DCF Secretary David Wilkins talks about his recent visit to the Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program in Panama City
They told me about a woman who thought she was “going crazy.” Her husband would move furniture around in their house while she was out volunteering. When she returned and asked about the new arrangement, he would tell her the furniture had always been like that. It was a control tactic. Her husband was never physical, but the name-calling and mind games were getting worse. They had been married for 46 years.
The woman came to the Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program not because she thought she was the victim of domestic abuse, but because she was worried she was actually losing her grip on reality. Her counselors at the program said that during therapy it was like a light bulb lit up and the blinders came off. She realized she had lost her identity; she didn’t have a sense of who she was anymore. What her husband was doing was wrong and she didn’t have to take it. She eventually left the marriage and moved in with her son.
I heard many stories about victims and survivors when I visited the program’s Safe House recently. The statistics they told me were eye-opening. In 2008, they helped 850 women a year. Now they serve 1,200. In 2008, 60 kids were in the Safe House at some point. In the past year, more than 110 have stayed there.
I also heard about a woman who was into heavy drinking with her husband. He became abusive. A series of events left them addicted to drugs and without a home – literally eating out of trash cans. He was still beating her. She was in and out of domestic violence shelters for awhile, but eventually her husband beat her very badly and ended up doing time in jail. This time she came to the program and started rehab at Bethel Village. She also comes to the program’s counseling services. She is clean, sober, employed and safe.
Domestic violence comes in all shapes and sizes. It does not discriminate based on race, gender, location or household income. I heard of another woman who was living in an upper class neighborhood in the area. She was married to a wealthy doctor who also beat her. She wanted to leave, but he had put all of the family’s debt in her name. If she had left on her own she would have been drowning in debt with no means to support herself. The program helped give her resources like free food, shelter and counseling so she could get out.
I was pleased to see the great work going on at the program and am inspired by these survivors. DCF and the program work closely together to ensure batterers are held accountable for their behavior. Batterers’ actions place their partners, children, family and friends in danger.
If you or a loved one may be a victim of domestic violence, please call the Hotline immediately: 1-800-500-1119. You are not alone and we are here to help you.