Not a sound could be heard in the Community Room at Darien Library Thursday night, Jan. 10, as Janine Latus relayed her years of abuse.

“The first fist hit me in the gut and the second hit me in the face. And when I went down, he started kicking me,” said Latus, when describing one instance of abuse she endured from a former boyfriend. “He then stopped and hugged me and said, ‘I love you so much. I’m so sorry you made me do that.’”

Latus’ 90-minute-long talk was based on her New York Times international bestseller, “If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation.”

The book is a true account of both her and her sister Amy’s experience with relationship abuse. While Latus survived, her sister did not. Amy’s boyfriend murdered her in 2002.

The event was hosted by the Darien Domestic Abuse Council, whose mission is to promote education, awareness and prevention of domestic violence in the community of Darien.

More than 100 people attended the talk, including State Rep. Terrie Wood, who introduced Latus.

Raised to keep her abusive experiences a secret, Latus drove home the message to “tell someone” if they experience abuse.

One by one, Latus recounted the men who abused her in the past, including her father, the father of children she babysat for, a stranger from a party, a boyfriend, and her ex-husband.

Latus’ father was very verbally abusive to her as a child, she said.

At the age of 12, Latus was sexually assaulted by the father of  children she was babysitting. When she told her father what happened, he said, “never tell anyone or they’ll know you’re a slut.”

Latus said her decision to keep silent resulted in the man getting away with his behavior and later abusing someone else.

She later dated a man who also abused her physically.

Instead of being upset with him, she said she would convince herself that it wasn’t his fault — it was hers.

She got married to a man who was “very jealous and insecure,” she said.

He didn’t want her speaking to other men, nor seeing her family. He told her that he was her family now.

This behavior is a sign of abuse, according to Latus. “Abusers shrink your life down,” she said. “They isolate you.”

Latus’ husband put a tracker on her computer so he could read everything she’s ever written on it. He put security cameras outside their home.  

Yet, despite all that, he still did not trust her, she said. In the middle of the night, she found him “fast forwarding through to see if the FedEx guy stayed two minutes longer,” she said.


Latus, who is 59, said she always had a close relationship with Amy, who is five years younger then her.

“Amy and I talked about everything. We talked about movies, politics, children – We were always on the phone,” Latus said.

One topic, however, that was never brought up by Amy was her boyfriend’s abuse.

After Amy went missing, a note was found inside her desk drawer at work. It was dated 10 weeks earlier, and was addressed to the local sheriff's department.

The note began with the words to Latus’ book: “If I am missing or dead.” In the note, Amy gave instructions to find her boyfriend.

The note said, “Don't let him get away with it.”

“For 10 weeks, she had been afraid and she hadn't told me that she was afraid,” Latus said. “She told no one.”

Latus then looked around at the audience and said, “I didn't save Amy. So, I wrote this book to save other Amys.”

Latus continued, “This idea of what happens in the home stays in the home — killed my sister. By keeping it secret, the perpetrators will not be stopped and will go on to harm others.”

Healthy relationships

With Latus’ unhealthy relationships now behind her, she is  now forming healthy relationships — the most important of which is with herself, she said.

“I have modeled a loving, respectful, fulfilling relationship with myself because as long as I'm OK, everybody who comes into my life has to also be okay,” she said.

Latus, who lives in North Carolina, travels throughout the United States giving motivational talks.

Healing requires “coming to a sense of knowing that you deserve respect and love,” Latus said. “Healing requires that you come to understand you didn't deserve [an abusive relationship], and that's a tough message.”

She ended her talk by telling the audience to “go save somebody.”

Duluth Power and Control Wheel

In her talk, Latus referred to the Duluth Power and Control Wheel, which is a diagram intended to understand the pattern of abusive and violent behaviors.

According to this diagram, abuse can come in many forms including intimidation, isolation, financial, sexual, physical, emotional, threats, blaming and using children.

“When you see someone at a party putting down their spouse, belittling them, [giving them] little shoves, little insults that are designed to make the other person feel small and unworthy — that is a form of abuse,” she said.

Latus said everyone should learn to recognize all the signs of abuse, both when it involves themselves and others.

Domestic violence national statistics

Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million people.

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, intimate partner stalking involving injury, fearfulness, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and the use of victim services.

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence — such as beating, burning, strangling — by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

  • The confidential 27-7 domestic violence helpline is 888-774-2900.

  • For information on the Darien Domestic Abuse Council, visit