On Thursday, May 5, 2011, Patricia walked toward the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, nerves rattling her 5-foot, 2-inch frame.
About this series:
This is the final story 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: One family’s attempt to escape domestic violence, a national struggle
* A Way Out: Putting up with the pain
* A Way Out: The invisible side
* A Way Out: No fairy tale
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)
Though she had a Forsyth County Family Haven victim advocate by her side, this was a step she had never taken before.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Pablo, Patricia’s long term live-in boyfriend, had escalated his threats to a level she had never previously experienced.
“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.”
Though Pablo had abused her physically, emotionally, sexually and financially for years, May 4 was Patricia’s breaking point.
“I had a strong feeling he was going to proceed and get it done – kill them,” she said.
Now, though, as she walked up the sidewalk to the building looming in front of her, she was beginning to take her life back.
‘An equal opportunity destroyer’
Domestic violence is everywhere.
According to data gathered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime, with an average of about 20 victims suffering physical violence every minute.
More than 10 million people in the United States are physically abused annually, though the number of victims of abuse in all its forms – physical, mental, sexual and financial – is substantially more.
Each year, NCADV data says, intimate partner violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $5.8 and $12.6 billion, with victims losing a total of 8 million days of paid work each year, or the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
And it’s a problem that doesn’t discriminate, said Shandra Dawkins, executive director of Family Haven, an emergency shelter and domestic violence advocacy organization based in Forsyth County.
“Domestic violence is an equal opportunity destroyer,” she 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. 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, and there’s not one specific reason why.”
‘He didn’t stop’
Pablo knew he was losing control over Patricia.
As soon as she stepped into Family Haven’s shelter with her children, staff began flooding her with resources.
“Once I was at the shelter, it was highly recommended that I file for a protective order in Gwinnett County, because I was a resident of Gwinnett County,” she said. “I made a first attempt to get a [temporary] protective order, but [the judge] did not grant it because they said that there were no police reports and it was the first time [the abuse] was disclosed to them.”
Despite the denial, Family Haven staff told Patricia not to be discouraged.
“Of course, [Pablo] started that same day that I left to try to contact me,” Patricia said. “It was [numerous] text messages, [numerous] phone calls and 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 you are here. He’s just trying to see if he can get you back.’”
What Pablo didn’t know, either, was that his harassment would ultimately work against him.
“He would usually leave a voicemail with very specific threats, and the victim advocate took me [back] to Gwinnett to try for the TPO again,” Patricia said. “Based on the threats that I showed, I was granted the temporary protective order.”
Still, Patricia was far from free.
“There has to be a court hearing after the TPO gets granted, so we had to go back to a hearing,” she said. “I had to see him – he was there – and I was terrified, I was really nervous. But I also felt somewhat safer than ever I had [previously.] I had someone with me from Family Haven, but I also had a lawyer representing me and the sheriff’s deputies were present in the courtroom.
“I was granted a 12-month protective order and he was ordered to pay child support, while at the same time having no rights for visitation. The judge granted me possession of the family car and within one week, I was supposed to go back to the house, with a police escort, to get the car.”
Pablo wasn’t giving up easily, though.
“I went with the [deputies] to get the car from the house, and about two blocks away from the house [when] I was driving it [to Family Haven,] it stopped,” Patricia said. “At first it started to heat up and then I called the police because they knew I had just gotten the car from there and the officer came and tried to figure things out, and he opened the gas tank to [check it,] and they found sugar in the gas tank. The police took the car there to their own auto shop for evidence. Obviously he didn’t stop [harassing me] even though there was a TPO in place.”
Further, in the days, weeks and months that followed, Pablo continued to call, text and attempt to track Patricia to regain control over her – even showing up at her 14-year-old daughter’s work one day to try to track the family down.
“He didn’t know where we were staying, so he went to where he knew [my daughter] was working,” Patricia said. “She was scared when she saw that he was there, so she got some friends to help her. They gave her a ride but he followed them, and my daughter had been instructed not to come back directly to the shelter if something like this were to happen, for obvious reasons. But the people helping her were all immigrants driving without a license, so they were like, ‘what do we do? We can’t call the police.’”
Finally, the friends lost Pablo, or he gave up – Patricia doesn’t know. Regardless, she said, that wasn’t the end of it.
‘Gaining back power’
Dawkins said Pablo’s behavior isn’t out of the ordinary for an abuser.
“Often when the woman decides to leave an abusive situation, she is gaining back power and control over her life again and that [abuser] no longer has control,” she said. “Because of that – that she’s taken her control back – he’s going to want to still be in control, so he’ll actually try to look for her, to stalk her and things of that nature, because he needs to regain the control that he lost.”
According to NCADV data, in 2015, 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the United States had reported being stalked, with 66.2 percent of female stalking victims reporting their stalker was a current or former intimate partner.
Though Pablo couldn’t physically track her down – Family Haven’s shelter is located in a secure and undisclosed area in Forsyth – the harassment continued by phone.
“Even though he did not appear in court hearings [for TPO violations,] he would keep on harassing me,” Patricia said. “Finally, the police recommended, for safety reasons, that I go ahead and change my [phone] number because he wasn’t going to leave me alone.”
Finally, Pablo had no further way to contact her.
“After he didn’t show up for the court hearings, that was the end of it,” Patricia said. “There are warrants for his arrest and I don’t know where he is now.”
Patricia thinks Pablo may have left the state, though she doesn’t know. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him for six years and she said she still cries quite often.
But she also said she knows life goes on.
“We don’t know where he is,” she said. “The arrest warrants are still [active] and because he was never arrested or found, I’m still looking over my shoulder when I go out. But I also know life continues and I still have young kids to take care of and I still have to get things done.”