Second in a series.
Reporter’s note: Names have been changed to protect victims’ identities.
LaGRANGE — Almost two weeks ago, Lynn, 39, packed up and was ready to leave her abusive boyfriend.
There were just three problems: her family lived hundreds of miles away and she knew no one in LaGrange, she had no car and she had nowhere to go, Lynn said.
But the thought of staying one more night with her boyfriend frightened her.
Shortly after moving to LaGrange, his jealousy turned to anger that led to violent outbursts he took out on her, Lynn said. He would slap and punch her or throw her against a wall and spit in her face, she said. Sometimes, it was all during the same incident.
Lynn told her mom, who urged her to get out of the house and get help, but Lynn said as she sat on the couch with her bags packed ready to go, she suddenly felt lost and unsure where to go.
Then the doorbell rang. Lynn said on the other side of the door stood a LaGrange police officer. Lynn’s mom, who feared for her daughter’s safety, had contacted the department.
“That was the best feeling in the world to know they were there to protect me,” Lynn exclaimed through tears. “While we were standing there, I saw him (the boyfriend) drive by. The police officer asked me, ‘Does he usually come home this early?’ I said, ‘No.’ And he never did, but he did on that day for some reason. I just thank God I was stronger to leave sooner rather than later.”
The officer escorted Lynn to Harmony House, a state certified emergency shelter located in the surrounding community that helps victims of domestic violence.
The agency shelters about 100 people per year, mainly women and children, said Harmony House executive director Michele Bedingfield.
The organization also helps about 125 people through its outreach programs. The crisis hotline also receives an average of 700 calls per year, Bedingfield said.
While it may seem like an easy decision to leave an abusive relationship, it can actually be a very dangerous move for the victim of the violence.
According to the Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report, there were 139 domestic-related deaths in 2015, the highest number of deaths ever recorded by the group in the past 10 years.
Eighty percent of these deaths were caused by firearms, the fatality review reports.
Bedingfield said the number of deaths related to domestic violence was seven in Troup County during 2015, compared to 14 the year before.
“They put themselves in more danger when they’re leaving abusive relationships,” Bedingfield said. “… But I don’t want that to discourage women from leaving, rather for them to reach out for services to find ways to leave safely.”
Marilyn called the Harmony House hotline a few times to ask counselors if she qualified as a victim of abuse. They told her she did, but it was hard for her to accept, she said. Her alleged abuser was her 21-year-old son.
“He was very clean cut … then he got on crack cocaine … then came the lies, stealing my bank card … then all of a sudden he turned violent,” Marilyn remembered. “The drugs turned him into a demon. He started pushing me around … he’d be gone from 11 p.m. until 10 a.m. and everything became my fault.”
Marilyn relocated to LaGrange and moved in with her son and daughter-in-law to help them take care of their new baby. Like Lynn, the situation went downhill quickly once she realized her son and possibly her daughter-in-law were taking drugs.
“I understand he’s not my son when he pushed me against the wall, screamed at me with flecks of spit hitting me in the face,” she said. “But I would just crumble down the wall into a puddle. … One time he knocked a cup of coffee out of my hand. I never thought I’d be standing there drenched in hot coffee because of my son.”
Marilyn did not know anyone in the community, but once she made the call to Harmony House and knew help was out there for whoever needed it, she decided to leave her son’s home and the abuse suffered by the very hands she once raised as her own.
“We can’t put a face on what an abuser looks like. It can happen to anyone. It happens quickly or it can happen slowly and over a period of time,” Bedingfield explained. “Domestic violence is all about one person having power and control over someone. It’s not all about bruises. … It happens behind closed doors. So to the community, family and friends, they (abuser) may appear to be a good person.”
Those tips are some of the first lessons Bedingfield, counselors and volunteers teach battered women when they enter the shelter.
See tomorrow’s edition for the final part of this series, which will focus on the work of Harmony House.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.