Her early years were so painful, she said, she eventually stopped using her maiden name of Myers and her married name of Price and began going by the last name of Cristiano, which she began using in order to remove all reminders of the stigma and shame she felt. "I was adopted and my adoptive father was extremely abusive, and I didn't want his name anymore. I didn't want my ex-husband's name anymore for my own reasons, which I'm sure you can look in the divorce records and see what that was all about.
"So I was really without a name, and I had already taken on the name Elena Cristiano as sort of a journalistic thing anyway, when I was an intern at KEYT [in Santa Barbara]. I thought it sounded good, I liked it, and it had the most appeal out of anything else. My birth name, I had no associations with that, and my adopted name, and then my married name, so I was really without a name."
She also changed the spelling of her first name from Elana to Elena. "I just changed the spelling of [Elana] because people always had the tendency to mispronounce it. Elana with an a in the middle tends to be pronounced wrong, and especially in Southern California people tend to say Elena the right way. But I always kept my same Social Security number. It wasn't a matter of really changing my identity; I just liked the name better."
Cristiano remembers the decade of the 1990s as a rush of violent, emotionally painful events and personal dislocations. According to court records, she filed numerous domestic violence complaints against male acquaintances and one female, alleging they variously stalked her, threw drinks in her face, slashed her tires, and threatened her life and those of her children. In a May 1989 divorce filing, her husband bitterly recounted his version of their married life together. "My wife has continued to threaten that if I use an attorney she would turn me in to the police for beating her up. She taunts me a great deal and has had me arrested for battery when in fact I had not hit her. My wife is continually talking about other men in front of me and telling me about her dates with them. This hurts me a great deal, and she will not stop. She brings other men with her when she leaves off the children for me to babysit."
In October 1994, her ex-husband filed another round of allegations during a custody and support dispute over their two children. "Respondent does not maintain a fixed address, has moved around from residence to residence with multiple boyfriends, and refuses to work or works in occupations that may be adverse to my children's best interest. Respondent has completed at least three years at UC Santa Barbara, is not disabled, and can work, and apparently has police problems of an unknown nature. Respondent uses several names and conceals her whereabouts making it difficult for me to keep in touch with my children."
Today Cristiano rejects those claims and said she was simply the unwitting victim of a series of abusive men that due to unfortunate circumstances she had allowed into her life. She was repeatedly forced to fight back in court, she said, seeking restraining orders against former acquaintances who posed a danger to herself and her family. She even appeared on the Judge Judy television show in early 1997 to argue her case against an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her.
"As of 4-7-96 the respondent came to my house and would not leave," according to a 1996 complaint she filed in San Diego court regarding the man. "He started pushing me around, and he punched me on my head. I now have stiches [sic] in my head. I had to go to the emergency room. The police and the hospital took pictures, and I have a case # w/ the police. As I tried to call 911, his mother took the phone away from me & he took my car keys so I wouldn't leave. In the past the respondent has abused me, choked me, and has threatened to kill me. Please grant me this order to protect myself and my children from this abusive man."
Judge Judy, Cristiano said, sustained her allegations and awarded her damages in the case. (Contacted by telephone in Los Angeles, a spokesman for Judge Judy said that because records for the program during that period are in storage, he could not confirm Cristiano's account.)
Cristiano also filed for a protective order against the defendant's mother in the same case. "On 4-7-96, defendant came to my home and refused to leave. Her son...physically assaulted me while the defendant...watched. Furthermore, not only did the defendant fail to assist me, she prevented me from calling for help by holding the phone out of my reach. She then put the phone in her purse to prevent me from getting it and calling 911. The assault by her included throwing me to the ground. (Her son caused a gash in my head, which required stitches and other medical attention.) She proceeded to lie to the police, saying I had prevented her from calling the police. I need protection from this woman whom I believe to be unstable. Defendant lives within close proximity of plaintiff and plaintiff fears reprisal for this protective order."
In June 1997, Cristiano sought a restraining order against another male acquaintance, alleging that "On March 8 [the defendant] spit beer in my face, sprayed me w/ hot water, bruised my foot, smashed my car. On March 20 he slashed tires on both my car & a friend's. On May 20 or so he wrote profane, threatening messages to me.
"On March 8th [he] stepped on my foot and ground down, bruising it. He later backed into my vehicle causing extensive damage -- this was a violent, intentional act. He has since slashed (3/20/97) the tires on both my car & my friend's... He stalks me, stealing my voice mail code, and leaving threatening messages. He is a crystal-meth addict and armed, and I consider him very dangerous."