Since 1987, the United States has set aside October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Statistics show approximately one in every four women in the United States is, has, or will be a victim of domestic violence sometime in her life. If you’re a woman, and it’s not you, it’s your neighbor on your left or right or across the street.
Allow those sobering statistics to sink in.
“Domestic violence is just insidious. I dealt with domestic violence cases regularly as a prosecutor and as a trial judge. Domestic violence dramatically impacts those in the relationship, especially the children. Beyond my understanding is why people stay in violent situations that continue. It’s a sad topic which we are still figuring out how to deal with as a country and society,” says former Judge Lynn Brown.
Don’t think that domestic violence is primarily a plight of those less-educated, those with lower socio-economic status. Judge Brown recounted an experience he had while working in a distant county. While working with a law school classmate, he learned to his shock that she was a domestic violence victim. While in court and at work, she wore copious amounts of makeup in an effort to conceal facial bruising. She eventually divorced her husband, a pillar of the community, and has joined the survivor sisterhood.
According to Leighta Laitinen, chief deputy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, in 2020, the department answered 1,010 calls related to domestic violence, involving 361 victims. This doesn’t include the untold, unknown victims, which unfortunately number many.
My journey to becoming a domestic violence survivor began like it does for many women. My ex-husband courted me royally. Rare was the month I did not receive a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, usually red roses.
As a friend said when she was admiring my engagement ring, “Wow! You can see that from one side of the Mini Dome to the other!” Truly everything was perfect until just a couple of hours after saying, “I do.” Before the reception punch ice melted, things changed in just about every way imaginable, and not for the better.
Approximately 14 months into my marriage, things got so bad emotionally, mentally and physically I had to seek a divorce or risk being murdered. My ex-husband always promised he would change. Flowers would arrive. FedEx would deliver pretty blue boxes from Tiffany’s. He would arrive laden with packages of pretty clothes.
There weren’t enough flowers in the biggest greenhouse or jewelry in the largest vault or clothes in Masengill’s window to change my mind about divorce proceedings, but my ex-husband filled many minutes with empty words and meaningless promises that he would change his behavior. When the divorce papers were signed. I had been married for 17 grueling, merciless, frightening months.
I was able to get out of my marriage more easily than most women because I had the support of my family, co-workers, and friends.
Knowing God hates divorce, I dreaded calling my Sunday School teacher, the Dean of Emmanuel School of Religion, and telling her about my situation. Dean Eleanor Daniel wisely advised, “You’re right. God does hate divorce. But I can tell you God would rather for you to be divorced and alive than married and dead.” I’ve taken much comfort from those words in the intervening years, and shared those words of wisdom with other women finding themselves in a situation similar to mine.
Approximately 15 years after my divorce, I learned my ex-husband had died. I felt relief upon learning this, because I no longer had to literally watch who might be following me into the grocery, as I went to work, or was out and about in the community. My relief was tremendous. Instantaneously, a ton of stress was lifted from me.
Several years ago, a focus of the Junior Leagues was domestic violence. Junior Leagues worked with restaurant and hair salon owners to have flyers placed on the back of ladies’ restroom doors in those establishments alerting patrons to the signs of domestic violence. Information about local organizations from which victims could get immediate assistance and protection from their perpetrators was also included. Something that simple and easy can help victims and make a meaningful difference to them.
What have I learned from my experience as a domestic violence survivor? The prudent writer of Proverbs enjoins us in Chapter 31, verses 8 and 9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” I try, albeit unsuccessfully, to incorporate these actions into my daily life.
If you’re a victim, become a survivor. Don’t judge yourself by past events, because your life is in the present and future, not the past.
Mollie McKay, writing under her pen name, is a resident of Northeast Tennessee and a domestic violence survivor.