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A Way Out: The invisible side
The emotional component of domestic violence
Patricia credits her religion, represented as a cross charm on her Pandora bracelet, as one of her saving graces. - photo by Isabel Hughes

Patricia could deal with the physical pain.

Though Pablo’s physical violence was not infrequent – two to three times a week for six years, from 2005 to 2011 – she knew, at some point, the sting of scratches and the soreness from her bruises would fade.

About this series:

This is the third 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.


Previous stories:

* A Way Out: One family’s attempt to escape domestic violence, a national struggle

* A Way Out: Putting up with the pain


Subsequent stories:

*A Way Out: No fairy tale

* A Way Out: No final chapter


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


Services Family Haven provides

* Emergency shelter

* 24-hour crisis line

* Life skills lessons

* Legal and social service advocacy

* Emergency financial assistance

* Community outreach and counseling services

* Prevention education programs


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)

She knew, the time he broke her nose, the bones would heal.

Six years later, though, Patricia still cries almost every day. Her abuser, despite being out of her life, continues to haunt her.

“I continue to be seeing a therapist and I’m on medication for depression and anxiety,” she said. “I’m still dealing with it every day. It was name calling, or saying, ‘you’re too fat, you’re worthless, even as a mom.’

“Always, I was garbage, I was trash, but [he said] that without him, it was going to be very hard for me to succeed in life.”

“Truly not free”

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV,) 95 percent of men who physically abuse their intimate partners also psychologically abuse them, and women who earn 65 percent or more of their household’s income are more likely to be psychologically abused than those who do not.

While psychological abuse is often not visible, Executive Director of Forsyth County Family Haven – a domestic violence emergency shelter and advocacy organization – Shandra Dawkins said emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse and can sometimes prove even more detrimental.

“The emotional, mental and psychological abuse often women say is far greater than the physical abuse because that can last a lifetime,” she said. “When a woman leaves and comes into a shelter program or either goes out on her own and gets her own place, I always term it as ‘the beat goes on.’

“After you’ve left that abusive relationship, an abuser, especially if they have children in common, can keep the abuse going to a different level by talking about the custody of the children, wanting to see the children and things of that nature, so it becomes a hardship again for that [victim].”

Pablo did just that.

“He started, the very same day that I left, to try to contact me [with] several text messages, several phone calls,” Patricia said. “He would say, ‘you have 30 minutes to come back home and return the children to me otherwise I’ll call immigration on you.’

“Obviously, I was in great distress, but the staff at Family Haven calmed me down and said, ‘he doesn’t even know [where] you are; he’s just trying to see if you will come back.’ Usually, he would leave a voicemail with very specific threats and when I showed the Gwinnett County [judge,] I was granted a [Temporary Protective Order (TPO)].”

The TPO wasn’t enough, though.

“Even though there was a TPO in place, he was not stopping,” Patricia said. “He continued to call me, which was a violation of the protective order, and even though he wasn’t appearing to the [various] court hearings, he would continue harassing me – calling, texting, sending voicemails.

“Finally, the police said ‘just go ahead and change the number. He’s not going to leave you alone.’”

“Triggers along the way”

Unlike physical abuse, which affects women far greater than it does men, NCADV data from 2015 shows 48.4 percent of women and 48.8 percent of men have experienced “at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner” and four in 10 men and women have experienced “at least one form of coercive control” by an intimate partner.

The effects of that abuse are significant, Dawkins said.

“Outside of financial abuse, the emotional, psychological and mental trauma is most often experienced,” she said. “Even if [the victim] is no longer with that abuser, there can be triggers along the way – something as simple as walking into a store and they smell a certain cologne and it’s that cologne that their abuse wore can trigger reminders of what relationship they had and the ramifications behind it.

“We try to really encourage women and children to receive counseling services and trauma-informed counseling services because the emotional, mental and psychological abuse can last a lifetime, and they’re truly not free.”

Dawkins added the emotional abuse can be, and often is, less obvious than physical abuse, which oftentimes leads women to miss the red flags before it escalates to physical violence.

Patricia was one of those women.

“The first two years were somewhat normal,” she said. “It was after the birth of our first daughter that the abuse started, and it was constant. He was like a different person than who I met in 2002.

“He probably thought since we had a daughter together, [I] won’t leave [him] and that’s when it escalated I guess.”

The escalation to physical abuse isn’t what still makes Patricia fearful, though; six years removed, it’s his words continue to ring in her ears.

“Anxiety – [I have] such anxiety,” she said. “I still do cry quite often about this and I never again want [a relationship with another man].

“My two youngest daughters – his daughters – they were in therapy until not very long ago. I don’t want my kids to be exposed to this ever again.”

“A trust level has been broken”

Dawkins said Patricia’s response mirrors many she’s seen before with survivors.

“We hear that a lot,” she said. “Obviously, a trust level has been broken; someone who [promised] to love you and want to take care of you and be in a relationship with you showed you love by physically assaulting you or emotionally and mentally and psychologically abusing you.

“When that trust level is gone in that intimate relationship, it is really difficult, a lot of times, for women to even think of a relationship that’s going to be positive and healthy.”

Earlier this year, recognizing the long-term impacts of emotional abuse, Family Haven applied for – and was granted – $77,706 in federal funding to provide victims free counseling and legal advocacy.

The goal, Dawkins said, it to prevent further victimization as well as increase the likelihood of victims actually following through with the court process against their assailants.

“We’ve served countless women – approximately 169 women have been counseled – and have continued counseling services over the past year with that particular project,” she said. “We’re trying to work with the [Forsyth County] Sheriff’s Office and Cumming Police Department to create a special project to be able to reach more potential victims of potential violence by doing courtesy calls to individuals in the community that might not have been deemed a domestic situation, but we just want to reach out and say, ‘we’re here.’

“Domestic violence, if it’s not prevented and/or spoken about, can lead to substance abuse and suicide and mental health issues of that nature, so we need to [increase awareness.]”