A few weeks ago I started to compile contact numbers of agencies that help families cope with domestic violence issues. On a weekend getaway to Cape May I read a newspaper article in the Cape May County Herald by Deborah McGuire titled “Domestic Violence Victim Counsels Those in Abusive Relationships.” Below you will find the full text of the newsarticle with permission of the publisher. It is also viewable online.
Victim Recounts 20 Years of Domestic Violence written 9/19/11 by Deborah McGuire. Copyright by Seawave Corp. Used with permission from the publisher.
COURT HOUSE — Stand in line in the supermarket with four women; look at a group of four women talking at work; sit behind four women at a PTA meeting. Statistically speaking, one of them is, has been, or will be, a victim of domestic violence.
Those statistics alone are sobering. Add to that the effect of domestic violence on children. According to the 2009 Domestic Violence in NJ Report, “Children were involved or present during thirty-one percent of all domestic violence offenses…specifically, 4 percent were involved and 27 percent were present.”
In 2009, there were 73,709 domestic violence offenses reported to the police, a 4 percent increase to the 70,613 reported the previous year. With almost 8,000 calls, Cape May County was second only to Gloucester County in the number of domestic violence hotline calls.
The Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARA) has been answering the call when it comes to domestic violence in the county. The organization will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2012. Juanita Battle, CSW, DVS, CARA’s supervisor of services, has been with CARA since its opening in 1982. Battle spoke with the Herald about domestic violence and its effect on the county women, children and men who experience it.
“I want women to hear it. I want women to know that I feel their pain,” said Battle. She explained how she was a victim of domestic violence for almost 20 years. Her tale is a harrowing one of terror, a mother’s love and the will to survive.
Married in 1961 at the age of 18, she said that the abuse began when she and her then-husband were dating. “I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t tell my girlfriends” she said, “I thought he loved me – he didn’t want anyone else to look at me.” She recalled how he would shove her and tell “You were supposed to be here at…”
Pregnant when they married, “I thought the sun rose over him and thought that he loved me,” she said. Once married, the violence escalated. “He smacked me around and shoved me around while I was pregnant.”
The newly married Battle said that it took her a few years to figure out that her husband, an alcoholic, “was a very mean person. He was an angry, prejudiced man.”
“He was an entirely different person when he was sober,” she shared. “That’s the person that I loved.”
Her husband beat her on a fairly regular basis; once, fracturing her jaw.
Still, Battle stayed. Her boundary, she said, was her children.
“Don’t hit my kid, was my boundary. My limit was ‘You can kill me now, but don’t hit my kid.’”
On one occasion, when her husband tried to beat her son, Battle struck back. “He tried his best to kill me,” she said, “And he tried to choke me – so I hit him back. He was going to beat my son. I could see rage in him. My son was petrified. I told my son to run to the neighbor’s across the street.”
Interestingly, Battle said that her husband was the son of an abusive alcoholic father. “He would grab his father and say, ‘You better not hit my mom,’ yet he hit his own wife.”
Over the course of her marriage Battle did muster up the strength to take her children and leave the abuse. And every time she did, she’d go back. “I left for a couple of months,” she said. “I went to my aunt’s. But he came for me and promised me never to do it again.”
Upon her return, the beatings were worse.
Battle said that when she counsels women who are returning to their abusers to think long and think hard.
“I always tell girls if you decide to go back and you know he hasn’t gotten any professional help, it could be worse.” She said that the ambiguity in the abusers mind of what happened while the woman was out of the house adds to the abuse.
One episode of abuse stands out in Battle’s mind. She told of how she was pregnant with twins and her husband was drunk.
“He was over at his father’s house drinking and they concocted a story that the babies weren’t his.” Her husband beat her and pushed her down stairs, resulting in one of the babies being born neurologically impaired.
In 1978, with five sons and a daughter, Battle started to battle back.
“I told myself I didn’t like myself. I didn’t even know who ‘self’ was. To do what? Stay in this house? It’s not a home. I didn’t want my kids to think it was okay (to be beaten).”
So Battle developed a plan.
”I thought about my paperwork, my kids birth certificates and things like that.”
She told one person – a girlfriend, of what was going on. “I was scared about leaving,” she said. “Every day she would see me and say, ‘I don’t see bruises on you, so it must have been a good night.’”
One day, however, Battle knew that she had reached the end. She told in chilling detail how she and her husband had argued and fought the night before she made her run for it.
”He had been drinking. I got up, got the kids off to school, got ready for work. As I was getting ready for work he told me I wasn’t going to work and he wasn’t going to work, either – that I should call his work.”
Battle knew that if she didn’t do something, she was going to spend the day being beaten, or worse.
“I knew then that I wasn’t going to do it anymore. He went to the liquor store and I drove to Dorothy’s (her girlfriend). She was hanging clothes,” said Battle. “She looked at me coming out of the car and she said, ‘You know what to do.’”
“I drove to the Glassboro Police Department and told them I was leaving and I wanted my kids. I told them he had beaten me. They told me there was a shelter in Atlantic County and they asked me if I wanted to go there.”
They also told Battle that she needed to move fast if she wanted her kids, “They told me that the kids were his, too, and if he got to them first he could keep them.”
“I asked the police to come home with me so I could get some clothes for the kids.”
While she and the police were at the house her husband pulled up.
”Why are the police here,” he asked. “I couldn’t even look at him,” said Battle.
While the police were present, her husband tried to grab her as she went into the house. ”I stopped the door with my foot,” she said. “The police pushed him down and handcuffed him. I took a few things with me.”
Driving like a madwoman Battle was able to get to four of the schools to collect five of her children. But her husband got to the intermediate school first and took one child with him.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Battle, “to go back because of (the remaining child)? But I left. I said I would go to court to get (my child).”
“I didn’t know where I was going,” recalled Battle. “The kids were crying, I was crying. I drove north on the Parkway to the last exit.”
And there, a toll taker played angel to her. “The lady in the toll both asked me if I was okay,” she said. “And I said ‘no.’ The toll taker said that surely there was a reason I had come that way.” While sitting at the toll booth, able to regain a modicum of her composure, Battle said to herself, “My brother!”
Battle’s brother, a Baptist minister, lived in Morristown.
“The toll taker let me turn around,” said Battle, and I showed up at my brother’s church. My brother was playing the organ and he said, ‘Sis.” He knew. I didn’t have to say anything.”
Battle smiles as she recalls how she and six children hunkered down in her brother’s bachelor pad.
About a week or so later after Battle left her abusive marriage, her husband contacted Battle’s aunt. It seemed that caring for the child was putting a cramp in his lifestyle. Her husband took the child to her aunt’s house, where Battle picked him up. The mother and her children were whole again.
“1978 was the best year of my life,” said Battle when asked about leaving her husband. “I had my kids; I got a nice apartment, and a job.”
“I divorced him right away,” said Battle. “I paid for the divorce.” Once divorced, she never contacted him again. Since their divorce, her ex-husband passed away.
Battle tells her story because she wants women who are in a similar situation to know that there is a way out. There is help for them. There is support.
“I want her to know that there is a safe place for her to go,” said Battle. “There is a place she can go to, to be safe.”
Battle talked of the need for women in abusive relationships to have phones. Often, she said, the woman will not have access to a car or to a phone, so the abuse can exert total control over her.
Often, women stay in abusive situations because of the fear of losing their children. Not so, said Battle.
”Oh, honey, they are your kids. Take your kids,” she said.
Women, too, are sometimes afraid of signing charges against their abusers.
“They don’t have to sign charges,” said Battle. “They and their children can get out. They will be taken to a safe place.”
Women unable to find alternate housing on their own may access CARA’s shelter.
“There is a shelter,” said Battle. “A home-like environment. It’s not institutionalized at all. It looks like a home, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom and regular bathrooms. A woman can stay 30 days and we can work with her to find counseling and housing.”
In sharing her story, Battle hopes to let women know that there is an alternative out there. That as difficult as it seems, a better life does await them.
“It is possible for women to leave, survive and thrive,” she said. “If they just take the chance and leave their abuser.”
And for those not ready to leave? “I urge them to tell someone. It opens it up in case something bad happens. By telling, the other person may be able to guide them.”
Women, men, and children who are in need of help can contact CARA at 609-522-6489 or their local police at 911.
Copyright 2011 by Seawave Corp. Used with permission.
There are organizations across the state to help women who are confronted with domestic violence. Statewide organizations include the
New Jersey Coalition For Battered Women and New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
A 71 page guide was recently published by Legal Services of New Jersey. It is titled Domestic Violence: A Guide to the Legal Rights of Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey. For help call the New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-572-SAFE (7233).
Links to many of the organizations listed below are included on this site’s community resources page.
The following organizations provide women with either emergency shelter, counseling, and/or have telephone hotlines:
Atlantic County Women’s Center http://www.acwc.org/