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A Way Out
One family’s attempt to escape domestic violence, a national struggle
Domestic Violence
“I still remember it was a Wednesday. 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.”

About this series:

This is the first 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.


Subsequent stories:

* A Way Out: Putting up with the pain

* A Way Out: The invisible side

*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


By the numbers

1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime

8th Georgia’s national rank of the rate of women killed by men

40-45 percent of women in an abusive relationship will be sexually assaulted

993 women and their children served by family haven in 2014

15.5 million children witnessed domestic violence in 2016


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)

Thursday, May 5, 2011.

As she followed the nurse from the waiting room to an examination room, Patricia breathed a heavy sigh, the exhalation overwhelming her 5’2” frame.

The appointment was a regular checkup and she had no medical ailments, so the doctor’s visit should have only taken minutes. Scheduled months in advance, the 40-year-old had no idea when she booked it that it would change her life.

“Once I got there I was out of the house, and at that point, I started to cry right there on the spot,” she said. “The doctor inquired about this and I disclosed everything, and [he] decided not to let me go home, but instead [told] me to see a psychologist right there at the clinic.

“They provided me with information about the Family Haven shelter program and I was immediately admitted into the shelter. They instructed me to come straight [there] – not even go home and pack – just go get the kids so we were all admitted [at once.]”

Like many in Forsyth County, throughout Georgia and across the nation, for years, Patricia was a silent victim of domestic violence.

Suffering physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of her longtime boyfriend, Pablo, Patricia’s story is one of hundreds – even thousands – in the county.

Not often spoken about, domestic violence is a significant public health concern that affects millions, costs billions and kills thousands nationally every year, and the numbers are not decreasing.

While exact statistics are hard to pin down – many cases of family violence go unreported for a myriad of reasons – in 2013, 29,779 victims in Georgia were served by domestic violence services, a relatively small number considering in Forsyth County alone, law enforcement responded to more than 950 domestic violence incidents.

Of those incidents, only a little over a third, or 339, resulted in arrests, according to data provided by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Cumming Police Department.

Even fewer victims – 129 women and their children – were served by Family Haven’s shelter, an emergency shelter and domestic violence advocacy organization for victims and their children.

Shandra Dawkins, executive director of the nonprofit, said this is because few have the option to leave.

“Victims [often] do not know what their options are and what resources there are in the community,” she said. “There are limited resources and we’re fortunate enough that we’re the certified domestic violence shelter program for Forsyth and Fulton counties, but definitely the lack of resources and the fact that we are considered a rural community [contributes.]

“Part of what goes hand-in-hand with that is transportation, finances as well. Even though domestic violence touches every socioeconomic level, it’s very expensive to live in Forsyth County and finances is a huge barrier for why women stay in the relationships they’re in. One of the other issues is fear.”

“A controlled behavior”

While Patricia credits some of Pablo’s abusive behavior 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 – even in front of her children.

“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.”

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV,) between 40 and 45 percent of women in an abusive relationship will be sexually assaulted during the course of the relationship, with more than half of women raped by their partner having been sexually assaulted multiple times by the abuser.

Eighteen percent of female victims of spousal rape say their children witnessed the crime, with an even larger number of children – 15.5 million nationally in 2016 – witnessing domestic violence at least once in the previous year.

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.”

“Anyone can be a victim”

Pablo had not always been violent.

When Patricia, who has three children from a previous relationship, met him in New York in 2002 after moving from her home country in southwestern South America, he was a nice man, she said.

Like her, he spoke no English, and the two began to form a relationship – he, a taxi driver, was also from her home country and would take her to and from her appointments. As the months progressed, the two found comfort in one another and began dating in 2003.

In 2004, Patricia and Pablo decided to move to Georgia together for economic reasons, and a year later, in 2005, Patricia gave birth to their first daughter, Maria.

“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.

Patricia credits her religion, represented as a cross charm on her Pandora bracelet, as one of her saving graces. - photo by Isabel Hughes
“He probably thought since we had a daughter together, [I] won’t leave [him] and that’s when it escalated I guess.”

Dawkins said this is often the case with domestic violence.

“When someone is pregnant or getting ready to have a child, the focus is no longer solely on that abuser and attention is now diverted away from that particular person because you have to care more for your child and pay more attention to the child’s needs than the abuser’s needs,” she said. “He ramps up the ante, per say, about becoming abusive.

“Often, in a relationship even before that pregnancy there are different signs, but victims don’t recognize it, and it might be emotional and mental or something just subtle, but they’re not recognizing it along the way until it comes to an issue of you’re pregnant or you’ve just had your first child and the attention is no longer on the abuser.”

She added abuse never stems from one thing or appears overnight.

“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. 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 are options”

For six years, Patricia suffered in silence, not knowing she could escape.

From 2005 through 2011, Pablo punched, slapped and kicked her, calling her everything from trash to a worthless mother, telling her she would be nothing without him.

But Patricia had options, she just didn’t know it.

“Family Haven offers emergency shelter, transitional housing, outreach services – those [include] individual, family and group counseling – trauma and support for victims and support groups for their children” Dawkins said. “All those services are free, and our [legal advocates] help with temporary protective orders for victims and navigate them through the system as well.

“We also assist with food and financial assistance depending on their situation as well.”

Despite reaching the safety of Family Haven’s shelter, Patricia and her children were still far from safe.

Within hours, Pablo knew they were gone – though he didn’t know where – and the phone calls soon started, continuing incessantly.

Finally, per the advice of one of the shelter advocates, she turned off her phone.

That was not the end of it, however, which is why Patricia tells her story.

“I know there are people out there who are still quiet and silent about this and who may not even know there are options or programs available,” she said. “I want people to know there are options and be aware.”