Growing up, Marylou Harris saw her mother stab her older sister with a fork. She watched her abuse her father. She ran from her mother’s Toyota as the woman floored the car in their driveway, trying to run Harris over.
Having nowhere to turn, she sought shelter from the “creepy old man” down the street. The one, she said, who has no wife and no children, but a “closet full of candy to lure the children into his home.”
For years, before she knew what was inappropriate, this was her “safe harbor.”
“From my earliest memory until I was about 11, I learned there was no one to protect me,” Harris said. “I had nowhere to turn and the people who were put on this earth to protect me were actually doing me very much harm.”
By age 12, she had stood up to the man, ridding one abuser from her life. But Harris’ story doesn’t end there.
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)
• Visit forsythnews.com to follow our series on domestic violence
“When I was 16, I met the love of my life, who, coincidentally, was exactly like my mother,” she said. “Most little girls marry their father; I married my mother. Fast forward to this 25-year relationship that I had, and I did the same thing that we did when I was a kid. I made it look pretty, we went to church and I had two gorgeous kids, a beautiful home in Alpharetta, a very successful business and lots of money.
“When our youngest went to college and it was just us, after two trips to the emergency room, I thought, ‘If I don’t get out of here, he’s going to kill me.’ So I left, because I had options. I had money, but I didn’t have courage, and [I thought] I was free. But I had a lot of time on my hands, and I went and attracted my next abuser.”
Over a five-year period, her “knight in shining armor” took Harris for more than $200,000, abusing her financially.
“What in the world was I going to do to stop this cycle of abuse that ruined my entire life?” she said. “So I went to work and I did what I do, which is researched and read and spent a lot of time on a therapist’s couch, and what I learned is that you can go through lots of therapy and counseling and have lots of great support systems and friends, but trauma and abuse affects you on a cellular level; it imprints on your DNA.
“You have to clear it, though, because if you don’t break that cycle, you will just transfer it to the next generation. Find a way to heal your inner child, repair your damaged cells, take the road less traveled. If it’s broken, fix it, if you need help, ask, and if you have options, give.”
On Wednesday, Harris shared her story with a group of about 200 Purple Purpose Luncheon attendees, Forsyth County Family Haven’s fourth annual domestic violence awareness luncheon, which is held during October, the nation’s domestic violence awareness month.
The event, which brought together both elected officials and prominent community members, also honored several people who have helped fight for the emergency shelter and advocacy organization’s cause.
“Our [luncheon] is all about financial abuse and breaking that cycle,” said Family Haven Executive Director Shandra Dawkins. “Oftentimes, financial abuse is the reason why women stay in abusive relationships, because they cannot afford to leave.”
Prior to the luncheon, attendees bid on purses, the proceeds of which go to Family Haven.
So far this year, Dawkins said the shelter has served 207 women and their children and reached more than 4,500 through outreach programs.
But there are many more victims out there, she said, which is, why in part, events such as Wednesday’s are held.
At the luncheon, Scientific Games Chief Executive of Lottery Jim Kennedy, Mountain View Church of Christ and Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills were recognized, with Kennedy and Mills receiving Family Haven’s inaugural “Humanitarian of the Year” awards.
Mills said Family Haven is a cause dear to her heart.
“As I became more knowledgeable about the drug epidemic and the drug counsel, I became more and more educated that domestic violence leads to so many [issues,]” she said. “More than 50 percent of kids who experience domestic violence are likely to be on drugs and are likely to commit suicide; all of it was interwoven and interconnected.
“I realize the deficiencies we have in our county toward [domestic violence] and there’s a lot more to do. I’m hoping the board [of commissioners] can take steps to help how we handle domestic violence and wherever there’s gaps, we’ll be able to fill them in the future. I want to be a county that anyone that is a domestic violator will not want to live in; that is the goal. If we fix that, then we help our children and we have a more healthy society.”