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Home / Articles / Survivor Stories / Survivor: DeBorah Washington Barrow

Survivor: DeBorah Washington Barrow

From abused to accused—a five-year relationship has haunted her for more than 40 years

Survivor: DeBorah Washington Barrow

Her story starts out like so many others. When DeBorah Washington Barrow met Herman in 1974, it seemed like fate the two should be together. Barrow was friends with Herman’s cousin and had seen him around, but when a different friend, Dana, showed Barrow a photo of the man she was dating and Herman was also in the shot, she took it as a sign. She asked Dana to give Herman her number.

“We started dating and, initially, my mother was hesitant because I was 18, and he was 11 years older,” Barrow says. “But he came over and was able to win her over.”

Herman was the consummate gentleman. 

“It was a fairybook romance,” she says. “He was always nice and kind. We loved to go to the park and feed the ducks—things like that. He didn’t rush into becoming intimate with me. I thought I had met the love of my life. I was head over heels.”

Within the year, the couple moved in together, and three weeks later, things took a turn. 

“We were having dinner, and he abruptly got up and smacked me in the face for no reason,” she says. “It just came out of nowhere, and I was stunned.”

Herman apologized profusely and swore it would never happen again.

But like so many other stories, it did. 

Bold Abuse

The next incident happened in public. 

Barrow and Herman were at a party when a co-worker asked Barrow to dance. Herman gave his permission. 

“Two minutes later, I was laying on the floor,” she says. “Herman came on the dance floor and punched me and knocked me out. He dragged me out of the dancehall in front of everyone.”

A few weeks after that, Herman came home after a weekend away and wanted to fight. He held Barrow down and jabbed her with a broomstick. She wriggled free and ran to the neighbor’s, but Herman was at her heels and dragged her back to their apartment. He had her pinned on the floor again when the police knocked. 

Barrow attempted to scream for help as Herman kept beating her. The police kicked in the door and pulled Herman off of her. The officers told her normally they don’t arrest for such incidents, but given Barrow’s physical condition, they took Herman to jail and Barrow went to the hospital. 

Barrow decided to press charges and went to stay at her mother’s house. She didn’t hear from Herman for about two weeks. It turns out he had been arrested a second time when he went to his ex’s house and tore up her furniture. He started calling Barrow from jail. 

Eventually, she gave in to his pleas for help. 

“I felt so bad,” Barrow says. “None of his family was helping him, and I didn’t want him to lose his job. He professed his love and said he wasn’t going to hit me anymore, so I went and got him from jail.”

A Changed Man?

Herman wanted to get married, but Barrow said she wouldn’t marry him unless he got help. Surprisingly, he agreed. He started seeing a psychiatrist and things got better. 

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On July 7, 1977, the two were married. By September, the abuse started again. 

“It wasn’t the beatings like it was before, but he’d occasionally backhand me,” DeBorah says. 

It was enough to cause Barrow to try and kill herself. Still, she went back to him. 

“Things were better for a while,” she says. “We purchased a home, and I became pregnant. Every once in a while, he would push me, but it wasn’t the constant, severe beatings. Probably because his mom was living with us.”

After a fight over money, Barrow went to the bathroom and realized then that she had lost her baby. She was five months pregnant. 

Herman’s mother called an ambulance and they took Barrow to the hospital. She was lying on the gurney in the ER when she saw Herman coming toward her. She thought he was reaching out to hold her but instead he jumped on top of her and started hitting her, yelling, “What did you do to my baby?!” Herman was taken to jail and released once he calmed down.

In November 1978, Barrow got pregnant again. After another violent incident three or four months later, Barrow decided to move out and in with a girlfriend. But she continued to see Herman intermittently, and the beatings continued as well. Fortunately, this time, they didn’t affect the baby.

While Barrow was in labor at the hospital, the doctor walked into the room and asked, “What happened to you?”

“He hadn’t even asked about the labor yet, I looked so bad,” she says. “But I was embarrassed, and Herman was sitting right there, so I told him I fell in some bushes. I could tell by the look on his face that he knew I was lying.”

After the birth, Barrow took her daughter back to her friend’s house. But the back and forth continued with Herman continued until Barrow finally decided to file for divorce. 

“My friend told me, ‘He’s going to kill you. You need to get a gun,’” Barrow says. “So I went and I bought a gun. I asked for the smallest one they had, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

Not Your Typical Ending

Barrow normally kept the gun in her car, but on July 12, 1980, she took it out when Herman’s nephew asked to borrow her car for the night, having just graduated high school. When Barrow walked inside after attending the graduation ceremony, she found Herman passed out on the couch and their daughter lying on the floor surrounded by beer cans. Barrow stashed the gun on the side of the bed. 

The next morning, Barrow was on her way out with her daughter in her arms when she realized she left the diaper bag upstairs, so she went back to get it. Herman was lying on the bed with his arm hanging off the side. She worried he had found the gun. 

Herman started punching her in the face while she was holding their daughter. Barrow lost her grip and her daughter fell out of her arms onto the bed. Barrow reached for the gun and, surprised it was still there, grabbed it and started shooting. 

Herman ran down the stairs and so did Barrow. She ran out the door, flagged down a car driving by and went to call the police. When they got there, Barrow was informed Herman was dead. 

“That day changed my whole life,” she says. “I never intended for him to die.” 

Barrow was arrested for manslaughter, and later offered a plea deal of probation without jail time.

“I should’ve taken the plea bargain in hindsight, but I knew I didn’t intend to kill Herman,” she says. “I never wanted him to die. I just wanted him to stop beating me.”

Some of Barrow’s medical records, Herman’s psychiatry reports and testimony from his first wife—what Barrow thought was key evidence—wasn’t allowed in during her trial. Still, she was stunned when the verdict was read: The jury found her guilty of manslaughter. 

“The judge was kind of shocked by the verdict, too, and let me go home that day to await my appeal,” Barrow says. 

But then she never heard anything. Barrow assumed her appeal went through, and she started a new life. She got married and had another child. No one told her the judge in her case had died. 

“In November 1985, five years after Herman died, the police knocked on my door with a warrant for my arrest,” she says. “My life was shattered again.”

Barrow was granted early release within 12 months, but the ordeal and other problems had taken a toll on her marriage. She and her second husband separated in 2002 and divorced in 2005. 

Another Abuser Ruins Everything

Barrow again started her life over. She got a job as a paralegal, and on May 31, 2008, she married for a third time. But he turned out to be abusive as well. It never got physical, but he was emotionally and verbally abusive. In 2015, Barrow left him.

“He started calling me nonstop, but I didn’t call him back,” she says. “Then I listened to one of his messages and he said, ‘If you don’t call me back, I’m calling your job and telling them you killed your first husband.’ I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, being threatened over something that happened 35 years ago.” 

Barrow thought it would be best to tell her employer before her husband did. Two days later, they fired her. 

“I had a complete mental breakdown,” she says. “Everything I went through with Herman replays in my head like a slideshow. Herman, to me, got out easy. I have to relive it over and over again, every day of my life and look at the pain in our daughter’s eyes of never getting to know her biological father.” 

Therapeutic Work

Instead of giving up, Barrow decided to write a book called Flickers of Light in the Midst of a Stormy Life

“I wrote it to help other people realize how abuse can affect you, the abuser and innocent third parties for the rest of our lives,” she says. 

Barrow encourages other survivors to get mental help like she wishes she had. 

“We go to the hospital for cuts and bruises but don’t handle the mind that gets damaged during the beatings,” she says. “I didn’t do that, but perhaps if I would have, I would have realized the chances of Herman and [her third husband] ever-changing were slim. Once a person abuses you, they think they can do it again. Is that the type of life you want? Do you want your loved ones to live each night wondering like mine did if they are going to get a phone call that you’re in the hospital, dead or in jail? Because one of those three things is bound to happen.”

Are you having trouble moving on with your life after abuse? Check out “How to End Your Victim Mindset” for advice on freeing yourself once and for all.