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Abuse happens but there is help

— A woman told authorities she turned down her husband’s sexual advance and he responded by punching her in the eye, grabbing her hair and throwing her down and then hitting her several times. The husband went to jail and the wife became an unfortunate statistic.

— Another woman told police when her live-in boyfriend drinks, he becomes violent. Earlier this month when he couldn’t get his hands on crack cocaine, he got his hands on a knife, which he used to threaten her and others.

— A man recently told deputies his girlfriend became violent and threw a telephone and broke dishes after he told her she could not drive a car without insurance and proper tags. She took the car anyway and was arrested.

If these incidents sound like television crime stories, consider that every one of them is true and took place in Lawrence County during the month of September.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a month denoted by a purple ribbon — purple for bruises — and a call for renewed awareness that violence among family members is real and all too common.

“People in Lawrence County don’t realize how much of it happens here,” Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force Director Elaine Payne said.

The task force will host an event at 7 p.m. Thursday at Ohio University. While the event will only last an hour or two and the domestic violence awareness month only 31 days, Payne and her staff hope October serves as a wakeup call that not only can it happen here, it does happen here. But for the victim, there is hope and help, starting with the task force and its hand on community resources.

“I think the important thing they need to know is, you don’t have to live that way,” Payne said. “There is help.”

Payne said some people think domestic abuse only happens in poor families where couples have little education. Statistics show that’s not true, she said.

“It can be anybody. It can be your pastor’s wife, your neighbor,” she said.

A way of life

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, abuse can take many forms. While most people think of hitting or beating, domestic violence includes control of finances, isolation from family and friends, shame and humiliation, threats, brainwashing and even sexual abuse.

Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force Court Advocate Kevin Samples said, even if the abuse is not physical, it is still abuse and its effects are very real. Samples said emotional abuse is just as damaging and harder to prove, “because you can’t take a picture of it.” Samples said he thinks society is a long way from understanding the toll emotional abuse takes on a victim.

“Abuse is not about love,” Lawrence County Domestic Violence Office Manager Rachel Murphy said. “When you mistreat someone, that’s not love.”

Payne said what often becomes a violent relationship often begins with what may seem like innocent obsession.

The abuser opens the door to the future violence by taking control early on, insisting on who the victim can or can’t associate with or what the victim can or can’t do.

The control is extended to finances and eventually every single aspect of the victim’s life. The victim is slowly caged.

Before the victim realizes what has happened, she or he is isolated from family and friends, without financial resources and at the mercy of her or his abuser.

“If you have ever lived with someone telling you where you can go, when to get up, having no money of your own, or if you know someone who is in a situation like this, know that there is help,” Payne said.

Payne said often children grow up thinking abuse is normal because of what they have seen their parents do. The child grows up thinking this is the way relationships are supposed to be and the cycle of violence continues.

Payne said while most people think of women as the abused but men can be victimized too.

It often starts early

Payne said she is particularly distressed at domestic violence among teens, which, she said, is more common than some people think. Payne said often the abuser starts his or her domination by telling the victim that no one will love them they way they do.

For a young person seeking social acceptance, love is a heady word. But then comes the control, Payne said, with the abuser telling the victim where he or she can go, who he or she can be friends with. Along with this comes the stalking and the excessive phone calls during which the victim must account for his or her every move.

“Parents need to watch for the signs and know what’s going on with their kids,” Payne said. “They need to be more concerned because it’s out there.”

What Kevin does

Samples’ job is to help the victim navigate the legal system. He is quick to point out he is not an attorney and cannot dispense legal advice. What he can do is help the victim fill out necessary paperwork for civil protection orders, help set up appointments to see court officials and apply for legal assistance. Samples said he is there to help people who have often had no contact with the legal system.

“It can be a very daunting process,” Samples said.

Other members of the task force are ready with other support.

Payne said the task force staff will help victims get referrals for social services to help get them on their feet and self-sufficient.

For emergencies there is the domestic violence shelter. Payne said after years of association with the task force, she is still surprised to find there are people who do not know Lawrence County even has one.

Hope

While the process of escaping an abusive relationship is not easy, Lawrence County Domestic Violence Shelter Advocate Angela Bacon tells of one success story that involved a local woman who married at 17 and fell under the control of an abusive husband.

The abuser would not even allow the woman to drive a car and when he wasn’t around to “keep the woman in line,” he had his substitutes.

“Her 11-year-old son had more control over things than she did,” Bacon said. “He had the keys to the cars, the sheds. The son controlled things while her husband was gone.”

But the victim eventually fled her fettered cage, spent time at the domestic violence shelter and went through the process of becoming a woman who could stand on her own feet. She obtained her general equivalency diploma (GED) and won custody of her children. She even got a car.

“She got it for one dollar from a place over in Ashland (Ky.),” Bacon said. “She went back to school and now she teaches.”

This victim-turned-victor even went to Columbus and helped get a sister out of a similar situation.

What you can do

According to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, those victims who eventually leave abusive relationships often say having emotional support from family and friends is a key factor in their ability to leave.

According to information from the state network, those family members and friends who suspect abuse in a loved one’s relationship should pay close attention to warning signs their suspicions are correct and be willing to listen when the victim wants to talk.

If the victim chooses to leave the relationship, be willing to offer assistance.

The goal

Payne said she hopes for a good turnout Thursday. But she also hopes people come to realize domestic violence is very real and in their community.

“October may be Domestic Violence Month but, for us, it’s a 12-month thing, 24/7.”