Domestic violence victims remembered

By Ed Brock

The names on the string of paper doll cutouts were those of the men, women and children who are the recent victims of domestic violence in Georgia.

Among the people gathered Wednesday at the historic Clayton County Courthouse in Jonesboro to light candles and sing songs in memory of those victims were the survivors of domestic violence.

"If you are still here you have survived it for however long," said Pat Altemus, executive director of the Securus House shelter for the victims of spousal abuse in Clayton County.

Wednesday's ceremony was the kickoff for Domestic Violence Awareness Month during which Altemus and her staff members will be holding exhibits at the county's libraries, giving presentations at schools and more.

"I think more people are concerned about domestic violence," said Selena Lopez, a legal advocate for the shelter. "We'll do whatever we can to promote awareness."

According to the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 132 women, men and children were killed in Georgia in 2003 as a result of domestic violence, said Tanika Nicholas, the shelter's domestic violence assessor. In 2004 so far the state has seen 60 deaths, Nicholas said, not counting two that occurred in Gwinnett County this month.

Though men are also victims of spousal abuse, 95 percent of the victims nation wide are women, Nicholas said citing United States Department of Justice figures. Every nine seconds a woman is beaten somewhere in America, and four women are murdered by a husband or boyfriend.

Domestic violence causes employers to lose $3 to $5 billion a year and it is the number one reason for emergency room visits by women. Every five years domestic violence kills the same number of people who died in the Vietnam War, Nicholas said.

"Domestic violence is a problem of epidemic proportion in our country," Altemus said at Wednesday's ceremony.

The problem is on the rise in Clayton County, Lopez said, or at least more people are coming forward with their situations.

"They know we can help so they don't get as scared," Lopez said.

From January to September this year the shelter helped to acquire temporary protection orders in over 800 cases, Lopez said.

"We're going to end the year with over 1,000," Lopez said.

Estevette Harris of Conley was almost a victim of domestic violence, but instead she stood before the crowd of around 50 people on Wednesday and proclaimed herself to be a survivor.

"For three years I allowed it to happen and wasn't strong enough to stop it," Harris said of her own situation.

On April 29 her life almost ended when she told her husband that it was going to end and "he didn't understand that."

After almost strangling her, Harris' husband fled and was later caught in Alabama. He's been sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence with four years to serve, and Harris and her children are recovering with the help of Securus House.

Harris had a message for her fellow survivors of domestic violence.

"You say you can't get out," Harris said. "You can, you just have to make that decision."

As part of the month's activity Securus House is asking for a moment of silence at noon on Oct. 27 in memory of the victims of domestic violence.

The month will conclude with a luncheon Oct. 30 at Southern Regional Medical Center. The luncheon will be a fundraiser and an educational forum, Altemus said.

Securus House is a part of the Association on Battered Women of Clayton County.