After enduring 20 years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Kendra Epping wants to help others recognize the warning signs of abusive relationships.
On May 14, 2015, while defending herself during a domestic altercation at their DeKalb County home, Epping’s husband was stabbed and he died. The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and the DeKalb County State’s Attorney later determined Epping acted in self-defense and no criminal prosecution was warranted.
Now almost four years later, Epping hopes to educate others about early warning signs that could prevent abusive relationships.
Epping met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss her goal of public speaking and helping others.
Milton: How did you decide you wanted to become a public speaker?
Epping: One of my best friends wanted me to write a letter to her daughter. Her daughter was taking a gap year to help people in another country. I thought to myself, “She’s 19 and has more guts and courage than I’ve had in my life.” I wanted to do something, too. I wanted to make a difference in my community. It inspired me to get back to my roots because I have a background in public speaking.
Milton: Why is public speaking and speaking out difficult?
Epping: Often, people say, “Break the silence.” But if [the abused] speak out, it’s going to be worse for them. It’s not easy to speak up. There can be repercussions. That’s why I hope to bring awareness early on, help others recognize those warning signs.
Milton: Why did you stay in the relationship?
Epping: It was more than being in love and having two children together. It wasn’t about independence or money because that wasn’t an issue to hindering my leaving. He always said, “This time is going to be different,” but I always remembered what happened after the last time he said that. I always had a glimmer of hope that he’d change, that things would be different. For years, I convinced myself that life wasn’t really that bad. There were good times. The good times were really good, but the bad times were really, really bad. As the years progressed, there were fewer good times. The bad days far outweighed the good days.
Milton: Can you tell me about the early stages in your relationship?
Epping: When I first met him, he was so much different from anyone else, from any other relationship. At first, he seemed really concerned and caring, but that was all control. We started dating at 16 and the abuse went on for 20 years. You keep trying to change, you do something different. But you can’t win. Eventually, you give up and don’t do anything. You shut down.
Milton: Did your family know that something was off about the relationship?
Epping: My parents knew that something wasn’t right. His parents didn’t know everything. We lived a short distance away from my parents. My husband was not comfortable around them, he was more comfortable around his parents and his brothers. On my wedding day, my father said to me, “It’s not too late,” that I could still say no and walk away. I said, “We’ve been together for six years. I love him.” Looking back, that was one of the biggest red flags.
Milton: What are examples of warning signs?
Epping: If you think just a little bit that something’s not right, that’s a warning sign. Often we don’t realize the extent of what’s going on until it’s too late. An example is asking yourself, “Why is he calling me every hour on the hour?” That’s weird. If you’re not doing what you used to, if you’re not seeing your friends and you’re only with him, that’s not maturity, that’s something else.
Milton: How would you describe everything you’ve been through?
Epping: I’m thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength. I’m proud of the woman I am today because I went through one hell of a time becoming her. When I look back on my life, I see pain, I see mistakes and I see heartache. But when I look in the mirror, I see strength, learned lessons and pride in myself.
Milton: If you could go back, what would you change?
Epping: How bad my life was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think about what I can share and how I can help others. I don’t have a problem with my past, it made me who I am. There is light on the other side. You can take a bad situation and turn it around into something good. And when you become that light, it’s like a weight lifts off your shoulders.
Milton: What is your goal of sharing your story?
Epping: My goal is to make teens aware. I hope they back up a little bit, stop and think. If one mother or one father says, “No, this isn’t right. It won’t end well and won’t get better,” then I achieved my goal. More than anything, I want to speak to groups: teenagers, church groups, schools. I want to share my story and bring some awareness to others. I want to prevent parents from going through what mine did. I hope even one less father doesn’t have to go through what my father went through, one less teenager doesn’t have to go through what I went through.
Milton: What are your plans for the future?
Epping: I am looking into programs that have the same goals of bringing awareness of what a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship looks like. … I’ve have never had so much support. It’s incredible and absolutely amazing. When you hear the stories from the women, we’ve all been through the emotional, physical abuse. To have that support means everything to me. … I’m also working on a book. It’s not an autobiography, it’s a work of fiction with ties to my experience.
Milton: What would you like to tell others in abusive relationships?
Epping: Life is not meant to be a slow journey to the grave. Life is meant to be enjoyed. I just want to give back a little bit and pay it forward. Life is not supposed to be stressful. You can overcome it.