Final in a series.
Reporter’s note: Names have been changed to protect victims’ identities.
LaGRANGE — When victims Lynn, abused by her live-in boyfriend, and Marilyn, abused by her 21-year-old, drug-using son, had no one to turn to locally, they found refuge with Harmony House.
The state-certified emergency shelter helps victims of domestic violence and harbors about 100 people per year, mainly women and children, said Harmony House executive director Michele Bedingfield.
The organization helps about 125 people through its outreach programs, and its crisis hotline receives an average of 700 calls per year, Bedingfield said.
Harmony House also educates women on the types of behaviors that accompany domestic abuse, like jealousy. Counselors also show people the cycle of violence that explains how the abuser will often tell the victim they will change and convince them to stay or come back to the relationship.
The education is not just for women staying in the shelter, said Bedingfield. The group also has several outreach programs, including one for teens, both boys and girls, plus they hold events throughout the year, like the annual candlelight vigil in observance of domestic violence awareness month in October.
While the fatality rate associated with domestic violence dropped in Troup County from 14 in 2014 to seven in 2015, Bedingfield stated more must be done within the community to help people in abusive situations.
“In order to empower victims to leave, I believe family, employers, churches and such should create an atmosphere where domestic violence is a subject that can be discussed,” she said. “It is something that can be and should be talked about. Those leaving an abusive relationship should be able to discuss it without being judged or having it minimized. … When (a victim) talks about the domestic violence or makes a phone call, she is brave, courageous and strong and should be treated with respect, not questioned and made to second guess herself.
“I believe that in order to make a difference in the future, we, as a county and state, have to start holding perpetrators accountable at all levels so that the victim knows the community as a whole will not tolerate the emotional, physical and sexual violence any longer,” Bedingfield continued.
She also believes people should learn how to respond and where to refer victims when they share their experiences of abuse with friends or colleagues.
The short time spent at Harmony House has already made a difference for Lynn and Marilyn, according to both women.
The shelter not only educates the women who walk through their doors or call their crisis line, but will help them find a safe way back home to family or friends.
For Lynn, that meant a ride to the airport so she could return to her mom’s house. Marilyn will be heading to her hometown.
“It’s a $33 bus ticket,” she said. “What a price that is … to be free of abuse because those drugs my son was taking could have killed me.”
Both women said there is no domestic violence shelter in the town where they will be living. It is something they both hope to change with the knowledge they have learned through their own experiences — and at Harmony House.
“It was an awesome feeling to know I was safe,” said Lynn. “When I get home, I’m not going to stop. … We need to teach our kids. Domestic violence needs to be taught in schools. … If we can tell kids not to do drugs, we can tell children it’s not OK to be hit either … whether it is their mom and dad or their boyfriend, and it is okay to tell someone about it.”
Victims of domestic violence can call the the Harmony House 24 hour crisis line at 706-885-1525. Callers can remain anonymous and all calls are kept confidential.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.