Emma Perkins was born in a small town in East Tennessee, where gentle breezes drifted through the mountains and the sound of train whistles reminded her of her father and his job as a railroad conductor.
Her parents belonged to a strict conservative church, and she was raised to be obedient and respectful. As she grew she became a strikingly beautiful young woman, and her father forbade her from dating. Her older brothers watched her like circling hawks.
Then one day at a community gathering she met Freddy Thompson. He was handsome, charming, and they seemed to fall in love on the spot.
It was the beginning of a long slide into violence, heavy drinking and crime that Emma barely survived.
There was the day Freddy beat her into unconsciousness and left her to lie in her bed for days before taking her to the doctor.
There was the night he decided she had betrayed him and drove her side of the car into a tree on the side of the road.
There was the doctor he paid to poison Emma.
Domestic violence is the dark side of “love” – the side many suffer in silence and invisibility.
To make the invisible visible, October is domestic violence awareness month, and several victims of the violence have shared their stories.
“No one had any idea,” says one local woman. She didn’t tell friends, or family, or a counselor. She handled it on her own, finally walking out with her children, never looking back.
Another local woman says the physical and emotional abuse from her husband eventually led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that still lingers. It was her daughter who triggered her exit.
“She looked me in the eye and asked me if I could get a divorce,” the mother says, after an angry argument with her husband at bedtime. The woman called her lawyer the next morning and began planning her divorce.
Not everyone who suffers abuse has a simple way to leave.
Emma’s husband had a welding shop behind their house and so could keep an eye on her and their three children. Her parents lived just around the corner, but early on Freddy had threatened to shoot up her family’s house if she tried to leave. She couldn’t go to the store or the gas station without Freddy keeping up with her.
It was only an intervention from a friend in law enforcement that allowed Emma and the children to escape to Knoxville.
Although all three of these examples involve women as victims, it’s important to note that men can also suffer from domestic violence, but it’s also rare for a man to acknowledge it’s happening. And many experts have started using the term “partner violence,” because it also happens in same sex relationships and outside of traditional marriages.
Thirty years ago, when I was early in my journalism career, I was looking through the arrest logs for a jail in East Tennessee. When I asked the sheriff’s daughter, who was also his office manager, about a particular arrest, she said, “Oh, that’s just a domestic” and waved it off. It was not that long ago that what happened behind closed doors, what happened between a husband and wife, or parents and their children, was considered no one else’s business.
Recently, while copyediting the court page for the Press, a staff member stopped to call the office’s attention to a discovery. Five young men under 30 years of age had been arrested that week for domestic violence in Weakley County. Prompted to look further, I checked county arrests for January through September and discovered a total of 93 arrests had been made in those nine months. That’s an average of more than two alleged acts of domestic violence per week in Weakley County.
Domestic abuse seldom begins with physical violence. Most often psychological abuse begins the spiral. According to WebMD, signs to look for include:
- Your partner bullies, threatens, or controls you (accuses you of having an affair, blames you for abuse, criticizes you, tells you what to wear and how you should look, threatens to kill you or someone close to you, throws things or punches walls when angry, yells at you and makes you feel small).
- Your partner controls your money (keeps cash and credit cards from you, puts you on an allowance and makes you explain every dollar you spend, keeps you from working whatever job you want, steals money from you or your friends, won’t let you have money for basic needs like food and clothes).
- Your partner cuts you off from family and friends (keeps close tabs on where you go and whom you go with, makes you ask for an OK to see friends and family, embarrasses you in front of others making you want to avoid people).
- Your partner physically abuses you (abandons you in a place you don’t know, attacks you with weapons, keeps you from eating, sleeping, or getting medical care, locks you in or out of your house, punches, pushes, kicks, bites, pulls hair).
- Your partner sexually abuses you (forces you to have sex, makes you dress in a sexual way, makes you feel like you owe them sex, tries to give you a sexually transmitted disease, won’t use condoms or other birth control).
Fortunately, Emma eventually escaped Freddy. But law enforcement reports that, too frequently, escapes from domestic violence often result in quick returns to the partner they “love.” Next week we’ll look at resources available for victims of domestic violence and what’s being done for prevention.
For more information on domestic violence and to receive next week’s issue carrying the series, subscribe by calling 731-587-3144.