By Robin Gallaher Branch | Photography courtesy of familyvaluesatwork.org
October is Domestic Violence Month, but the House of Grace strives to help victims – both males and females – throughout the year.
Melissa Dabar remembers first the choke hold and then how her ex-husband pounded her head on a cement floor until her skull cracked. “He bragged that he thought he’d killed me,” she recalls. Dabar, 49, a registered nurse and now an attorney in Hernando, Mississippi, has shared her story frequently at domestic violence awareness meetings.
“I’m a survivor and not a victim,” she says.
Part of her recovery was finding a safe place to hide. She and her daughters stayed at House of Grace, a shelter in Southaven. Because her ex-husband stalked her various places of employments, she needed a place where he could not find her.
“One of the rules at House of Grace is no cell phones because they can be tracked,” she says. With the quiet time, Dabar studied for the bar exam to become a lawyer. She passed in 2009.
House of Grace started in 1998. One of its founders, Lorine Cady, 82, explains that the insistence of the Lord led her to investigate ways to open a shelter first for women and later for women and their children. Dabar and Cady praise DeSoto county’s law enforcement and social agencies for prompt, thorough, kind, and knowledgeable service to the abused.
“House of Grace is a Christ-centered home for battered women and their children,” Cady says. “We have a Christ-like attitude of kindness toward them.”
The unidentified house has multiple bedrooms and baths and a large kitchen/dining area. “The fire department says I can house 16,” Cady says. “When we have an overflow, we put them in a hotel.” A hotel presents logistical problems; it’s not as safe, and House staff must provide daily three meals and two snacks.
Domestic violence is not limited to women. Since 1998 three men have sought shelter, and they, too, were sent to a hotel. Cady thinks the small number of men is because “Southern men do not like to admit that they have been abused.”
Cady defines battering by what she’s seen and stories she’s heard: “It’s when you’re struck, hit, choked, locked in a closet without food or water, or run over by a car.”
The House also receives elderly who are abused. Licensing requirements stipulate that the elderly be mobile (even with a walker) and able to independently perform functions of daily living. Elder abuse often entails isolation, starvation, and thievery of assets like Social Security checks. “There is much of it in the area,” Cady adds.
Referrals to the shelter often look disheveled when they arrive. They are either extremely talkative or silent. They usually have to leave their homes suddenly with just the clothes they are wearing.
Domestic violence often begins with belittling and criticizing the victim. Other characteristics include jealousy, withholding affection, isolation, demanding the victim change, and controlling the relationship. Abusers are often moody and rarely happy. They yell, scream and throw things in private but are often quite likeable in public settings.
“He acts like a good neighbor and may go to church,” Cady adds.
Dabar discovered in group sessions that most of the women had been abused throughout their lives. “It seems to be a generational thing with families,” she says.
Yet upon reflection, she realized she and her mother had experienced abuse. “My father belittled us; he said we were worthless because we were women. I asked my mother why she didn’t leave; she said she had no education and couldn’t get out,” Dabar says.
Dabar uses that example in her practice. “It’s hard to get a woman to realize she’s battered and is worth more. If she does not realize that, she will go from abuser to abuser.”
Too often, a woman returns to her batterer because, as Cady explains, the man promises to change or that he’s straightened out her life. He brings her flowers, takes her to dinner, and is nice for a while.
“We call that the honeymoon period,” Cady says. “Then he gets bored, nervous, and angry. The criticism resumes; the blow up and battering are coming.”
Meanwhile, the children see it. “The effects are lasting. Some live in fear all their lives,” Cady says.
Cady finds that battering occurs with both the married and those living with a partner. But the ones who are most frequently battered are those with a partner. Why is that? “There’s no commitment,” she answers.
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