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Posted: January 17, 2010 12:30 a.m.

No place like home

Abused children often find themselves in volatile adult relationships

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The following is the second in a three-part series looking at domestic violence in Newton County. Names have been changed to protect the victims and their families.

According to the Georgia Department of Human Resources (GDHR), domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in girls and women ages 15 to 44. More alarming is that Georgia ranks seventh in the country for female homicide where domestic violence is a factor.

For *Mary Smith, who suffered at the hands of her abusive mother, her escape at age 19 was a wonderful chance for her to make a home of her own with her new husband. She was certain that her life would improve.

She met her husband through a teacher and the two married and had two children. Although the marriage lasted more than 17 years, according to Mary, her husband was withdrawn most of that time.

“He didn't want anything to do with me or the kids,” she said. “No matter how hard I tried to pull him into the family or get him involved in things that we were doing, he just pulled away. He told me that the only reason he ever married me was because he thought he could turn me into the person he wanted me to be.”

According to Melanie Bell, who handles all domestic violence cases for the Newton County District Attorney's Office, derogatory comments such as those are not uncommon in domestic violence cases.

“That's usually how it starts,” she said, “with put-downs and emotional abuse. They want to make their victims so low and destroy their self-esteem so that eventually the victim figures that what's happening to her is her own fault.”

In 2008, statistics show that 32 percent of domestic violence-related incidents were committed by a present or former spouse, according to the GDHR. In 2006, 96,110 crisis calls were made to domestic violence shelters across the state and Georgia's certified family violence programs provided shelter to 4,588 adults and 4,788 children with a total of 234,834 nights spent in shelters by victims of domestic violence.

Floundering, single and living alone with her children, Mary decided she wanted to try new things. She was visiting an aunt and though her nephew became interested in HAM Radio. The idea of talking to people all around the world appealed to her and she thought one of her sons might be interested as well. She urged him to take the test to qualify as an operator, telling him that she would take it with him. Although both of them took the test, only Mary qualified and through her adventures on the radio met a woman whose grandson would turn out to be Mary's future husband.

Mary and *Bob spoke by HAM Radio frequently. They talked on the phone for hours at a time. By now Mary was 38-years-old and their relationship felt like real romance to her. He sought her out — he wanted to talk to her. After being with a man who was so emotionally unreachable, after being told that she wasn't the type of woman anyone would want for a wife, Bob's attentions were like a balm to her injured ego.

Bob lived in South Carolina at the time and Mary was a para-pro at an elementary school. That summer she decided she would spend her break with Bob. Their romance blossomed and in September 2003, the two married and moved back to Georgia.

At first everything was wonderful, the couple had two children — a boy named *Richard and a girl named *Jane — but then little by little, cracks began to show in the marriage. Bob began verbal assaults and then moved on to throwing items and breaking things.

“You definitely will see an escalation in domestic violence cases,” said Bell. “In the majority of the cases it will start with a lot of verbal abuse, then it moves on to emotional abuse — you see a lot of throwing things, grabbing and yelling and then it gradually — or sometimes not so gradually — escalates.”

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to GDHR. And witnessing violence is the strongest risk factor for children to either grow up to become abusers or to be in abusive relationships. Statistics from GDHR also show that between three and 10 million children will witness domestic violence in some form annually.

If Mary ever got sick, Bob would be angry at her as if it were her fault. As punishment, he refused to look after their children or to prepare dinner, cooking something for himself and ignoring their needs, forcing Mary to care for them even when ill.

One day he came home and had been fired from his job for harassing a female co-worker. When Mary was able to view the paperwork filed against him, she saw the harassment against the woman was much like what she suffered at home. Shortly after losing his job, Bob was also diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and was unable to work. The plunge into poverty seemed to intensify Bob's anger.

According to Bell, that sort of reaction is not uncommon and it is one currently being faced in Newton County due to the poor economy.

“It just exploded,” she said. “When the economy went down, cases of domestic violence shot up.”

Forced to move because of Bob's lost job and inability to work due to his disease, things continued to go downhill for the family. Mary's two eldest children from her first marriage were grown by now, but her two children with Bob — both in their early teens — were still forced to endure life under their father’s roof and he was becoming meaner by the day, according to Mary.

Once, she and the kids decided to make peach ice cream. Bob told them he wanted vanilla ice cream so they put their peach in the fridge and went to purchase the items to make vanilla ice cream. When they came back, a whole container of cinnamon had been dumped in their peach ice cream, making it inedible.

Bob had his computer set up at the end of a hallway in the home and one day Jane noticed he was looking at pornography on the computer. She told Mary who informed Bob he needed to move the computer into the living room, but that made him unhappy, so she moved out of the couple's bedroom to allow Bob private time with his computer there. He later told his family that she kept him locked in the bedroom.

Jane, an animal lover, had a favorite cat that her father hated. The cat was high-strung and would climb the curtains, sending Bob into a rage. Jane tried to keep her cat out of her father's way because he would kick the animal. One day the cat — who was pregnant at the time — made the mistake of jumping onto Bob's computer desk and he threw the animal off, causing her to miscarry the litter of kittens. One day the cat disappeared. Mary still does not know what happened to her.

But the breaking point for Mary came when Bob began focusing his anger on Jane herself. Richard tended to fly under his father's radar, but Jane caught his eye. She didn't talk back normally, but she would jump to her mother's defense more readily then her brother.

He had always been verbally abusive to the children, according to Mary.

“Anything they ever did, he could do it better or they weren't doing it right,” she said. “There was never a moment’s peace. He would just put them down horribly. The whole reason I kept staying with him was for my kids, but he just stayed on them constantly.”

One day Bob became angry at Mary because she was in bed and did not want to read a thank you card he had written. He came after her and Jane jumped in front of her mother. During the fuss Bob slammed his daughter's fingers in a heavy wooden door.

Another time, Mary, Bob and the kids were leaving a family get-together at his family's house and he decided after she had loaded the car that he wasn't ready to leave yet. Angry, once again. he slammed a car seat back with all his strength on Jane's knees.

In 2006, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported that law enforcement officers responded to 54,010 family violence incidents with 19,524 children involved in those incidents.

In Newton County, 319 temporary protection orders (TPOs) were issued in 2007 and 560 domestic violence criminal cases. In 2008 the numbers were down with only 194 TPOs and 432 criminal cases and in 2009, 256 TPOs and 444 domestic violence criminal cases.

However, according to Bell there are already 25 open domestic violence criminal cases as of Friday afternoon and that is in only 10 business days since Jan. 1.

After the second time Bob hurt Jane, Mary decided that she had to do something. It was time, no matter how hard it would be or how scared she was, to take a stand.

“I promised her then that I would never allow him to hurt her again,” said Mary. “And I never intend to.”

The next month, she kicked Bob out of the house — but he didn't go without a fight.

The final article in this series will examine how to escape the vicious cycle of domestic violence and what aiding resources are available locally.

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