In 1982, one of my clients was killed by her husband immediately after a temporary divorce hearing required him to stay away from her and granted her custody of their children. This was before the Family Violence Act gave victims the right to file a protective order against their abusers and only days before Gateway House opened its doors to provide safe shelter.
Jessica Butler, executive director of Gateway Domestic Violence Center, stated in a recent article that the most dangerous time for a victim is when she finally leaves. This was so true for my client. Her husband was enraged that she had the audacity to stand up to him and make the break.
Because there was no safe, confidential shelter to protect her, my client moved in with her sister. The shooting, which happened as her husband followed their car from the courthouse, also killed her sister and left her nephew permanently altered by a gunshot wound to his face. My client’s children, both under age 10, were in the car and witnessed the carnage at close range.
I have thought of this client often over the years while representing domestic violence victims in court. My heart aches when they decide to reconcile with the abuser, but I understand why. Robbed of their self-esteem, often with no independent income of their own, it is overwhelming to imagine how to start a new life and support their children.
Gateway Domestic Violence Center offers crucial safe shelter. Temporary Protective Orders offer legal protection, financial support, housing and sometimes transportation to help victims get on their feet, but that is not enough. They need the counseling from Gateway House and other shelters to believe in themselves again.
We are very lucky to have these resources in our community, but as we saw in the article, even more beds are needed. More transitional housing is needed, also, to get a victim on her feet. And, like Bob Waterston said, it takes all of us believing her, encouraging her to leave and holding the abuser accountable.
Domestic violence cuts across all socio-
economic lines and is often carefully concealed. If you see these signs, you might be witnessing domestic violence:
The abuser isolates the victim by cutting off her contact with family and friends and limiting her transportation and phone access.
The abuser does not allow her to go anywhere for very long, trips to the corner store are closely timed and she must be on the phone with him while she drives.
The abuser checks her phone constantly to monitor any contacts with the outside world.
You may notice unexplained bruises, but he often does it in places which are covered by clothes or on her head, where her hair covers them.
Let’s all be vigilant with our family and neighbors and offer help and resources when we see the signs. Gateway Domestic Violence Center can be reached at 770-536-5860. A statewide hotline for domestic violence is found at 1-800-33-HAVEN (800-336-2826). Georgia Legal Services Program provides legal representation for domestic violence survivors at 770-535-5717.
Managing Attorney, Gainesville Regional Office, Georgia Legal Services Program