October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office is working to raise awareness of...and funds for...fighting domestic violence in our community. In the hopes of reducing the stigma and opening dialogue on the issue of domestic violence, a local survivor shares her story.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Gordon Gazette will be on hand this Friday, Oct. 4, for the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, a men’s march held each year to not only bring awareness of domestic violence in our community, but to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence.
According to the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, between Oct. 2017 and Sept. 2018, almost 46,000 domestic violence crisis line calls were answered in the state of Georgia, with more than 10,000 rape and sexual assault crisis line calls answered in the same time period.
The GCADV says that, statistically, around 70 percent of domestic violence deaths in Georgia each year are
committed using firearms, with 850 Georgians killed by firearms in domestic violence incidents between 2010 and 2018.
In Gordon County, there’s a place for victims of Domestic Violence to get the help they need to break the cycle of abuse at the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office, located at 717 South Wall Street, Suite D, in Calhoun across from the Sonic. It’s the place that Betty* (name changed to protect survivor), a former resident of Henry County who has lived in Gordon County the past seven years, went to get help to leave an abusive relationship.
Betty, 37, wasn’t just in one abusive relationship, but found herself in two abusive relationships. The first abusive relationship was with her husband of 10 years, whom she had two sons with. After getting away and divorcing her husband, Betty began dating a family friend who she felt was charming, her “knight in shining armor,” who ended up being equally abusive. Here is her story:
“I was born and raised in Peachtree City,” said Betty. “I moved up here almost seven years ago, escaping an abusive relationship. Ms. Debbie and Ms. Beth were the first two people I met up here.”
Beth Peters is the Outreach Coordinator for Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office, and Debbie Lane is a Legal Advocate for the office.
“Neither relationship started out bad,” said Betty. “It was very much a honeymoon. You slowly lose control of different things that it doesn’t, at the time, look like you’re losing control of; you just think they’re caring. ‘That was sweet, he’s just checking to see if I made it to the store.’” But then it gets to the point of, ‘You’ve been gone too long. Who were you talking to? I know you’re cheating.’ And then the physical abuse would start. ‘You’re lying to me.’ Then I would promise I wasn’t but then I’d get beat on. Then my job was to the point where they weren’t going to let me come to work, so he would beat on me where you couldn’t see it. But then it’s always ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I’ll never do it again.’ It’s a constant circle. In my case, with my ex-husband, my abuse got worse when he was having affairs. It got to the point where he would check the mileage on my car, but you don’t call the police in general because in the beginning it was ‘I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.’ At the end, it was, ‘I’ll kill you if you call the police. I’ll kill the kids if you call the police.’”
“The last incident (in Henry County), I finally called the police after 10 years of putting up with it,” said Betty. “He had pushed me through a glass storm door, flipped me off my porch. My thumb was dislocated. He was choking me around the neck (and pinned me) on the ground. I kicked him to get him off of me. That was the night I called the police. The police came. He didn’t leave any marks. They said ‘Either you both go to jail or nobody goes.’ Unfortunately, a lot of officers don’t understand the cycle of domestic violence, either they haven’t been trained or they just don’t know. Or they have women like me that call and the officer may have been to the house 10 times, but when they get there, the caller says they are okay, not understanding that our husband just told us they were going to kill us if we said anything. That’s one thing that Ms. Debbie and Ms. Beth do a great job, is working with the law enforcement here (in Gordon County) with education, and how the domestic violence cycle works.”
Betty’s husband told her he wouldn’t get a divorce; he would quit his job and wouldn’t give her child support. Betty filed for divorce anyway. The couple had a race car – they lived near Atlanta Motor Speedway – which was in her name. During the divorce hearings, the judge ordered her husband to return the car to Betty.
“He was mad,” said Betty of that day in court. “I knew the bailiff and the judge; they let him leave first. The bailiff walked me to the end of the courthouse and asked me if I wanted him to walk to parking deck (with me). It had been about 20 minutes, so I said, ‘No, he’s probably gone by now.’ So I walked to the parking lot, and my ex-husband pulls out and tries to run me over. It’s on video at the courthouse. So they arrest him. The police officers that watched the video testified on my behalf. The judge let him go because the video didn’t have audio. So, I had to break the cycle in that county (Henry County), because I didn’t know where his connections were. He continually got out of everything.”
Finally able to get a divorce and start a fresh life, Betty began dating, off and on for two years, a “nice guy” who was a family friend. She said that her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend abused her in very different ways. She ended up having a baby boy with her boyfriend.
“He was a family friend who I thought I knew, but I didn’t know,” said Betty. “My ex-boyfriend was very controlling. No makeup; he chose what I wore, he chose what color my hair was going to be.”
“Statistics say an average victim goes back seven times,” said Betty. “With my ex-husband, I way exceeded that seven times, but with the boyfriend, too. We would stay apart, then it was ‘I changed. I’m working here. I’m a religious person and I’m going to church and I’ll go to church with you. We need to be a family for our son.'”
“All tugging at the heartstrings,” said Debbie Lane, who sat in on the interview. “And it’s the shame of the victim as well. They don’t want anybody to know what they are going through. It’s embarrassing and humiliating.”
“You don’t want anybody to see that part of you,” said Betty. “And a lot of it is ‘Well, you don’t leave. You keep going back so it must not be that bad.’ I’ve got that a lot, even from family.”
“Nobody takes into consideration that the person that’s abusing is a person the victim loves; it’s the person they fell in love with” said Lane.
“I wasn’t allowed to have friends, I wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone with family, wasn’t allowed to visit my grandmother,” said Betty. “Nobody would think anything was wrong.”
In addition to the physical and emotional abuse, one of the worse things for Betty was her loss of identity.
“I was Little Miss Sunshine,” said Betty. “I was in charge of the morale team where I worked; I worked for a big corporation. I was a cheerleader. I was a very social person. It got to the point where I’d go in public and my head was down and I never made eye contact with anybody. They break you little by little and you get to the point where when you go out, you’re walking on eggshells because you don’t want to give them any reason (for abuse). ‘Why were you looking at that man at the grocery store?’ You don’t give them any reason. ‘You didn’t do the dishes today, who did you sneak over here?’ You’re so broke down that at that point, you don’t think rationally.”
“A lot of women have talked about how they have had to adapt to their abusers way of thinking, so they’ve forgot who they were,” said Lane. “They don’t even know who they are when they get out of the relationship. They don’t even remember what they like or enjoy.”
“It’s all picked for you,” said Betty. “My thing was, when I got divorced I was so, ‘You can’t survive without me, nobody will want you;’ well, here comes my knight in shining armor and I was still very damaged and broken from my marriage and probably didn’t see the signs. By the time I realized it, it was too late. Then it’s the shame, ‘I just got out of this one, what is everybody gonna say?’ But with the second (relationship), there’s a term called gas lighting where the abuser does things to you but they make you think that they didn’t and it makes you think you’re crazy. It could be as simple as moving the car into the next parking place and telling you they didn’t.”
“They do things to intentionally make them crazy,” said Lane of gas lighting. “Even to the point of, they just slapped them across the face, they tell them, ‘I didn’t do that.” I’ve been doing this for seven and a half years, and I’ve had two women to check themselves into the hospital because they really felt they were losing their mind only to be told they were in an abusive relationship. They came out of that fine and came out of the relationship. One survivor told me that there was one day she was propped up against the wall and she just slid down because there was nothing there anymore, her abuser had taken everything.”
Betty’s boyfriend ended up abusing her so bad she lost a pregnancy.
“He had gotten me pregnant and I was two weeks from finding out what the baby was; he beat me and kicked me in the stomach,” said Betty. “I lost the baby. They had to do surgery and get the baby out. I wasn’t healed from that and he got me pregnant with my youngest child. That’s when I went to the domestic violence shelter (in Henry County) and we made a plan and I came up here, to Gordon County, and Ms. Debbie and Ms. Beth stepped in and were able to help me get restraining orders and things put into place.”
After having her son, Betty said that her boyfriend locked her in a room multiple times, one time for three days.
“He ended up locking me in a room one time and I got out,” said Betty. “Our baby was two months old and was in a baby carrier. He snatched the baby carrier and threw him across the room. The baby doesn’t remember that but I do.”
Betty said that her third son hasn’t had to deal what her older two sons have dealt with since he was so young.
“The older two, I found out years later, my ex-husband had sexually abuse my oldest son,” said Betty. “My middle son was only two at the time, but we don’t know if anything happened to him. It probably did but he wouldn’t have been able to communicate that. My ex-husband was also physically abusive to them. Not in front of me. Looking back, I was told, ’Oh, he fell off his bicycle. Oh, he tripped on the sidewalk.’ Things at the time that seemed plausible because they’re boys and they do ride bicycles and climb trees. Also, women think that if their child is sleeping, they don’t see or hear the abuse. Mine did. I thought that they were sleeping and didn’t know what was going on. But they saw and heard way more than I thought they did.”
Betty and Lane both agreed that due to proactive steps taken by Betty, both of the older boys have adjusted remarkably well, and that Betty has three really great sons.
“They are in counseling and are pretty well adjusted,” said Betty. “They’re very well behaved. But I think you won’t really know until they get into that first relationship what might manifest. In general, all three are good boys. I think being proactive with counseling and talking (about what happened) helped. A lot of us don’t talk about the elephant in the room with our kids, and I didn’t for a long time because I thought it was protecting them, but it wasn’t. Once we started talking about it, they can address their fears. You have to just let them talk. I’ve made it very clear we don’t hit; I have two nieces and they know that we’re a family and we protect each other. No secrets. If somebody tells you not to tell mommy something, you come immediately and tell mommy.”
“Statistically, it’s one in four women,” said Lane of victims of abuse. “Chances are, the couple of hundred that show up for the Walk A Mile on Friday, we’re going to have a lot of participants that are also victims.”
At the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office, an array of resources and help are offered to victims of domestic violence. A support group that Betty has been a part of for years, led by Lane, meets regularly at the office.
“It’s not a therapeutic group, it’s more of an educational group,” said Lane. “It’s very empowering for women to be in a room with other women that have been through the same things, because often times they feel like they’re the only ones that have gone through what they’re going through. And whether one was emotionally abused and another was physically abused, the common thread is power and control. That’s what everyone needs to realize; there’s a misconception about it being an anger issue. It’s not about being angry. A person that abuses can hold their temper when they’re out at the store shopping. If they are inclined to be abusive across the board, social situations would set them off, but they don't. It’s exclusive to an intimate partner because they want to control every aspect of their life.”
“We were known in the community in Henry County, and when I started talking about the abuse, (the reaction from people was), it wasn’t true,” said Betty. “We were active church members, we knew a lot of the community, upper-middle class.”
“And people don’t want to hear it,” said Lane. “It’s like child abuse. It’s very difficult to hear and if they do believe it, what do they do with that information?”
When asked what a person should do if someone they know has confided in them about a domestic violence situation, Lane said, “The first thing you do is believe them. And don’t say, ‘Oh, it can’t be that bad.’ You believe them and have a number to give them to let them know there are people out there that can help them.”
The local 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 706-278-5586; TTY: 706-529-9336.
“Time and time again, you’d think that women would have access to everything but they don’t," said Lane. "Often times the first time they know about the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office is when they call law enforcement and they refer to us. They don’t know they have rights and they can be protected from the abuse.”
“I didn’t know until a court liaison in Henry County told me about it,” said Betty. “But the biggest thing is, actually getting the nerve to come talk, because a lot of times we’ve been shut down by law enforcement or the legal system. The biggest step we can do (as domestic violence victims) is stepping into this office and knowing that we’ve got a friend here that will listen to us.”
“Our court staff is great; they’re compassionate to victims that come in,” said Lane. “This past week, for example, I think they’ve done three protective orders. So the judges will accommodate us to bring the victim in. No one in this office is an attorney, but we’re authorized by the courts to prepare their petitions and their orders and take them before the judge. All of our judges are wonderful to work with. We’re very fortunate in Gordon County because that’s not the case in many counties in the state.”
“I’ve gotten more done here than I ever did in Henry,” said Betty.
“There are other counties where a victim has to do everything herself,” said Lane. “She has to go to the clerk’s office, she has to get that paperwork, she has to figure out how to get before the judge, she has to figure out how to get that paperwork served. What’s sad about that is, it’s hard enough to take the step to get here, but if you have to do all of that stuff yourself, as a victim, you’re going to stop (the process). The victims don’t have the energy to move forward with that. So we’re very fortunate in Gordon County. We do all of that here (in the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office).”
Lane said that the office also tries to do some kind of fun activity at least twice a year for the kids.
“That’s the great thing about them, they’re very active with helping the kids,” said Betty. “A lot of times, the victims don’t have the resources to go to McDonald's or bowling or swimming. To spend that time with our kids where they can just have fun is huge as a mother.”
“Over the summer, the Calhoun Rec gave us the pool for a couple of hours one day a week for the kids to go swimming,” said Lane. “They provided a lifeguard and two hours of swim. We just did a bowling event. It’s wonderful to see the victims interact and have fun with their kids.”
Lane said that the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office also has a shelter located outside of Gordon County.
The Gordon County DVOO also offers help with travel for victims of domestic violence as well as other services.
“Another service we offer is, say a domestic violence survivor has family in California, we can help them get there,” said Lane. “We help with transportation. We have received a grant that helps with an attorney if they get a TPO that will represent them at the final hearing. We also have money to help with divorces. If you’re in an abusive relationship, they need to call us because we have grant money for divorces right now. Lots of things we can help with. They just need to reach out and call. And people can call our office and anonymously receive information to see what their options are, because we realize sometimes they’re not quite ready, they’re just trying to get a plan together.”
When asked what she would say to another woman going through this, Betty begs them to stay strong.
“There’s hope and there are people that will listen. Just keep on keeping on. You sometimes have to be your own light at the end of the tunnel, but there is hope. I’m still recovering and I think it might be a lifelong process. But there’s hope and there’s people that will believe you.”
The 8th annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, a men’s march to not only bring awareness of domestic violence in our community, but to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence, will be held on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. The family-friendly event begins with registration at 11 a.m. with the walk beginning at 12 p.m. at BB&T Park on North Wall Street in downtown Calhoun.
Hosted by the Gordon County Domestic Violence Outreach Office and United Way of Gordon County, all proceeds benefit victims of domestic violence in Gordon County.
Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston is again scheduled to be on hand to address the crowd before the walk begins, along with Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle.
Registration to walk in the event is $15 per participant. Traditionally, the men who participate wear high-heels as a way to show unity and take a stand against domestic violence, but women and children are also invited to participate.