sheriff’s Office also offers classes for young girls and teenagers in addition to their classes for adult women. Brickhaus said she has introduced her daughters to the younger age group classes.
"They are little girls and they get picked on in school a little bit and I think this just gives them the confidence level to say ‘hey, I can stand up for myself if they say that to me and I don’t like it,’" she said.
For now, adult classes are only held a few times a year at Hahnville High School, but Brickhaus said she would like to see that change with classes held in other parts of the parish.
"I wish they would do a couple on this side of the river in Destrehan and a couple in Hahnville," she said. "It would be lovely to see more people be able to attend."
For now, five years after she has left her abuser, Brickhaus said she is happy.
"I have a happy home now. I feel safe," she said.
But she is quick to caution other women to learn from her story and not get involved in a cycle of abuse like she did.
"Never be abused, never let anyone take control of you," Brickhaus said. "I just hope for somebody to have strength, that if I tell my story it will get other women to get up and leave or get them to go to these classes."
For more information on the self-defense classes, call (985) 783-1135.