What happens when the thing you love most is suddenly stolen from you?
Natalie Purdie had a passion for dancing. From the age of eight years old, she “ate, slept, and drank” dance.
“Dancing was my life,” she says.
When Natalie was sixteen, her mother decided she’d be safer living with her grandmother in Norfolk, Virginia. The teenager willingly moved from her home in Brooklyn, New York, also believing Norfolk would be a safe haven for her.
She had no idea how wrong that would be.
No Safe Haven
Natalie first met Kevin Bullock at an annual festival where she was performing with friends. She found him handsome and more mature than guys her age — he was six years older. At first they were friends, but eventually they started dating. Throughout their relationship, Natalie says she was always honest about her true passion.
“My dream was always to dance for a professional troop. It was the most important thing for me, over anything else,” she says, adding that she repeatedly made it clear that she did not want to be in a serious relationship. “We didn’t have any drama. He believe(d) me; he trust(ed) me.”
Though Kevin often spoke of their future, of living together and getting married, Natalie figured he meant after several years, and didn’t take him too seriously. Once she landed a coveted audition at the Alvin Ailey School of Dance in New York City, her focus on becoming a professional dancer only intensified. Every spare moment was spent practicing for the audition that could change her life forever.
Killing Her Dreams
Natalie was shocked when Kevin unexpectedly arrived at her grandmother’s with boxes and began to pack her things, saying it was time she moved in with him. Startled, she gently suggested they take a break while she was in New York for the audition. Feeling terrible for hurting him, she went to show him out…and that was when he grabbed a pair of scissors.
As he repeatedly told her he loved her, Kevin stabbed eighteen-year-old Natalie over thirty times — on her nose, chin, lips, behind her ear, on her hands, arms, upper torso and legs. Kevin fractured her skull, causing bleeding on her brain. He only stopped when Natalie’s grandmother called the police.
Natalie was temporarily paralyzed and spent a month in the hospital, relearning how to walk, talk, and read.
“They told me I would never be able to dance again. That was the worst — something I wasn’t able to imagine my life without,” she says, her eyes filled with tears.
Unbelievably, Kevin didn’t get jail time for destroying Natalie’s future and nearly killing her. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, and even phoned her from there, asking if they were still going to get married. After pleading guilty to unlawful wounding, he was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a small fine.
Even more shocking, he was accepted into the United States Army! After returning to Virginia, he attacked another ex-girlfriend in 2010, biting off a piece of her face. She needed extensive plastic surgery. At long last, Natalie got her justice. It was her testimony that proved Kevin’s actions weren’t the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, as his lawyer claimed. In 2012, fifty-year old Kevin was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.
Surviving and Thriving
When I watched Natalie’s story on the Investigation Discovery show Your Worst Nightmare, I felt a sad kinship with her. Natalie’s bravery in speaking out about what had happened to her really struck me. I had to talk to this amazing woman.
J.H.: Looking back, were there any warning signs that would be red flags to you now?
Natalie: There were no warning signs or red flags. As we started dating a year later, the only sign was he was trying to rush the relationship.
J.H. Did you have any inkling that he would hurt you?
Natalie: I had no inkling that he would hurt me. I had my guard down. The night that he attacked me was the first time we had a discussion about the future such as me moving in, us getting married, and I told him we needed to slow down, take a break, or maybe just go ahead and break up since I was planning to leave anyway.
The Blame Game
J.H.: I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on these true crime shows. No matter how horrible the crime, the commenters always blame the woman. “She shouldn’t have been there; she shouldn’t have led him on; she shouldn’t have worn that.” Why do you think the woman is always to blame?
Natalie: As a society we victim blame. We need to change this and stop the victim blaming. Victim blaming is one of the main reasons that makes the victims not speak out. Victim blaming affects the way law makers view the abuse case, the victim, and how to hand down the sentence. By being an advocate and bringing awareness, I am trying to have people ask the question, “Why is the perpetrator so evil, mean, etc.”
J.H.: One of the most devastating parts of your story was the end of your lifelong dream of becoming a professional dancer. I’m so outraged that he stole that from you. How did you deal with that and move forward?
Natalie: I am still dealing with it for the rest of my life. It is an effort to move forward and the key is to not look back, but to try to live with the second chance I was given. The key is to try not to focus on the pain but on how to move forward. It is a part of surviving and we all have that instinct — we just have to do it. It is not easy.
From Dancing to Day Jobs
J.H.: What did you end up doing instead?
Natalie: I just worked jobs, a lot of jobs that led me to talk to all kinds of people in different circumstances. I think it was all preparation to (get) where I am today. As a survivor and advocate, it is my passion to talk to people and help people. It has always been in me and I am just finding ways to tap into this magnificent resource. As far as dance, I will never lose that love. I love to go out dancing and the dance floor is my stage. I am that person that will go out on the floor by myself if it is a song I like. It is my escape. I use to love to go out if I was stressed or just wanted to have a good time. Sometimes I love to watch professional dancers on TV, and sometimes it still makes me sad. One of my favorite things to do is to go see a performance.
J.H.: Often people see these stories and think “That would never happen to me.” Was there anything about you at that time that made you vulnerable to this monster, or could it have happened to anyone?
Natalie: This could have happened to anyone. He didn’t show any signs of any emotion. If anything, he was so calm, which is how he was always, so nothing seemed questionable.
J.H.: What’s the most difficult part of sharing your story and being an activist?
Natalie: The most difficult thing is the victim blaming. Another part is having people state that they don’t want to hear it; yes I have been told that before. It is not easy to be vulnerable to people you don’t know and expose how you were a victim and let people judge you. People will judge you to be weak, stupid, deserving of the crime, doubt you, blame you. The most rewarding? The most rewarding is touching peoples’ lives in so many different ways and helping people get out of their abusive relationships. It is also rewarding when someone can say they heard something I said and it ended up helping them leave before it got worse. Priceless!
J.H.: How can people protect themselves from these kinds of predators?
Natalie: Awareness is the best key to prevention. Many people don’t want to hear about awareness, because, like you stated, they think “it can’t happen to me.” However, if you don’t know what to look for, how can it not happen to you? No victim is seeking to be abused or gets into a relationship thinking “I want to be abused” or “I think this person is abusive and maybe I can outsmart them.” Often the perpetrator will seek someone strong to try to break them down because abuse is about power and control.
J.H.: What should a person do if they believe they’re in a potentially dangerous relationship?
Natalie: If a person believes they are in a potentially dangerous relationship THEY ARE! They need to know that, regardless of what other people may tell them, they need to listen to their instincts and all of the things they have witnessed. Often in dangerous relationships, the perpetrator and/or others will try to convince the person it is not that bad. The person needs to plan a way to leave and must be very smart and careful in doing so because it is the most dangerous time. They need to leave because IT WILL NOT GET BETTER!
J.H.: How did you find the strength to recover and rebuild your life?
Natalie: My faith in God and my family gave me the strength. I know that God healed me.
J.H.: Were you ever tempted to give up?
Natalie: I am still tempted to give up…but I can’t, because I am the Survivors’ Voice and there is still so much more to tell for myself and others.
Thank you so much to Natalie for taking the time to do this. Hers is the scariest true story that’s ever appeared on this blog. If you have a question for her, or would like to show your support, please do so in the comments. No victim blaming allowed — those comments will be automatically deleted.
Please watch the Your Worst Nightmare episode “He’s Back” to see more of Natalie’s story.
Screenshots courtesy of Your Worst Nightmare on the Investigation Discovery network.