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Getting out: Agency aims to protect victims of domestic abuse
3 deaths resulted from violence in Hall County last year, report shows
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Gateway Domestic Violence Center

Confidential, 24-hour hotline: 770-536-5860

She had to get out.

A victim of domestic violence, who agreed to speak with The Times on the condition of anonymity, said she had to escape her abusive relationship with her husband to save her life.

“If I didn’t get out of there somehow, someway, somebody was going to be burying me,” the woman said.

She stepped out on faith after 13 years in an abusive relationship and told her supervisor about the emotional and physical pain. She didn’t want to go home, though she needed to take care of her children.

“The lady from the counseling was telling me this wasn’t normal to be in the relationship that I was in,” the woman said.

The counselor connected her to Gateway Domestic Violence Center in Gainesville, where she has stayed for the last 15 months.

“When somebody is making steps toward leaving a relationship that’s abusive, it’s the most dangerous time,” said Gateway’s Executive Director Jessica Butler. “Whether it’s moving out or getting a (temporary protective order) or filing for divorce or taking any steps toward independence, it can be the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence.”

For that reason, the center offers a 24-hour confidential crisis hotline at 770-536-5860.

Butler said planning help can be provided over the phone for those making the steps to get out of the abusive relationship.

In 2014, three people died in Hall County as a result of domestic violence, a statistic found in the center of the Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project report.

“The whole report is heartbreaking, but I hate seeing any fatalities in our community or anywhere around the state,” Butler said. “I wish this was a report that we no longer needed because we were no longer having domestic violence homicides. Three is too many.”

Gateway recently partnered with Athens-based Project SAFE to bring attention to teen dating violence.

“In half the cases reviewed by the Project, the victim began her relationship with the person who eventually killed her when she was between the ages of 13-24,” according to the report. “Teen dating violence does not discriminate based on gender, sexual orientation, race or culture. Like domestic violence, teen dating violence is widespread and is based on one partner gaining and maintaining power and control over the other person.”

Now when representatives of Gateway discuss dating violence at middle schools, they offer a text-line number of 706-765-8019 that teenagers can reach for help.

“We leave them with this number that they can text if they’re worried about something or think they might be experiencing dating violence, because we know teens aren’t as prone to picking up the phone as they are to send a text,” Butler said.

The woman said her children never suffered from physical abuse, but the neglect affected them all the same.

“Mentally, he messed with them, because as a father, you’re supposed to stand out more,” she said. “You’re supposed to be a provider, that loving kind dad that you can go to and care about, and my kids didn’t have that.”

The transition out of the home into Gateway’s shelter was difficult when trying to pick up and start anew.

“It emotionally tore (my son) all to pieces,” she said. “Not that he had that relationship with his father, but that he had to move to a school and a new beginning with people.”

Butler said the center focuses on providing help to children that have witnessed abuse in the home.

“We want to do everything we can to break the cycle of violence that tends to repeat itself in families,” Butler said.

After more than a year with Gateway, the woman discovered a network of people reaching out and showing that they care.

“That was the biggest thing I had to work on in the shelter was to love myself,” she said. “And learning to realize ... that people around me do love me and do care for me.”

In the depths of denial, she didn’t want to admit it to anyone. The emotional scars made her want to stay inside.

“I didn’t want to go to work,” she said. “I wanted to stay to myself. I found myself crying all the time and hurting, in pain.”

It’s the shame, she said, that kept her and other victims of domestic violence away from the help she needed.

“A lot of people knew I was going through it but I denied it and I kept it in denial,” she said. “That one day I stepped out on faith and I went to my supervisor. That was my first step because I didn’t know where else to go.”

The divorce was finalized in October, she said, adding that she believes the situation has progressed with the two separated.

“I feel better that he is trying to do right by the kids,” she said.

The woman is working toward becoming a registered nurse by taking classes at Gwinnett Technical College and is in the process of buying a home.

To other women who may be experiencing domestic violence, she reminds that no one is alone.

“Women just need to know that it’s OK to step out and let someone know that you need help and that you can’t get out of an abusive relationship alone,” she said.