CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - In her explosive interview about the years of alleged abuse, Zach Smith's ex-wife, Courtney Smith, said she took so long to come forward with her story because she was scared to leave him.
She described a 2015 incident saying, "He took me and shoved me up against the wall with his hands around my neck, something he did very often."
But she said the abuse went beyond physical. It was also physiological and emotional; he isolated her and controlled her and their finances.
Laura Cowan is a survivor of domestic abuse and a victim's advocate.
"Domestic violence is real. She could've gotten killed," she said.
Cowan and her two children were locked in her abuser's California garage for 6 months after she tried to escape. She was finally able to get away by slipping a note to a postal worker. She said it's retaliation that stops many victims from leaving or seeking help.
Courtney said she didn't come forward for so long because of threats from Zach.
Cowan said the experiences Courtney described are not at all unusual from what other victims face.
"They're changing their behavior, not going out as much, keeping themselves away from the girls. They used to have fun. Now, they don't anymore," says Cowan. "The abuser would just check on them on a constant basis wanting to know where they are."
Cowan said the most important thing to do for someone in an abusive relationship is to be there for them while they find the courage to leave.
"They'll be in denial and they won't listen to you. You just have to support them, give them resources and keep talking to them. Eventually, in time it will click and they will leave."
She added victims need to talk to someone and should never try to handle it alone.
"They can't keep that inside because it's bigger than what they think," says Cowan.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, contact the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center at 216-229-2420.