Aja Beech is a 37-year-old mother of two from Fishtown who wants desperately to get away from her husband of seven years, construction worker Tobias McQueston. She’s broke, so she started a GoFundMe campaign titled “I Need a Divorce,” launching it a few days after McQueston was charged with assaulting her in March. She’s exceeded her goal of $5,000 and is now working with a Philadelphia attorney to put an official end to the marriage. Though crowdfunding for divorce isn’t unheard of, the involvement of domestic abuse charges seems to be unusual.
Beech told Philadelphia magazine that McQueston has assaulted her several times in the past, and medical records indicate that a 2014 incident documented by police resulted in a concussion. According to a criminal complaint filed by the District Attorney’s office in the March event, Beech’s husband is accused of pushing her face into the ground, giving her a bloody nose.
“It’s all bullshit,” claims McQueston, who is not the father of Beech’s two children. “I never physically assaulted anyone. It’s ridiculous. That’s all I have to say about it.” He is currently free on bail awaiting a June trial on charges of simple assault and reckless endangerment, and he can’t go anywhere near Beech thanks to a stay-away order issued by the judge.
Here, Beech talks about her crowdfunding campaign and the stigma that follows survivors of domestic abuse, more than 30 years after The Burning Bed.
We see a lot of crowdfunding campaigns for creative projects and medical bills, but crowdfunding for divorce is a little more uncommon. How did you choose to go that route?
The week after the latest incident, right after he got arrested, I got in contact with some family seeking help, because I didn’t have the money to hire an attorney. I do some writing, and I make $10 an hour working part-time in a store in Rittenhouse.
My family loves me very much, but they responded by telling me to stay in the relationship. No one was willing to help me financially. Every time I try to save money for a lawyer, there would be some huge money issue, and then I don’t have the money again.
So I decided that I had to do something drastic, because I believe that my life was really in danger at that point. I needed money to get out of this marriage. I needed to not rely on this person. And GoFundMe allowed me to cast a wider net and grow my support system. Even though the GoFundMe is just monetary help, sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen in a given situation.
Did you consider divorce previously?
As a general backstory, we were married in 2009. Things were not going well, and I tried to start getting divorce in 2010, but each time I tried to file, something would come up where I wouldn’t be able to proceed. I didn’t have any money, but I was able to file it myself, and then he hired an attorney to file some paperwork and put a stop to the divorce process.
I filed again in 2013, and that is the one that is still going now. He stopped that entire process with an attorney as well. And then, as often happens in these kinds of relationships, he made promises and then those promises didn’t happen. And now the GoFundMe money is allowing me to have a lawyer restart that 2013 process.
The GoFundMe is such a public outcry. It took a lot of guts to put your life out there like that.
I was embarrassed and ashamed to do the GoFundMe, but I knew that if I didn’t, I would end up in this relationship again. And I couldn’t do that.
Our relationship had become violent many times. He would drink and come home, and I have records of having to go to the doctors at least four times in the past two years. There was a point where he almost broke my hand, and another time when he gave me a concussion after pushing my head against the doorway. Usually, the cops come and tell him to leave, but this time, I was so visibly hurt, and they arrested him. And then I launched the GoFundMe, realizing that I couldn’t ever be with this person again.
Along with the support, I imagine you’ve also heard judgmental things like “You should have left sooner” and “I’d never stay with an abusive husband.”
Of course. It’s easy to say that, but then when you think you love someone and you have a history with them, it’s different. It took a long time for me to not want to work on my marriage.
There were times when I tried to leave. People would say, You can come and stay with us for a little while but then that gets uncomfortable pretty quickly, especially when you have a special needs child like I do.
And people also like to say that I should have gone to a shelter. That certainly was an option to me, but I had to ask myself, which is going to be safer for my children. I had to say that it was safer to stay in the situation I was in — he never touched my kids — then go into an unknown situation at a shelter where I wouldn’t know the people that my kids would then be around. Plus, if I went into a shelter, if I left my home, probably would have lost custody of my children to their father.
When you have two children, you can’t just walk out with your clothes on your back and no money and hope for the best. Rash decision making is part of what got me into this mess. I had to plan to do this, and now I have to work the plan.
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