Abuse survivors tell their stories to save lives

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Now, after more than a year of hearing postponements, Lauren’s ex-boyfriend is facing time in jail, she is engaged and pregnant with her second child. “I’m finally getting the life I wanted.”

While it was 35 years ago, Rhonda Baker’s ordeal is still very much with her. Like Lauren, Baker spent 10 years in a tragic relationship. She dealt with the physical abuse, the verbal abuse and even the emotional abuse. But it was one day after an altercation she got out. “I got tired of being beat up, I had a young child. I had to stab my way out, I just couldn’t walk away.” Now Baker, who said she is “grateful to be alive and that she didn’t kill her ex,” is in college, studying social work and specializing in domestic violence. As a testament to her strength, when asked her preference on the use of her name for this article, Baker said, “Go ahead and use it. Today my name isn’t b***h, I have a full name.”  

Lauren and Baker’s testimonials of survival are just a few of the stories being shared during October’s national Domestic Violence Awareness month in hopes that yet another life can be saved.

“As a survivor, I’m grateful everyday. I feel happy. I’m getting what I want for myself,” Lauren said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and if you have your life today, take it and run. Just stop it (the violence). You can’t change anybody, you can just change your situation.”

Rhonda Fleming, education director, Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, said Domestic Violence Awareness Month “gives visibility to an issue that’s usually invisible.”

According to the University of Minnesota Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community website, in 2005, Black women comprised 8 percent of the US population, but accounted for 22 percent of the intimate partner homicide victims. Also, IPV among African-Americans is more related to economic factors. IPV among Blacks occurs more frequently among couples with low incomes, those in which the male partner is underemployed or unemployed, than with other ethnicities. Other risk factors include alcohol and the need for power and control. “As with other abusive men, African-American men who batter are higher in jealousy and the need for control in the relationship.”

Fleming said although 85 percent of reported IPV incidences are by females, it can exist among men and same-sex couples. She said the signs to pay attention to when there is a suspicion of abuse are: drastic changes in the victim’s personality—someone who is upbeat and active, may now be staying home a lot; a change in the way they dress; the person may become more isolated, which is the number one sign; the person may make a lot of excuses for their significant other—“you don’t know him like that” or “he is just going through a lot”; or even the physical signs of bruises, scars or wearing long sleeves during warm weathered days.

She added that abuse can be more than just physical violence or control; it can be mental, emotional or financial control. Those are important clues to pay attention to also.

“If you suspect someone is being abused, let them know of your concern, be prepared to listen more than talk, be nonjudgmental and be prepared with information about where they can go,” said Fleming.

Along with its residential programs for women and children, WCSGP also offers a 24-hour hotline that individuals can call for assistance; a non-residential support group; a Children’s program, where women who are using their services can get assistance with child care, school enrollment or child counseling; a Men Embracing Nonviolence & Safety program for men who are voluntarily or involuntarily seeking help for their behavior; legal and medical advocate; and an education department that specializes in teen dating violence.

Fleming said 1 out of 3 teens have reported an incident of domestic abuse. In a national study in 2003 of high school students, the IDVAAC said, approximately 14 percent of African-American youths vs. 7 percent of White youths reported that a boyfriend or girlfriend had hit, slapped or physically hurt them.

“The Women’s Center is a lifesaver, I didn’t go there when it was happening to me. But today I can speak. They help you to get to know you again,” said Baker. “When you’re controlled by someone you lose yourself and they help you get it back.”

And just like domestic violence affects adults, it can have an even greater affect on children. Many studies suggest that most children, who grow up in a home where domestic abuse is frequent, grow up to be in domestic abuse situations as adults. Both Lauren and Baker agree and stated they grew up in homes where domestic abuse was prevalent.

“Children are perceptive. I grew up in a violent household. My parents hid it well, my sister saw most of it,” said Lauren. “The one thing that stood out was when my nephew was playing with (my daughter), he pushed her and she would lie down and play dead. She had saw me doing that; where I would lie down and wait for him to leave me alone. And looking at the situation I grew up in, wanted her to be better. I saw it as a cycle that needed to be broken.”

Baker said she saw both her mom and sister in abusive relationships. “It stops with me. Someone has to break the curse and the recovery has to start somewhere,” she said.

October 24 is WCSGP’s “Wear Purple Day” in honor of survivors of domestic violence.

(For more information on the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh or to get help, call their 24-hour hotline at 412-687-8005 or visit www.wcspittsburgh.org.)

 

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