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A survivor of domestic violence speaks out

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

To tell her story, "Ly," a survivor of domestic abuse, faced a crowd of more than 75 people assembled on the McDonough Square.

She spoke during a special ceremony commemorating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and recognizing Wednesday as Domestic Violence Awareness Day. The theme for the event was how domestic violence "impacts women from all walks of life," according to Julie Hoover-Ernst, Henry County Communications director.

The audience -- ringed by shoes that lined the wall around the perimeter of The Square's park area, symbolizing the victims of domestic violence -- was silent as Ly recounted her experiences, and how her marriage relationship changed over time.

"When my ex-husband and I met, he was kind and charming. He sent me flowers, and showed me how smart he was, and I was impressed," she said. "After a year, we got married. In the beginning of our marriage, he was quiet and reserved, barely making noises when he walked through the house. He respected me and my mother; he loved my children.

"Shortly after our marriage, he started to show signs of aggression ... such as punching the computer screen, punching the wall, and breaking the door," continued Ly. "Then he started to insult me, and call me names, such as fat and stupid, among other explicit words, and took any opportunity to belittle me."

Ly told those in attendance when she was seven months pregnant, her husband threatened to kill her. "His controlling methods kept me isolated from having friends, or anyone coming in to visit," she said. "He was becoming extremely jealous. As time went by, the verbal abuse turned into physical abuse. At times, he would clench his teeth, ball his fist, and dance around me, trying to provoke me, to give him the first hit."

Ly said she was injured at least once. "On one occasion, he threw me against the wall so hard, the pain was so intense that even breathing was painful," she said.

She considered reaching out for help. "The thought of calling someone crossed my mind, but I [felt] that no one would believe me. He always said to me that if anything happened, it would be my word against his, and he will win," said Ly.

Ly said she did not know what to do, if she left her husband. "I had no place to go, this was my home," she said. "I had three children, and felt like without him, I would not make it on my own."

During her ordeal, a friend gave her a telephone number for Haven House, a place she could turn to, for help. "I kept it in a safe place, not knowing three months later, they would rescue me," added Ly. "The last incident happened on June 17, and after six years of marriage, I was fed up and had enough," said Ly. "I told him I was leaving."

She got in the car with her 3-year-old daughter and was preparing to drive away, when her husband ran to the car, got in, and began beating her and swearing at her, in front of the child. She ran to a neighbor's house with the child, but no one was home, so she took the girl back to the car, and together they drove off.

After that, Ly said, she called the phone number she had previously been given, and was connected with Haven House.

On hand to hear Ly's story were: Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis; Marjorie Lacy, executive director of Haven House, a domestic violence emergency shelter; Henry County Solicitor General Chuck Spahos; Henry County Police Maj. Jason Bolton; other local law enforcement officials; officials from the Henry County Court System, and the district attorney's office, and representatives from the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center.

Spahos took the podium after Ly. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we're here today," said Spahos. Most domestic violence victims are women, he said.

"There is an occasional case of family violence against men, but the facts speak for themselves, 85 percent of the victims of domestic violence in this country are women," said Spahos. "In fact, one in every four women will personally experience family violence in their lives."

The solicitor general said the percentage is higher for women ages 20-24. "If you ask how big is the problem, locally, I will start by saying that we know that a large number of domestic violence cases go unreported every year," Spahos said. "Even so, more than 1,100 women, last year, called the 911 center here in Henry County, and asked for help because they were being battered by a spouse or an intimate partner."

At the end of the ceremony on The Square, the names of 80 women, who died from domestic violence, were read aloud, and a carnation was presented honoring their memory.