My reminder of this insidious (male-dominated) violence happened on Oct. 20.
I was fortunate to spend the day with my wife and her parents sightseeing in Ellijay, taking in the annual apple festival and the vivid colors of the fall foliage as we traveled around northwest Georgia that day.
However, another color would be much more memorable as we arrived at a store in Dalton to pick up a few groceries that evening.
Painful blotches of purple covered a women’s face from chin to forehead. She was frantic and crying while in another nearby vehicle, as I loaded groceries into the trunk.
A second woman, presumably a friend, was consoling her and trying to help, while the battered woman repeatedly shook her head from side to side after a few questions had been asked by the friend.
As much as I wanted to help in the situation I couldn’t think of anything (beyond urging her to press charges) that would actually be useful in that moment.
It was a nearly-silent ride home as I (and my family members) pondered what we had just seen and hoped the woman would seek medical and legal advice — a shocking reminder that much more community awareness and support is necessary (as much as cancer receives) for those facing family violence before any purple socks and T-shirts will be worn at football games.
I believe she drove to such a public place out of fear for her life and sincerely hope she has found a place of support and safety similar to the focus of this article.
A beacon of hope and support
The Family Crisis Center (that serves Chattooga, Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties) is an emergency shelter for abused and battered women, in operation since 1995.
It is at an undisclosed location (since 1997) to ensure the safety of those residing there.
Kristy Lawson became the new director last month. She has worked part-time as a night manager at the facility for two years and previously worked for 22 years in several state agencies, including Georgia State Patrol, Department of Corrections, Mental Health office and Department of Public Safety.
“One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime,” Lawson said. “The average female will go back to the abuser seven times before they will actually leave.”
In 2012 (January through September) the Family Crisis Center has received more than 1,600 crisis calls (440 sought outreach services) and sheltered 70 adults and 85 children.
During those crisis calls women who won’t seek shelter are given counseling, information and emotional support by a case manager.
“It helps to have a safety plan. That way they know and can be prepared on what to do, when it happens again,” Lawson said.
After making the 911 call, law enforcement officials assist in transporting women and children to the facility, to ensure their safety.
In 2011, Georgia had 108 domestic violent fatalities, an average of two per week, according to Lawson.
Georgia ranks sixth highest in the nation for abusive men murdering women.
It has operated at near capacity (25) for the past several years.
Several of the abused women arrive with only the clothes they are wearing. Many do not have a vehicle or job.
“Women will usually stay here a minimum of three months,” Lawson said. “When people think of a shelter, they think of a large building with lots of cots, and that’s not what it is like here. We try to make it like a home here.”
The center has several individual rooms at the facility. Currently there are 11 women and 14 children (five babies) at the non-profit facility.
The residents pitch in by doing the various daily chores to clean up common areas.
The facility has a playroom for pre-school age kids, but Lawson is working on a project to equip another room for older children to play.
She has received a flat-screen TV for the room from a local church and a leadership team will soon paint and decorate the room as a team project.
“We are highly dependant on donations,” Lawson said, providing clothing and the personal needs for these families at time when their situation makes it difficult to provide for themselves.
Often times the abuser earns and controls the money for the family.
Depression, job loss and drug use are prevailing risk factors among abusers, according to Lawson.
The shelter seeks donations of cleaning supplies, basic school needs, toiletries along with clothing for women and kids.
A small building next to the shelter is organized similar to a store, enabling the ladies to get necessities upon arrival.
The children have also suffered emotionally and sometimes physically, along with their fathers neglecting to pay child support.
Two thrift stores (LaFayette and Summerville) receive donations for the shelter, along with the proceeds funding their mission.
“We start the process of getting them headed in the right direction,” Lawson said.
Parenting classes and life skills are taught during their stay. Legal advocates assist in court proceedings and temporary protective orders, which is designed to restrict the abuser’s access.
Children continue with their education, sometimes enrolling at a different school, with some cautionary measures to prevent access by the abuser.
Financial assistance is provided in some situations, even as the women find new housing and continue to reclaim their lives.
The staff helped women attend a job fair in mid-October, resulting in three women receiving jobs.
The shelter even aids abused men on occasion, but other housing arrangements are made.
Assistant director Jimmie Woodard is retiring at the end of October. She has worked at the facility for more than 15 years.
Governmental grants fund the facility, but individual donations are necessary
On Oct. 30, Pie Slingers in Fort Oglethorpe will donate 10 percent of proceeds to benefit the Family Crisis Center.
Lawson is planning more charitable events for 2013.
The Family Crisis Center 24-hour hotline (and business line) is 706-375-7630. Valuable information (including a safety plan) is available at fccwdcc.org. The community and individuals can send donations to the Family Crisis Center, PO Box 252, LaFayette GA.
Matt Ledger is a reporter for the Walker County Messenger. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 706-638-1859.