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Domestic abuse survivors share their stories

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Actor and athlete survives abuse
  • Advocacy group says 1 in 4 women is victimized by domestic violence
  • Three women are killed daily in the United States by a current or former intimate partner
  • "I felt the flesh dripping," says one victim who was set afire
  • A man talks of how, as a toddler, he was "backhanded out of a highchair" by his father

Editor's note: HLN's "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" this week highlights stories about domestic violence intended to raise consciousness among the public about the issue of domestic abuse. The people profiled below are among abuse victims who tell their stories to HLN.

(CNN) -- One in four women is a victim of domestic violence at some point during her life, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

The violence kills three women each day in the United States by a current or former intimate partner, the group says on its website.

With increasing frequency and openness, domestic abuse victims are coming forward with wrenching stories of pain, terror, frustration -- and survival.

Here are profiles of three people who count themselves among the survivors:

Yvette Cade

Video: Wife's 'tale of terror'
Video: Reformed abuser: I've changed

Yvette Cade said that she narrowly escaped death at the hands of her ex-husband. Early in the morning of October 10, 2005, he called her 14 times, she said. "He was leaving messages of how he wanted to have sex with me and he said in that phone call that he wanted to fry me like Crisco grease, and so I called the police and they came out that morning."

But the police simply took a report, she said. "I thought it was kind of odd that they weren't going to issue a warrant for him to be arrested based upon what I had told them."

Later that morning, after Cade had started her shift at a T-Mobile store, he showed up carrying a soda bottle full of liquid.

"I turned and he says, 'I love you' and he began dumping liquid over my head -- I had no idea it was gasoline," Cade said. He then chased her outside the store, where he threw a lit match onto her, she said. "I just felt the flame -- whoosh. And it was like so hot. I felt the flesh dripping."

Cade suffered severe burns over 60 percent of her body, including severe scarring on her face. She said that, three weeks before the attack, a judge had lifted a protective order requiring her ex-husband to stay away from her -- without notifying her.

Read why shelters for abused women open

The judge retired shortly thereafter, she said. "He filed a 14-page letter saying it was a clerical error," she said, adding, "Clearly, that was not the case."

Her ex-husband is serving a life sentence but will be eligible for parole in 15 years, she said.

But he is continuing to wreak havoc in her life, sending letters to her and to her doctor, one of which indicated that he knew she had suffered a recent infection. "I can't understand why and how he would know," she said.

Liz Seccuro

Liz Seccuro says she too is a victim. In 1984, as a 17-year-old college student, she was raped and tried to report the crime, she said. "No one took me seriously," she said. "They said, 'Are you sure? Maybe you did have sex with this guy and you don't want your parents to find out you're not a good girl.' Here I was, a virgin. I was brutally beaten and raped. Nobody did a thing. They wanted to sweep it under the rug because it hurts the university's endowment."

Finally, the rapist himself came forward and confessed, she said. He received a six-month sentence, she added.

Victor Rivers

Not all victims of domestic violence are women. Victor Rivers, a character actor and former professional football player, said his father beat him, his siblings and their mother for years.

"The abuse started as early as I can remember," he told "Issues," saying he recalled having been "backhanded out of a highchair into a coffee table" at 18 months of age.

Burns from a knife blade heated at the gas stove followed, he said. When Rivers was 7, his father caught him smoking outside. "He said, 'You wanna smoke? Let's smoke,' Rivers said.

"He proceeded to light cigarettes and burn them onto my lips. Then, to add insult to injury, he was the one who came to give me first aid after it was all done."

At age 12, Rivers went to police for help and showed them the physical signs of abuse. "They were horrified at what they saw," he said. But beyond having the boy sign a formal complaint and the police then talking to his father, "they said there was nothing more they could do; that it was a private family matter."

By the time he reached age 15, after his mother had left the house, "things went from worse to horrendous," and he initiated a physical confrontation with his father -- the only time he had done so.

"I exposed him for the coward that he was," Rivers said. "He didn't fight back, but after the beating, he left the house right after and I figured he was going out to get a gun and that's the night I ran away from home."

Rivers wrote a book about his experience years later that he titled "A Private Family Matter."