The following is the last in a three-part series looking at domestic violence in Newton County. Names have been changed to protect the victims and their families.
The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim decides to leave, according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources. But one day in January, *Mary Smith had decided it was time for her abusive husband *Bob to go.
"I remember I was walking from the kitchen into the laundry room, and it just hit me," said Mary. "I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to walk on eggshells — we all did; the kids just stayed in their rooms all the time — it was just enough. We had all had enough."
Though she has a hard time pinpointing what exactly helped her make that decision, she said that January day she made up her mind. The beginning of the end started with the death of Bob’s father, a man that Mary said was good to her and the children.
Although Bob was not supposed to be driving because of his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, he took the family’s only car and left. not only preventing Mary from attending the funeral, but also leaving her and the children with no transportation.
"When I asked him why he did that, he told me it was because he couldn’t stand to be around me. I felt like after all I did for him, he was always going to be hateful."
During that time Bob also became increasingly paranoid, which according to the GDHR can be a precursor to more intense violence. If a person feels like someone is plotting to leave them, they can become increasingly violent.
According to Newton County Assistant District Attorney Melanie Bell, who handles crimes against women and children, there have been several murder cases in Newton County where domestic violence is involved in some way, including the murders of Pamela Spencer, Leslyan Williams, Catcilia Crowder and Shelly Francis.
Statistically, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States every day, and homicide is the leading cause of death in pregnant women.
Mary found a camera hidden in Bob’s room once when she went in there to take a phone call, and when Bob came back from his father’s funeral, she told him it was time him to leave.
"He didn’t fight me at first," she said. "I was really surprised, but he just left. It was after he left, that he fought me. He fought me in the divorce; he turned his family against not only me but the kids as well, but he left."
But Bob’s abusive can still be felt in the home Mary now shares with her children, especially in her youngest child, daughter *Jane.
"We were playing a game on the bed together, and she got a rubber band and strapped her husband piece underneath the car she was playing with," said Mary. "I worry for her that she’ll choose someone like her father. I chose him, and he’s just like my mother who abused me my whole life."
Amanda Walden, a licensed professional counselor with Project ReNeWal – a domestic violence shelter serving the Alcovy Circuit (Newton, Walton and Rockdale counties) – said victims of domestic violence, as well as those who have grown up in it, run a serious risk of continuing the cycle of abuse in their life.
"It’s very important to get counseling," she said. "Therapy can be a tool to help the children heal and even understand the experience. It can help them learn how to cope so they won’t repeat the cycle and can become healthy individuals."
According to the GDHR, one in five teenagers in a serious relationship have reported being hit, slapped or pushed by their partners, and in 2003, nearly 20 percent of twelfth graders report being hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriends or girlfriends during the past 12 months.
"Many times victims of abuse tend to believe the things they have been told about themselves so they continue to walk the path of insecurity and low self-esteem. I think that there is a vulnerability there in people who have experienced abuse that often attracts abusive mates," said Walden.
"Women who have been victims of abuse tend to become desensitized to the abuse and are less aware of the warning signs. Their low sense of self-worth will cause so many of them not to feel like they are worthy of a healthy relationship."
Jane began counseling in January when Mary finally kicked Bob out of the house. Mary feels like it is helping but is still concerned for the welfare of her daughter.
"I worry every day about how this will effect my children," said Mary. "They tell me all the time I should have left him sooner, but even so I fight the feeling that all of this is somehow my fault.
"Counseling helps," she continued. "Sometimes it helps to have somewhere to go and cry because I don’t like for them to see me cry. I feel sorry for them because they are such good kids and they deserve so much better. I also worry because I’m 54-years-old and I’m single again. It doesn’t bother me to be single, but I wonder where I go with my life from here," said Mary.
"I feel like I chose my first husband with my mind and my second husband with my heart, and now 17 ½ and 16 years later they were both failures. All except for my children – I’ve got four great children out of them and how I did that I will never know."
For Mary, the break from her abusive husband was relatively smooth compared to many. Mary, like so many other victims of abuse before her, turned to Project ReNeWal for help with counseling for her and her children.
The shelter has been in existence since 1995, and since that time has helped 18,585 individuals and provided more than 152,829 individual services to families in crisis, according to Director Vicki Stephenson. The shelter has also provided a safe place for more than 2,552 individuals.
"Project ReNeWal provides a safe haven for family members to escape abuse to mend and renew," said Stephenson. "Here you’ll find all the amenities to make a ‘home away from home’ for you and your loved ones – all in a secure and protected environment."
The shelter has many programs available to assist victims of abuse. It is a 30-day program, but that can be extended and is looked at on a case-by-case basis. And staff members work closely with law enforcement to make sure they provide an environment for victims where their safety is not compromised.
There is help available at all times by calling their hotline at (770) 860-1666 and for those who would like to know more about the services available, their Web site is www.projectrenewalgeorgia.com. By calling (800) 334-2836 callers can be automatically connected with the nearest family violence agency and outside of Georgia the crisis line is (800) 799-SAFE.
As for Mary and her children, they live day to day. The abuse is still there in the back of their minds. The children are no longer in contact with their father’s family, and although Bob has requested visitation, they have no desire to visit their father and have not for nearly a year.
"Right now we are bare bones," confessed Mary. "We were in poverty with him there, and now without him it’s incredibly hard. But that’s the choices you have to make. That’s why I agreed to talk about the abuse. Because it was hard but it was a choice I had to make.
"I would tell anyone who is in this situation to not be afraid to leave. There are support groups to help them. It’s hard sometimes. I miss what we had in the beginning but I don’t miss him. If my story can help even one person not go through what I went through and what my children went through, then it is completely worth it."