For this weekend, The Times is bringing you a series of stories about crime victims, their journeys for justice and the services available to them. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is commemorated between Sunday and Saturday.
Celebrating the more than $1 million in transitional housing fundraising for domestic violence survivors, Abigail Cutchshaw pondered her “full-circle moment.”
She was proud to share the victory with her mother, far away from her “seven-year nightmare from hell” in an abusive relationship.
“I don’t know how I made it out alive sometimes, but we did,” Cutchshaw said.
Cutchshaw was 17 and about to go away to Young Harris College, when she met a man four years older. The man’s jealousy and controlling nature were red flags early on.
“I was really young, so I thought that’s kind of what love was supposed to feel like, to have someone care about you so much they always wanted to know where you were and who you were with,” she said.
She dropped out of college and was married at 19, with two little girls entering the world with her.
“I just ended up in a really horrible situation where I was trapped and I couldn’t leave,” Cutchshaw said. “He made threats that if I left him, he would kill me.”
She recalled broken noses, black eyes, bruises and a sawed-off shotgun put against her head, fearing there was no place to go.
After moving to New Mexico and teaching pre-school, Cutchshaw recalled a time her ex-husband tried to strangle her, leaving a rope-like bruise on her neck.
“The director (at the school) noticed it, even though I was wearing clothing to cover it,” Cutchshaw said. “He had been stalking me at the school, and she was the one who realized I was in trouble. She fired me … for the safety of the children.”
Her next employer at an auto repair shop helped her get an attorney because she didn’t have control of her finances, another form of abuse experienced over the seven years.
“It took a year and a half for me to be able to leave New Mexico and come back to Georgia,” Cutchshaw said.
After the separation and her abuser losing his parental rights, Cutchshaw remarried, and her husband adopted her two little girls. The two have been married for 17 years with five children.
Five years ago, Cutchshaw went back to college to get her undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion from Piedmont College. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in special education and a certification in American Sign Language.
“One of the reasons I went back to college is because that was kind of the final way I took my life back,” she said.
Cutchshaw wrote a book “Finding Hope — The Journey of a Battered Wife” and has been an outspoken advocate for Gateway Domestic Violence Center in Gainesville.
“Through all that, she’s just been very brave and willing to do whatever she can to help people understand that domestic violence affects people from all walks of life,” the center’s executive director Jessica Butler said.
About one in three Americans between the ages of 14 and 20 have been victims of dating violence, according to research from the American Psychological Association.
“I think it’s important for people to hear a victim’s story, and to see that I look just like their sister, just like their mother, just like their friend,” she said.