I wrote this article a few years back for our local paper.
“Six months into the marriage he shattered the top of a glass end table with his fist during one of his fits of rage. Something was very wrong,” said Camille,* now a Dallas-area resident.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas County family violence offenses have risen from 24,905 in 1999 to 26,565 in 2001. Women’s deaths from domestic violence in Texas have risen from 99 in 1999 to 113 in 2001.
What is domestic violence? According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence includes “a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes they are entitled to control another. Assault, battering and domestic violence are crimes.”
How can one recognize it—and more importantly, how can one escape its sometimes deadly trap? Thankfully, Camille’s story ends happily, but it is not without its tortuous twists and turns. Woven throughout her story are classic signs of domestic violence, signs that indicate serious problems.
Initially, Camille noticed her husband’s irrational jealousy and extreme possessiveness. “If I had taken the car in to get a repair done or a tire fixed, he would always quiz me about whether men flirted with me.”
Later, he prodded her to disassociate from her family by telling lies about them and illuminating their weaknesses. “He resented any time that I spent with my family and would often exaggerate their shortcomings in hopes of educating me on their faults. After my marriage ended, my parents confessed to me that they always felt like something just wasn’t right because of the drastic changes they saw happening within me.”
After the table-shattering incident, Camille’s husband turned his aggression from inanimate objects to her. But like many abusers, he was stealthy in his physical violence.
“He was a smart abuser. He never hit me in the face or left a mark on me that anyone else would be able to observe. One time he did tread a fine line when he wrenched my neck a bit too long and I had difficulty swallowing for a day. (Yet), nobody ever questioned me or expressed concern about his behavior. He was a master of disguise.”
People who come from healthy relationships often puzzle over why a victim does not share what goes on in the tortured privacy of her home. Some fear for their lives. Some women have no outside support, and to leave would leave them vulnerable or financially strapped. Some can’t un-mix the good times from the seemingly infrequent bouts of harassment and violence. Others blame themselves, feeling that they have warranted the abuse by being “bad.” Still others naively think abuse is normal, expected. For Camille, her reticence stemmed from pride.
“I was no different than any other girl who plays Cinderella. But as a wife, when I awoke every morning and faced myself in the mirror, I knew I had failed at the biggest decision of my life. To go to somebody and admit this was something my pride would not enable me to do,” said Camille.
Also typical in domestic violence is its dramatic escalation, rapidly going from subtle control to verbal humiliation to incessant blaming to physical violence and even threats of imminent, deadly danger. According NCADV, “Battering escalates. It often begins with behaviors like threats, name calling, violence in her presence (such as putting a fist through a wall), and/or damage to objects or pets.”
At the end of Camille’s marriage, things escalated to scary proportions.
“During the last year of our marriage, occasionally he would introduce a gun into our fights. At first, he didn’t say he was going to shoot or kill me. He said he was going to force me to kill him. He would wrap my hand around the trigger underneath his vice-like grip and then he would stand in front of the gun.”
“He said that only my fingerprints would be on the gun and they would put me away for life. Of course, he loved to hear me beg and plead, and he would always relent.”
“Then during our last fight, his tone changed and his rage lessened. This time, in a calculating way, he said he was going to kill me and then he was going to drive over and kill my parents.”
“I tried to sneak in a call to the police, but he came into the room and began yanking all the phones out of the walls. Somehow I managed to flee into a nearby wheat field and hide.”
“He got into his pickup and drove around like a madman shining his headlights in every direction. I somehow managed to get the keys to our (car) and flee to safety.”
“I drove twenty-five miles that night to a friend’s house. She knew nothing of our problems, but she was a co-worker who had become a close friend and I knew that my husband would never look there. (That couple) made life-disrupting changes to protect me. They were also diligent about speaking truth.”
Camille is now happily married to a man who cherishes her, but had it not been for a safe place, today she could be a domestic violence statistic.
Twenty years ago, New Beginning Center opened its doors as a project of the Garland Service League. They started life in a donated house with one volunteer and a strong desire to help local domestic violence victims. In 2004, they operate in more space, donated by Baylor Garland, and have a full and part time staff of thirty-three.
To help people like Camille walk through the sometimes bewildering maze of legal and emotional issues, the center offers a variety of services: counseling, play therapy, case management, a battering intervention and prevention program (BIPP), legal advocacy, a twenty-two bed confidential shelter, a twenty-four hour hotline with crisis intervention, and community education.
“We help a victim walk through the whole process—including how to file for a protective order,” said Christina Coultas, New Beginning Center’s Community Education Coordinator. The Center helps a victim wade through what can seem like a puzzling pile of paperwork. “We explain what things mean,” said Coultas.
Calls to the hotline are handled discreetly. The first goal a counselor has is to establish whether the victim is safe at that moment and if she can talk. The counselor’s first concern, according to Coultas, is What can I do to keep you safe?
After that, the counselor attempts to discover why the person is calling. Does she need a place to flee to? If it is determined that she needs sheltering, and the confidential twenty-two bed facility has space, the counselor will help the victim get to that safe place. “There are about 200 beds available in Dallas county for domestic violence victims, and sometimes they are all filled,” said Coultas. Even then, New Beginning Center tries to get the victim to a safe place.
“It is a hard step to take and it takes a lot of strength to survive,” added Coultas. “Often times society points the finger at the victim, blaming her for not leaving, but shouldn’t it be pointing the finger at the perpetrator? We want to help the public see that it is the (perpetrator’s) choice. It’s not the victim’s fault.”
*Camille is a pseudonym