Regan Martin fixed her gaze on the video camera and took a deep breath.

She sat outside a strip mall in Matteson. Trucks sped by on the highway, as shop workers on break took drags from cigarettes.

Martin wished she was in the comfort of her living room. But six days earlier, on May 23, she had fled her Crete home.

Her ex-husband, John Samolis, 32, was released from prison that day after serving 19 months for brutally assaulting her. Now that he was out, Martin feared he would kill her.

She had been trying to escape him for two years. But, like so many women before her, Martin found that there is no witness protection program for victims of domestic violence. Disappearing is lonely, expensive and almost impossible.

She had tried to move out of state with their children, only to learn that abusers—even convicted felons—rarely lose visitation rights. If she left Illinois without permission, Martin would be considered a child abductor.

She changed her Social Security number, but that often carries a host of problems, too.

Increasingly desperate, Martin, 33, agreed when a victims' advocate suggested she make a video to serve as testimony if Samolis did take her life. That's what led her to the noisy, wind-blown parking lot of the mall.

The record button clicked, and Martin started to talk. Her story was long, complicated. As she recounted her harrowing experiences with Samolis, her face reddened with frustration.

"If they can't find me," she said, looking directly at the camera, "I guarantee it's because John has come after me."

♦ ♦ ♦

On Memorial Day weekend, 2006, Martin lay in bed at St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights. Bruises covered most of her body. Her wrists were bloody, her lower lip split and swollen.

Nurses had given her morphine and tended to her wounds. Now, a police officer hovered over her bed.

He wanted her to sign a complaint that would allow Will County to prosecute her husband for criminal sexual assault, aggravated domestic battery and unlawful restraint. Wincing in pain, Martin reached out her hand.

Seven years had passed since she met Samolis on the dance floor of a bar in Chicago Heights.

The night ended with him writing his name and phone number on one half of a dollar bill, her name on the other. He ripped the bill down the middle, slapped his half on Martin's hand and stuffed the part with her name in his pocket.

Six months later the two were married, the ripped bill taped back together and tucked behind a framed photo on the wall of their Steger home.

Though Samolis denies it, Martin said the abuse started while they were dating. After each blow or shove, she convinced herself that he was telling the truth when he promised never to do it again.

Then a 24-year-old college dropout, she was eager to provide her young daughter from a previous marriage, Deaven, with a family environment.