FARGO – Domestic violence experts often tell victims they are most at risk when they are trying to leave a toxic relationship.
On a romantic camping trip, under the stars, in what was a last-ditch attempt to save his relationship with his girlfriend, Keith Peterson found out about that truism the hard way.
“I kind of feel relieved,” Peterson said from his bed at Sanford Medical Center here, where he’s recuperating from more than a dozen stab wounds, one to his carotid artery. “It’s over. I’ll never have to go through what I’ve gone through again.”
On July 26, his girlfriend, Carly Ann Lacey, allegedly tried to kill Peterson by stabbing him 13 times while they were camping near Elbow Lake, Minn. He said she suddenly turned on him with a 6-inch switchblade and yanked his cellphone away when he tried to call for help.
Prosecutors have charged Lacey with second-degree attempted murder in Grant County District Court, as well as first-degree assault.
Couple had violent past
The evening had been going well until that moment, despite a rocky road to almost-matrimony that led the Maynard, Minn., coupe to cancel their wedding once set for July 4.
Peterson, 36, said Lacey, 31, had been violent before, but he had tried to handle it on his own, without authorities or hitting back.
“She gets drunk and mad and starts hitting me. And I’m a big guy,” he said.
At 6 foot 6 inches, he has a full foot on Lacey. He thought he could take it.
So even when Lacey attacked him over dinner on Valentine’s Day, lunging across the table to bite his nose and taking off a chunk in the process, Peterson said he decided not to cooperate with the police.
“I didn’t want to be a [expletive] about it,” he said. Besides, he didn’t want her to lose her children, who are ages 5 and 10.
Instead, he canceled the wedding and demanded she go to alcohol treatment. But the program they chose was full, he said, and three weeks later she was drinking again.
They were also drinking the night of the camping trip, Peterson said. One moment they were lying in the bed of the truck, talking under the stars, he said. She got up to use the bathroom. It was just before 1 a.m., according to court records.
Lacey then began complaining that he didn’t buy her as many trinkets as he promised her while they were dating, he said.
“You’re a liar,” Peterson recalls her saying.
The couple then argued about him buying her flowers, and she started hitting him, he said.
It wasn’t until he moved away, toward the campfire, that he saw he was covered in blood and realized she had been stabbing him, not hitting him, Peterson said.
He stumbled into the fire, burning himself, and she kept coming, taking away his cellphone when he tried to call for help, he said.
Eventually, Peterson’s cries attracted the attention of other people, and Lacey ran into the woods, he said.
Two women who responded happened to be emergency room nurses. They spent much of Thursday talking with Peterson as he waited to be seen again for his wounds.
One wound was so severe, his rescuer told him, she had to stick her finger inside his neck to keep him from bleeding to death on the spot.
He’s gone through one surgery so far at Sanford, 50 staples and about 20 stitches. He has wounds to the back of his neck, his arm and shoulder, but most are in his stomach, Peterson said.
When investigators found Lacey at the scene, covered in blood, she told them a man had come out of the woods and held a knife to her, then stabbed her boyfriend, according to the criminal complaint filed in court.
A search warrant affidavit states her blood alcohol content was 0.264 percent. His was 0.16 percent, the search warrant states.
Neither Lacey nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Peterson said investigators have since told him they recovered the switchblade from where it was buried in mud in the forest and are testing it for DNA.
Issue both familiar, rare
The trajectory of events Peterson describes – escalating violence, an abuser who promises to get better and a victim who hides the problem - isn’t that unusual for a domestic violence narrative, experts say.
But male victims typically face different types of obstacles to coming forward than females do.
Christopher Johnson, executive director of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo Moorhead, said men feel as if their masculinity is threatened if they say they’ve been victimized.
They may also find, like many female victims, that their claims are minimized or dismissed.
That can be exacerbated for male victims because they are often bigger than their abuser and may face more pressure to show physical evidence of punching, hitting or other assaults.
There is also the worry about whether a male victim of domestic violence should defend himself: Do you have the right to do so, and if so, how far do you take it?
“It gets so complex,” Johnson said. “Societal norms never go away.”
Men are also more likely to experience victimization through different channels – such as property damage or calls at their workplace.
“This type of offense is different … but not less than,” said Kathy Smith, director of prevention and education at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.
Smith said men make up about 7.5 percent of the center’s adult, primary victims of domestic violence, but the percentage of “secondary” male victims of domestic violence is much larger. Secondary victims are those who care about the victim and are affected by abuse.
For Peterson, who’s still waiting to hear if he sustained neurological damage, the alleged stabbing was both a narrow escape and a point of no return – for him as well as for the secondary victims, Lacey’s children.
“I feel so bad for those kids right now,” Peterson said.
It wasn’t clear who has temporary custody of Lacey’s children.
Forum News Service reporter Tom Cherveny contributed to this report.