After Nicol Scolaro escaped Christopher Stankovich’s home in Plano two months ago, she was determined to help others.
A photo album Scolaro shared online consists of more than 150 photos of herself over a more than four-year period with bruises, swollen eye sockets, broken teeth, bite marks, necks casts, dented-in windshields and blood stains around the home. The result, she said, of multiple encounters with Stankovich. The photo album was verified by Nicol's son, Cody, and The Times decided not to share the album as some of the comments contain personal correspondence between Nicol and close friends.
Cody said, while she never talked to him directly about the album, it was his understanding Nicol wanted to expose the situation she was in since Stankovich was telling people she had been bruised when falling down.
The photos were shared with more than 50 people online. Many were heartened that Scolaro had left the relationship, and she included feedback encouraging other women to leave abusive relationships.
“This last time just ended for me and of course he’s telling everyone I fell but most people with a brain cell can tell the truth. Believe me when I say it’s not an easy thing to do, to walk away, but it’s so worth it,” Scolaro wrote.
“Now I have a new lease on life and intend on living it to the fullest!” she added.
Scolaro and her ex-husband, Paul La Due, were murdered in Ottawa the week of June 17 with Stankovich developed as a suspect prior to killing himself the day after the bodies were discovered.
Still, Scolaro’s words serve as an encouragement to others to escape violent relationships.
While Scolaro was murdered shortly after filing for an order of protection, Safe Journeys Executive Director Susan Bursztynsky said this case is a statistical anomaly.
“The vast majority of orders are followed. Most people want to follow what the law says,” Bursztynsky said. “Once they know a judge is watching, the most critical parts are generally followed but is just part of a larger safety plan.”
Signs of a potentially violent breakup can consist of prior threats to kill, prior acts of strangulation, constant jealousy, abuse while pregnant or prior use or access to weapons. Even when these risk factors are not present, victims are encouraged to trust their own instincts.
“What we tell people is you are the expert in your life,” Bursztynsky said. “All of these may exist and you don’t think anything could happen, or there may be none of these and you’re still very fearful.”
Leila Siena, of the La Salle County State's Attorney's Office, said while it's difficult to get a detailed breakdown of the number of orders of protection and violations she believes they usually serve victims well.
"I do think it's an effective tool and I think that more orders of protection are respected than they are not," Siena said.
She added those who bond out on domestic battery charges are required to have no contact with the complainant, which they've found to be most effective.
Ultimately, the success of both is dependent on the personality of the one being asked to have no contact and whether they respect an authority telling them to stop contacting an individual.
She also added it's meant to be one part of a larger safety plan.
Bursztynsky said it’s important for those in violent relationships to identify safety plans prior to leaving. They also should note safe places in the house — generally, rooms with a second exit — and a few items, such as blunt objects or knives, that could be used as weapons.
It’s also worth considering coming up with signs that others could pick up on, whether it’s a particular key phrase said over the phone to a friend or family member or an external clue that neighbors can pick up on, such as a particular window having a curtain closed.
Victims also should consider breaking up in public or letting a third party know when and where they’ll be during the break-up as well as a time when they should expect an update on their wellbeing.
Scolaro explained to those online she had gone back to Stankovich in the past after instances of abuse.
“I left before too and moved out of state and I made the mistake of talking to him and ended up going back,” Scolaro said.
Bursztynsky said it’s not uncommon for someone who is abused to return to the abuser.
“When people say, 'Why don’t victims leave?' I ask the question, ‘Have you ever had a job where there were days that just weren’t well? And why did you stay?' ” Bursztynsky said. “And a lot of those reasons are the same. Either ‘I loved this job, I just didn’t love it this day,’ and finances.”
She added sometimes a victim can feel safer with the abuser as the victim is more routinely aware of their mood and location.
She added domestic violence often comes in three phases that begin with peace in the honeymoon phase. This phase evolves into the “walking on eggshells” phase where tension starts building before finally an explosive phase that results in violence.
“If it ended there, it would be a lot easier, but then it goes back into that honeymoon phase,” Bursztynsky said.
The abuser often apologizes for their actions and announces a promise to change for the better.
Organizations such as Safe Journeys welcome both those leaving relationships as well as those currently in relationships into their offices for discussions about relationships as well as information on how to best protect themselves.
Scolaro also advised online those in relationships should take photos and contact police to get an order of protection.
“It’s not easy because you will always have someone saying not to do it and you can work it out, but let me tell you, it’s just not worth it to work it out because it will just get worse,” Scolaro said.
Bursztynsky advised it’s always a good idea to find friends or family you can communicate with and rely on for support.
“Talk to your friends about what’s going on and say, ‘This is what I need from you.’ And if you don’t get support from that person, then move on to the next person and keep trying,” Bursztynsky said. “But I’m hoping eventually everyone in this area will know how to respond in a way that tells a victim, ‘I believe you. I’m here for you. No matter what decision you make, I’m here for you.’ ”
While Scolaro ultimately died as a result of a violent relationship, her previously written words hold true for others who may be in a similar situation.
“Please try your best to get out. I didn’t think I could or ever would because I really loved him and just let it go so many times. But I have to tell you how good life can be and how happy you can feel once the abuse stops,” Scolaro said. “No one, woman or man, should ever have to endure the physical and emotional pain that comes from abuse! I wish you all the luck in the world to find your peace and safety.”
For more information, visit the National Network to End Domestic Violence at nnedv.org or The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence at ilcadv.org.
To contact Safe Journeys, call 1-800-892-3375 or 815-673-1555.