In the spirit of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am republishing stories concerning this critical subject that I have reported over the years . This initial story appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald on November 26, 2014.
GRATITUDE: 'Every day I am grateful we have peace'
By Joe Johnson
Marie considers herself to be in the best place she's been for more than a decade, though she is a mother to four young children with no job or home.
Earlier this year, with the help of Athens-based Project Safe, she made a break from an abusive relationship with her husband of 15 years and took advantage of resources provided by the agency to set her life back on track.
"Every day I am grateful we have peace, with no one yelling and cursing at us, no one putting me down and degrading me, and my children can be free from being treated like they're not important," Marie said.
Marie told her story to the Athens Banner-Herald with the condition her full name not be used. She is in a transitional apartment financed by Project Safe, a domestic violence advocacy and support agency. Prior to moving into the apartment, she and her kids stayed with other women and children in a Project Safe emergency shelter.
Prior to getting married, Marie said her husband never showed signs of abusive tendencies.
When they met at church "he seemed to be this really awesome man of God," Marie recalled. "We read the Bible and prayed together, worshipped together, and I thought we might even be missionaries together."
About a week into the marriage, though, Marie said her husband's true nature started to emerge.
"I was woken by his screaming. It was after midnight and my heart was racing thinking there was an emergency," Marie said. "He was cursing at the top of his lungs and saying all kinds of terrible things and throwing dishes, making holes in the wall. He was acting like a maniac.
"At the time I wasn't seeing his behavior as abuse. I just thought he needed help," Marie said. "I didn't take things personally until he began acting that way all the time."
Two years into the marriage, Marie became an expectant mother and her concern was no longer for just herself.
"There was nothing I could do to stop him so I decided I would leave even though I was pregnant," Marie said. "He wanted me to have an abortion and I was afraid he would hurt me just to kill the baby."
Like many abused women, Marie later returned to her husband, like she would again and again.
"We stayed gone a few months, but he kept saying he was sorry and that he had changed. He did a lot of things like buying me a car. He even made a room for the baby," she said. "So I did go back, but the same things just started happening over and over."
Project Safe's executive director, Joan Prittie, said Marie acted no differently than a typical abused woman.
"On average, a woman leaves seven to 10 times during the course of an abusive relationship, but they change their minds when they are wooed back with promises that things will change, are showered with affection or dragged back with threats," Prittie said.
After returning to her husband the first time, things went from bad to worse. While her husband refused to find work, Marie held a part-time job and was going to school. Then she found herself pregnant again. Before long, Marie had to quit her job and the family was evicted for not paying rent. At times the family stayed at motels and relied on friends for shelter and the food bank for meals.
"All I ate was cans of chili and ramen noodles and it got to where I got so sick I couldn't eat it," Marie said. "My unborn child wasn't getting the proper nutrition and I asked God, "Lord, could I just have some apples?' I complained to him that me and the baby need other food, and he said, 'What do you think women in other countries do,' and I said that they just die. I didn't even have a winter coat that fit me, just clothes that other people gave us. Someone gave me spring maternity clothes but it was winter at the time. We had no drawers to put clothes in and in the kitchen we had no dishes, three spoons, a knife and a pan."
Though the abuse she endured was mostly emotional, Marie said it sometimes turned physical, especially when she asserted herself.
She'd been punched and thrown to the ground, even while pregnant. One of her children once was struck with a TV remote control because their playing disturbed their father while he was lying on the couch.
Marie eventually sought help through a therapist who helped her realize she was trapped in the cycle of abuse.
"I cried when I saw that I had been enabling the abuse on my children, and that's when I realized it has to be over," Marie said. "I made the decision I could not stay with him one more day even though I was six weeks away from giving birth to my last child. I don't want my daughters growing up thinking it's normal to be treated the way my husband treated me, and my son thinking that's how to treat his wife."
When the woman contacted Project Safe, a victim's advocate helped formulate an escape plan; making sure Marie timed her departure when her husband wouldn't be around. The advocate went to court with her to obtain a restraining order against her husband, and stayed by Marie's side through labor and delivery.
After spending time in an emergency shelter, Marie received assistance from Project Safe's Transitional Housing Initiative, which provides victims with housing, child care, transportation, education, emergency medical cost, and ongoing case management and emotional support.
Her spirits were high during a recent interview, during which she spoke about having a good chance at landing a job that would allow her to work from home while caring for her children.
"Loneliness and exhaustion are only temporary issues in my life now," Marie said. "Had I stayed with him, they would have remained a permanent fact of life. I am grateful for the hope of a better future."
Anyone who is in an abusive relationship can seek advice and services by calling Project Safe's 24-hour hotline at (706) 543-3331, or by visiting http://www.project-safe.org.