For days, Patricia remained indoors, forbidden from venturing out.
Though she’d suffered black eyes before – all at the hands of her live-in boyfriend, Pablo – this one was different.
About this series:
This is the second in a five-part series exploring Domestic Violence and its implications in Forsyth County and across the nation. A growing problem that is not often spoken about, the timing of this series falls during October’s national Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Victims’ names have been changed to protect their identities and certain locations remain vague for safety purposes.
* A Way Out: The invisible side
*A Way Out: No fairy tale
* A Way Out: No final chapter
By the numbers:
* 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime
* 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner
* 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94 percent of the victims of these crimes are female
* 500 percent increase in the risk of homicide if a gun is present in the home during a domestic violence incident
* 21,000 calls, on average, to domestic violence hotlines per day, equating to about 15 calls per minute
How to help end family violence
* Do not be afraid to speak up about the issue
* Domestic violence is not a private matter. Community resources are available for survivors, but the only way to make changes is to know about the laws and their strengths and limitations
* Participate in events that support the cause, or volunteer for local organizations addressing the issue
Are you or someone you know being abused? There is a way out.
* Forsyth County Family Haven crisis line: (770) 887-1121
* Legal advocacy/temporary protective order: (770) 889-6384 Ext. 103
* Georgia statewide hotline: 1(800) 33-HAVEN (4-2833)
* National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-7233 1(800) 787-3224 (TTY)
“It was often that I had black eyes and bruises – often minor injuries,” she said. “But he did break my nose that time and I didn’t make it to get any medical help. He kept control of the car so I wasn’t able to just go and take care of it at a hospital.
“I was [at home] putting up with the pain until it healed on its own, and because he also left me with a black eye, I was not able to go out for several days until it cleared.”
Patricia was used to the violence. Two to three times a week for six years, she said, from 2005 to 2011, Pablo punched her, yanked her hair and threw her against walls in their Gwinnett County home.
He pushed her. He grabbed her. He kicked her. But never before had he broken a bone.
“I remember I wanted to call the police,” she said, “but he took the phone away. He controlled everything. I had a job, but he was the one dropping me off and picking me up every single day.
“It was total control of everything.”
“Homicides are driven by domestic violence”
Though Patricia never had the opportunity to call the police, Gwinnett law enforcement officers, as in any district throughout Georgia, would likely have been able to arrest Pablo from Patricia’s injuries alone – even without her wanting to press charges, according to Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman.
“The litany of laws [surrounding domestic violence] has changed over my 30 years in law enforcement,” he said. “Now we have the ability to arrest an offender who disrupts a 911 call; that law didn’t previously exist.
“Now we have not only mandated reporting, but mandated arrest. If there’s a physical offense and it’s clear the law’s been broken and we can identify the primary aggressor, we arrest. You go back to when I started [27 years ago] and I can recall going to domestic violence situations where it was clear the wife had been abused, but if she wasn’t willing to press charges, we were left wringing our fists and clenching our teeth, knowing that we needed to do something with this person who posed a danger, in the typical case to the woman, but we found ourselves just hamstrung.”
Now, Freeman said, while a significant number of physical acts of domestic violence still go unreported, arrests are easier to make, which the numbers show.
According to data provided by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Cumming Police Department, in 2013, law enforcement responded to 958 domestic violence incidents, of which 339 resulted in an arrest.
While that number is a little less than one arrest per day for that year, this year’s arrests are already on-track to surpass that; as of Aug. 31 – 243 days into the year – law enforcement responded to 639 domestic incidents and arrested 257 suspects.
That averages about 1.1 domestic violence arrests per day, which Freeman said demonstrates the county’s domestic violence problem.
“We live in a very safe community; we know that Forsyth County is, what I call, a bubble, and I think that’s a tribute to our citizens and a tribute to the deputy sheriffs and law enforcement officers and first responders who work in this county,” he said. “But we also know that although we have an extremely low violent crime rate, a vast portion of those we see, particularly when it comes to homicide, are related to domestic violence.
“If we know that domestic violence is causing physical injuries and deaths in our community, just like drugs are, how do we not prioritize that – how do we not [pay attention] to that?”
Nationally, Georgia ranks eighth for its rate of men killing women, up one spot from 2015, when it ranked ninth, according to data from the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
The numbers, however, decreased between 2015 and 2016; in 2015, 141 were killed due to domestic violence and in 2016, 121 died.
In total, from 2012 to 2016, Georgia saw 636 domestic violence related deaths; in the same time period, six were recorded in Forsyth County: two in 2012 and four in 2015, according to the Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project’s 2017 report.
That number includes the “alleged perpetrators, most of whom committed suicide after killing or attempting to kill the victim(s).”
Forsyth’s 2017 numbers have already reached 2015 levels.
In March, 51-year-old south Forsyth resident Zhibin Duan bludgeoned his wife to death in their south Forsyth home; in July, a north Forsyth man opened fire on deputies who were responding to a domestic incident and later killed himself after a nearly six-hour standoff; and in August, another south Forsyth man shot his 11-month-old daughter and then himself following a domestic incident with his wife.
“We don’t have a lot of random shootings; we don’t have a lot of home invasions, thank God, and we don’t have a lot of homicides compared to other metro [Atlanta] counties,” Freeman said. “But again and again, historically, in my 27 years in Forsyth County, homicides are driven by domestic violence and domestic relations.
“If we know that, then we better be looking at it.”
“All complicated by love”
Though Pablo largely kept his abuse confined to the couple’s Gwinnett home, Patricia’s story could have, and has, taken place anywhere.
While law enforcement officers across the state have the tools to help victims, one of the largest problems they face, Freeman said, is getting victims to pick up the phone and call 911.
“Our domestic violence laws, along with the Family Violence Act, has given us in law enforcement a lot more teeth in what we can do to intervene,” he said. “Now, all that sounds great, but we can’t intervene if we don’t know.
“The possessive relationships are meant to keep the victim scared from calling or worried about what would happen if they called and we removed the offender. You also have this taboo of not wanting to admit something is going on in your relationship.”
What also makes domestic violence so difficult to combat – both for law enforcement and the victims and their families – is that it’s emotionally-driven, said Lt. Andy Kalin with the sheriff’s office’s Major Crimes Unit.
“It’s a crazy dynamic,” he said, “and it’s very, very complicated. There once had to be love – you had to once love [the abuser], you just had to. And then you see your family and your kids and everything else, and you’re thinking, ‘maybe I could get by this,’ so it’s really hard.
“The dynamics in domestic violence and it being such a family dynamic – it’s crazy, and it’s all complicated by love.”
Largely, it was that love that kept Patricia from leaving, though not so much her love for Pablo as her love for her five children.
“Number one, it was my young children [that kept me,]” she said. “I didn’t have family here in the U.S. and I also was not aware there were programs that could assist victims, which is why I put up with it.”
In addition, Pablo controlled everything from the family’s car to the finances, something Freeman said is common in abusive relationships.
“Women, typically speaking, find themselves hamstrung,” he said. “They’re under a very possessive and controlling environment [and] the finances are generally controlled by the man in an abusive relationship, so you’re a girlfriend, wife with children and no financial controls.
“You’re maybe not working because you’re living in an abusive and possessive relationship, so gee; I wonder why you don’t just walk out the door. It’s because the entire relationship is built on preventing you from being able to walk out the door.”
“We don’t mess around”
Though she had endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse for years, it wasn’t until Pablo threatened to kill her children that Patricia reached her breaking point.
“I still remember it was a Wednesday,” she said. “He made a threat, giving me two days to get ahold of some money for him and remove the [three] children that are not his from the house, otherwise he would kill them.
“I had a strong feeling he was going to proceed and get it done – kill them.”
A doctor’s appointment the next day was her saving grace, and that very day – Thursday, May 5, 2011 – she and her children entered Family Haven’s shelter, an emergency shelter and domestic violence advocacy organization for victims and their children.
Kalin said Patricia – just based on the threat – could have also gotten help by calling 911, something few people know.
“Even if [the victim] doesn’t want a [temporary protective order,] we’re definitely going to move forward with the case, to the point where if we feel when talking to peripheral witnesses – family members, whoever – like she is in danger, we’re going to actively pursue that case,” he said. “I mean to the point of having to get a search warrant to get phone information or go out and interview [the abuser] so they know we’re involved.
“We don’t mess around with that.”
In hindsight, Patricia said she wishes she had taken the steps to find out what her options were.
“It was my lack of awareness – I could have done something,” she said. “[If I could go back,] I would tell myself not to be so foolish about this and not to put up with the pain for so many years.
“There were places and options that could help me, and also knowing that as an immigrant woman, I [could] get help – that was one of the main obstacles.”
Kalin said the sheriff’s office works closely with Family Haven for this very reason – to ensure victims know their options.
“Victims go through the whole process of denial – they don’t want to separate their family, or they’re in the phase of, ‘I’m not really sure that I want to further this case today,’” he said. They might want to further the case later on or just need services, and that’s the great part about Family Haven – they offer so many diversified kinds of services, whether it’s counseling or shelters, they just have a lot of avenues and resources.
“If we don’t pass [the victim’s] information onto Family Haven, that’s where the ball gets dropped.”