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Forsyth resident advocates for domestic violence awareness
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Domestic Violence Podcast

Go to ForsythNews.com to listen to a podcast on Michelle Toledo-Cainas and domestic violence advocacy.

Abuse is not just physical violence

* Physical: beating, pushing, hair pulling, slapping, biting and other acts of physical mistreatment

* Emotional: name-calling, verbal threats, attempts at control, neglect or other acts that make a partner feel devalued

* Sexual: any unwanted sexual contact, sexual pressuring, sexual threats or forced sexual relations

* Economic: controlling access to finances, legal document or other important papers, interfering with work performance through harassing activities, frequent phone calls or refusing to allow a partner to go to work or school

* Psychological: brainwashing a partner or trying to confuse them about reality, monitoring them through technology or other means so the abuser appears omnipresent, switching from violent to kind behavior to regain trust

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

A Cumming resident who plays a key role in Forsyth County’s Domestic Violence Taskforce is advocating for survivors throughout the state.

With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the taskforce is working to raise awareness.

“It’s not just professionals who work in the field that can [come] to our meetings,” said Michelle Toledo-Cainas a 39-year-old who has been working in the field for 12 years but helped create the county’s taskforce only three years ago. “You don’t have to be in the field to come and learn, and even survivors will often talk to a friend before they come to social service agencies.”

Aside from their monthly meetings, which are held the fourth Wednesday of every month at the United Way building on Elm Street in Cumming, for the third year, the taskforce will be hosting a forum on domestic violence.

This year’s forum will be held on Nov. 16 at Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center with the theme of “Domestic Violence: Trauma and Mental Health Implications.”

In 2009, Cainas created the Georgia Latinos Against Domestic Violence Task Force, which became part of Ser Familia, an organization dedicated to strengthening Latino families, in 2012.

Forsyth County Family Haven awarded her the Sister Kathryn Cliatt and Sister June Racicot Advocacy Award in 2014 for her work as a domestic violence victims’ advocate.

The county’s domestic violence taskforce is chaired by Forsyth County Judge Leslie Abernathy-Maddox, District Attorney Victim Witness Director Beth Ready and Sheriff’s deputy Lt. Sebastian Strano.

According to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, from 2003 through 2015 at least 1,550 Georgians lost their lives due to domestic violence.

Fifty percent of victims in cases studied by Georgia’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project began a relationship with their killer when they were between the ages of 13 and 24, and in 36 percent of cases children witnessed the homicide.

Cainas said domestic violence doesn’t just have to have a physical aspect to be damaging.

“At the end of the day, the biggest thing that leads to domestic violence is [that] it’s about power and control,” she said. “That power and control can come in many ways, and a lot of our survivors will tell you the hardest violence to get through or recover from is psychological abuse.”

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“The truth is, you can help”

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Cainas said working with the community is key in stopping abuse.

“It’s important to keep learning, even as a professional, to learn what’s new, what are [new] trauma centers, how to do better for our survivors,” she said. “It’s extremely important for us to recognize that though October is domestic violence awareness month, it doesn’t just end October 31. We can have this every day of our lives.”

While Cainas was never a victim herself, she said it was during her college years at Florida Metropolitan University that she was first introduced to the topic.

“I was doing my bachelor’s in criminal justice and I wanted to work with criminal profiling,” she said. “I ended up doing my internship back in Florida with a police department as their victim advocate, and there was a little girl one day at court.

“We finished the case and I was with my supervisor and she came up to us – I’ll never forget, a little girl maybe 5 or 6 years old, blond, blue eyes – and said ‘I just want to thank you for saving my mommy’s life.’

“For a 6-year-old to recognize there was something unhealthy in her home, it was important and it changed my perspective and I said, ‘I want to try this field.’”

Though the county’s taskforce is less well known, the county offers some relief for victims of domestic violence. Forsyth County Family Haven recently held its third annual Purple Purpose Luncheon, a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which provides shelter and programs for women and their children who have been victims of domestic violence in the county.

“The truth is, you can [help,]” Cainas said. “You just probably don’t know how you can do it. Domestic violence affects a lot of areas, not just the primary person. My job is to help you find that way to [help.]”