She and her husband, Christopher Hanney, lived an outwardly normal life. But the couple had a dark secret: Christopher was a violent man who beat his wife severely.
At first it happened rarely, but as time went on he did it more often. As things got worse and the violence started to include rape, Audrey began to fear for her life. She knew she had to escape but didn't know how.
Then, one day in late 2009, something happened that changed Audrey's life forever. When she arrived home, she found her husband completely naked and wielding a knife. Before she could react, he grabbed her and pulled her out to the garage. After raping her, he beat her several times on the head with a hammer until she was unconscious. But the violence didn't end there. With what appeared to be no limit to his rage, Christopher took a can of gasoline and began pouring it over Audrey's limp body. Then he did the unthinkable — he set fire to her.
When neighbors noticed the flames and smoke, they immediately called 911. Thankfully, paramedics were able to remove Audrey from the inferno just in time. She was still alive, but barely. Eighty percent of her body had been burned and she was suffering from severe smoke inhalation. Audrey's life was hanging by a thread.
When she finally woke up, she was grateful to be alive — but she'll never forget the first time she looked in the mirror and saw what Christopher had done to her. “What I saw in my reflection was Freddy Krueger. To be quite frank, the way God had designed me to look — I was never going to look that way again. At that same moment I said to myself, he robbed me physically, he’s not going to rob me emotionally or mentally.”
Meanwhile, she refused to give in to self pity — she was a survivor and she was determined to live out the rest of her life with dignity.
She underwent several surgeries to regain her appearance but knew that she would never be able to completely hide those horrible scars. Instead, she wears them as a warning to all the other victims of domestic and sexual violence she is now reaching out to. She has since become a lawyer and has made it her life's goal to seek justice for women like herself.
During her husband's trial, Audrey appeared in court and recounted the horrific details of the attack. Observers were astounded by her composure and some were moved to tears when they saw firsthand the horrible scars that covered Audrey's neck and face. When the trial was over, Christopher was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Seven years later Audrey is almost unrecognizable. She has continued to undergo plastic surgery and with great success — there are almost no traces left of those horrible burns.
Even though Audrey's story is an extreme case, it is not an isolated one. Tragically, domestic violence is an all too common problem in homes throughout the world. The victims often feel trapped and don't know where to turn. Hopefully, Audrey and other survivors can encourage other victims to reach out and seek help before it's too late.
Audrey knows that it's not easy, and that the scars run deep. “There’s things from that injury that I’ll carry forever,” she admits. All the more reason that her strength and courage serves as a symbol of hope for others.
If you or someone you know is living in the shadow of domestic violence, help is available at the links below.