By Jean Cole
The man and woman you see at church each week with children in tow may seem to be a happy family that has it all together. Behind the veil, there may be a woman who lives on eggshells, hoping to avoid the next assault, and the children who endure it.
This is the life of one, and many, domestic abuse victims.
“To someone who hasn’t faced humiliation, having had your face on the floor, in the dirt or against a car door or a window, is unfathomable,” said one former victim from Athens, whose name is withheld. “They don’t know that your children bury themselves in the covers at night, holding their fingers in their ears to avoid the screaming. … The entire family becomes prisoners in their own home. They are taught to be loyal to their captor by keeping the secret. To the world outside, everything is normal. To the abused, it is anything but.”
During the month of October — which is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month — those who have been victims, those who love them and those employed to help them are working to raise public awareness of the problem.
In Athens, Crisis Services of North Alabama will hold its annual candlelight vigil for victims at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the east side of the Limestone County Courthouse Square. If it rains, the event will be held in Big Spring Park pavilion. The goal of the event is to remember the victims killed, celebrate those who escaped and work to raise public awareness of domestic abuse. During the event, there will be speakers, music from pastor Jeff Evans, singing by Susan Hood, and a balloon release.
There is hope
Crisis Services offers safety planning, crisis intervention, court advocacy and accompaniment, counseling, shelters and follow-ups — all at no cost, said Christa Crabtree, Limestone County Victim Services coordinator for Crisis Services of North Alabama.
“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Crabtree said. “It is a pattern of abusive tactics used over time to gain power and control over another.”
While many think of battering when they think of domestic abuse, it is more than that. “Batterers regularly use other abusive behaviors that have been reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence,” Crabtree said.
Although victims of domestic violence are most often women, men are victims, too, and they are too often embarrassed to report it even though it is a crime.
“When a victim calls, we offer a non-judgmental ear and options for safety,” Crabtree said. “We let them know the abuse is not their fault and no one deserves to be abused.”
One of the most important things Crisis Services does, and what a victim or loved one can do, is to come up with a safety plan, Crabtree said.
Victims are not free to leave the relationship any time they want, she said. Most victims report being injured while trying to leave.
“The reason for planning to leave, even though it sounds sneaky, is because it is safer,” Crabtree said.
The former Athens victim of domestic abuse knows Crisis Services can work.
“Until we come to know that we can make a change and the importance of that change outweighs the fear that keeps us in the abuse, our lives are stifled,” she said. “Having resources to help can turn it all around.”
If you are a domestic abuse victim considering escape, you can call the Athens office at 256-232-0280 or the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week help line at 256-716-1000.