Patricia never meant for her children to get hurt.
When she met her longtime live-in boyfriend, Pablo, in 2002, she had no idea what the man would become.
About this series:
This is the fourth 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: Putting up with the pain
* A Way Out: The invisible side
* A Way Out: No final chapter
By the numbers
* 15.5 million children witnessed domestic violence in 2016
* 993 women and their children served by Family Haven in 2014
* In 37 percent of the cases studied by Georgia’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, children witnessed the domestic violence homicide
* 29 percent of children witnessed intimate partner violence in Georgia in 2014
* 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime
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)
“I was living in New York and he was a taxi driver who I had contracted to drive me back and forth to appointments,” Patricia said. “We were both from the same country, so I mean, same country, of course we became friends; that’s how our relationship got started.
“In New York, there was very little work, so we came [to Georgia] in 2004 to try our luck. The violence started a year later. He was like a different person than who I met in 2002.”
The abuse – physical, emotional, financial and sexual – was constant for Patricia.
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.
Daily, he called her names. He told her she would be nothing without him.
None of it hurt as much as when he touched her daughter, though.
“He did hit my 14-year-old daughter several times,” Patricia said. “On one occasion, he grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head against the wall. She tried to [fight] him, but he was too strong.”
The silent victims
Each year nationwide, millions of children are exposed to domestic violence.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV,) in 2016, at least 15.5 million children witnessed domestic violence at least once, though the number is likely higher, based on information from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).
Established in 2000 by the U.S. Congress, NCTSN works with researchers, experts, health professionals and others to provide information about and solutions to childhood trauma, which can be caused by any number of events.
One of those is family violence.
“Children who live with domestic violence have been called the ‘silent’ or ‘hidden’ victims of [domestic] violence because their presence is often overlooked by the parents and caregivers or unknown by observers and professionals,” a NCTSN fact sheet said. “Adult victims may be hesitant to disclose to police, hospital staff, or child welfare workers that their children have seen the violence.
“This may be due to embarrassment, fear of retaliation or harm, or fear that their children might be removed from their care by Child Protective Services. Professionals who come in contact with these children and families may not ask about children’s exposure to domestic violence because they are wary of offending caregivers or because they do not know what to do to help the children they do identify. In these cases, children are not linked with services.”
In Georgia in 2014, children witnessed 29 percent of intimate partner violence, NCADV data said, and in 2016, a report by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence (GCFV) found “in 37 percent of the cases studied by Georgia’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, children witnessed the domestic violence homicide.”
While Pablo never had the chance to kill Patricia – she left the day after he said he would kill her and the children – she said his violence didn’t discriminate.
“He didn’t care – the [physical violence] occurred two to three times a week, kids or no kids around,” she said. “It didn’t make any difference to him. And the sexual abuse with me was often. Never with the kids, but with me, [it was] whenever he wanted to.”
“So he wouldn’t get hurt”
Lt. Andy Kalin with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s Major Crimes Unit said children can be an asset to law enforcement.
“I’ve [spent] 37 years doing this – I did child abuse for 12 – and I think that’s the misnomer that people often [miss], even cops,” he said. “Children as [young] as 4, 5 years old are excellent witnesses because they don’t know how to lie; they haven’t formulated that mental capacity about lying.
“You get a lot of information out of kids’ mouths, especially even at that young age that you would not believe would be such great information. We need to spend more time interviewing kids.”
Oftentimes, however – and through no fault of their own – Kalin said, children often complicate the domestic violence dynamic.
“Some kids are bigger and do step in and that’s where you get to the family violence, but again, we’re back to that [family] unit and you have to know the dynamic of why the kid, maybe, just punched out his dad,” he said. “He’d been watching his dad beat the crap out of his mom for five years, but this kid just laid a lick on dad and the kid could go to jail.
“You really have to have experienced people involved in [law enforcement] and investigating it; it’s a crazy dynamic and it’s very, very complicated. It’s all complicated by love – that’s where it all starts.”
That love, Patricia said, is why she never asked her sons to intervene, and even begged her second oldest – she had three teenage children from a previous relationship and two children that were Pablo’s – to not engage Pablo on one occasion.
“He never touched his children, and [mostly,] not the boys either,” she said. “They would just ignore him. They were close to engaging [Pablo] in a fight one time, but that didn’t take place.
“[Pablo] had hit me that one time and my second boy tried to hit him, to prevent him from continuing to hit me. But I asked him not to so that he wouldn’t get hurt.”
Instead, Pablo picked on Sophia, Patricia’s middle child.
“It’s amazing that she was able to process all this,” Patricia said. “She is doing well and is now married, but [I taught her] to look for some of the signs that someone is abusive, like the controlling of finances, or calling her names or controlling who her friends are.
“I [made sure] she was aware those signs were red flags and always told her not to wait until something escalates, and her husband is not abusive.”
Breaking the cycle
Patricia doesn’t know where Pablo’s violence came from.
Though she credits some of it to his drinking, which she said was an everyday occurrence, the aggression and violence was not isolated to drinking and just as often continued when he was sober, anywhere and anytime.
Executive Director of Forsyth County Family Haven, a domestic violence advocacy organization and emergency shelter for women and their children, Shandra Dawkins, said family violence doesn’t discriminate and can’t be blamed on any one reason.
“It’s what we call a continued pattern of behavior,” she said. “A lot of times, individuals use excuses for violence such as substance abuse, mental health issues and things of that nature, but that’s the catalyst, not the reason, because often women are being abused when someone is not utilizing or anything of that nature.
“I always use the scenario with women, [asking] does your mate, who is abusive to you, go to work and he’s angry and physically assault his boss and yell and scream at him? No. He waits until he comes home and changes his behavior to aggression towards you. It’s a controlled behavior because he knows how to control it, who, when, where and how long and how severe he wants to abuse the victim.”
Despite having little control over when, where and how Pablo would abuse her, Patricia said she always had control of what she taught her children, which was to break the cycle of abuse.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, research shows that about one-third of all individuals who were abused or neglected as children will subject their children to maltreatment.
“This cycle of abuse can occur when children who either experienced maltreatment or witnessed violence between their parents or caregivers learn to use physical punishment as a means of parenting their own children,” the organization says.
Patricia said her children will not be – and are not – part of that one-third.
“My two younger daughters – [Pablo’s] daughters – were in therapy until not long ago,” she said. “They were young when [the abuse] occurred.
“I made it a point to teach [the boys], because they saw it all, that it’s not a manly thing to lay hands on a woman or be controlling or name calling, things like that. They are doing well in that regard; they are not abusive.”
Dawkins said she has seen these kinds of success cases.
“There’s lots of different data that talks about what an abuser looks like, but personally, from doing this work for 30 years, it’s all about power and control over another individual,” she said, “and there’s not one specific reason why. Often people say if you grow up in a home where there’s domestic violence, you have a greater chance, if you’re a male, to become an abuser and a little girl has a greater chance at becoming a victim, but I’m seeing scenarios of people growing up in a [violent] home and they take the high road and they’re not abusive at all.
“Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer,” Dawkins said. “It doesn’t care who you are, where you live, what socioeconomic status, what race, what religion or sexual preference; anyone can be a victim.”