Abuse Victims Take Time Out

Shelters, programs help battered women beat the odds

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Most of the warning signs for domestic abuse problems aren't very subtle.

If one spouse has ever "pushed, grabbed, shoved, wrestled, hit or slapped" another spouse, for example, that's considered one of the 11 warning signs.

But it took Marsha Taylor (not her real name) of Payson two marriages and 13 years to get the hint. Maybe because none of the official warning signs make any direct mention of a mate who repeatedly slams your head into a concrete slab, rips your clothes off in front of his friends, or threatens to slash your throat with a knife.

That was Marsha's first marriage. She stuck with it for seven years, she said, because "I thought he was going to change, that I could change him. Or that, if I changed my behavior, he would change. I was hoping for something that, I now know, was not going to happen."

Each of the assaults Marsha endured had a number of things in common starting with a seemingly innocuous beginning that always involved alcohol.

"A lot of times it started when we were out partying," Marsha said. "All of a sudden, he'd just be mad at me. Once he chased and beat me because I had said that I wanted to take out my contact lenses because my eyes were hurting. I always thought it was my fault, that I did something wrong."

The assaults always ended the same way, too.

"I'd be black and blue all over the place, and he'd be so apologetic, saying, 'Oh, I'm so sorry, I'll never do that again. But you shouldn't have ...' And then it was my fault again."

Marsha and her husband separated many times ... and reconciled many times.

"I really thought that if he stopped drinking, everything would be okay. ... but he never stopped."

Eventually, Marsha separated from her first husband and stayed separated after fleeing to a "safe house" in Colorado in fear that he would hunt her down and beat her again. Over the next five years, Marsha became seriously involved with another man whom she ultimately married.

"He had always been a gentleman," Marsha recalls. "He was the kind of guy who would open doors for you, bend over backwards to do anything for you. He was really nice."

And then, another innocuous beginning this one over whose laundry she was planning to do first.

"He came into the laundry room and said, in a very angry tone, 'I want you to do mine, and I want them done now, by themselves! You always get things your way, I want it this way!' Meanwhile, I'm thinking, 'This is something I've never seen, out of five years of knowing him. This is really strange. Maybe he's on something."

The confrontation continued until Husband No. 2 began shoving Marsha and screaming at her, inches from her face.

I thought, 'This has happened before. I can't do this again.' So I grabbed my children and left. I decided I was gonna get out while the gettin' out was good."

Unsure of what to do or where to go, she called a friend who mentioned that she'd recently seen a newspaper ad for the Time Out Shelter, a Payson center which offers counseling and temporary shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

"I thought, 'OK. What else can I do? At least I could call and talk to them,'" Marsha said.

Time Out immediately offered Marsha a safe place where she and her children could stay.

A week later, one of the counselors arranged a meeting between Marsha and her husband in a public place.

"He said, 'All I gotta do is quit drinking and everything will be fine.' But I told him there was something else wrong; he was two different people, and he needed help. But he didn't want to go for help. And I knew that if I went back, it would start all over again."

Marsha did not go back. Today she is a single mother with a brand-new level, her own successful business, and nothing but positive thoughts about her future ... all thanks to the Time Out Shelter and staff members like Norma Runion, the organization's victim advocate liaison.

Same old story

There is nothing about Marsha's case that Runion has not seen or heard many times before. And some of the details like Marsha's husband blaming alcohol for his actions are like domestic abuse templates.

"It's extremely common for abusive spouses to blame outside forces, because that makes them feel like they don't have to take responsibility themselves," Runion said. "If it's not the fault of alcohol, it's the fault of the wife."

As an example, Runion cites the case of one of her clients, whose husband threw a kitchen knife at her.

"Fortunately, she moved, and the knife went into the couch. He is now taking (anger management) classes, but he's still saying, 'It's not my fault. Why am I taking classes?'"

Another set piece in the scenario, Runion said, is the morning-after apology.

Abusive spouses "always promise to change, and sometimes actually try to do better. But if they don't make the commitment to get help and recognize their problem, the promises mean nothing.

"Domestic abuse is all about power and control. The moment you step over their boundaries when you do what they have asked you not to do that is the moment they change."

The answer? Do what Marsha Taylor did but more quickly.

"Get help. Get counseling. Call the Time Out Shelter, which was created for people who are in risky situations and have to hide."

Once there, Time Out can offer resources through the county's Community Action Program, and Runion can act as the liaison between the shelter, the police, the probation officer and the hospital.

"Whenever I get a call, I go to the house to try and fulfill immediate needs, like food, when the abuser has been sent to jail and the victim has no job or any way to pay for anything.

"Then I help them plan their next step to find work so they can start supporting themselves over the long term, or to return to school to earn their GED, for free."

Runion might also refer the caller to a specific counselor or program. And then she offers the most important advice many of them will ever receive, but only some will follow.

"I tell them, 'Your spouse is going to call you, and he is going to want to initiate the romance again. And you're going to say, 'You know, we need to face the fact that we have had this problem for 20 years. If we care for our family, we need to get help. We need to learn together why this is happening. And we need to be able to explain to our children why this has happened, and how we are going to stop it.'"

To learn more about the Time Out program, call the shelter at 472-8007.

Who is battered?

According to national statistics gathered by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there is no such thing as a "typical woman who will be battered." Over 50 percent of all women will experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, and for 24 to 30 percent of those women, the battering will be regular and ongoing. Every 15 seconds, the crime of battering occurs somewhere in America.

More than 50 percent of child abductions result from domestic violence.

Approximately one out of every 25 elderly persons is victimized annually.

Twenty-two to 35 percent of women who visit emergency rooms are there for injuries related to ongoing abuse.

Up to 50 percent of all homeless women and children in the U.S. are fleeing domestic violence.

Five to 25 percent of pregnant women are battered.

One out of every four gay couples experiences domestic violence in their relationship approximately the same rate as heterosexual couples.

A study of violence among dating couples of high school age found that 12 percent had experienced abuse in one of their relationships.

Rates of sexual abuse against disabled girls and women are roughly twice as high as for nondisabled girls and women.

In 1996, 30 percent of all female murder victims in the U.S. were slain by their husbands or boyfriends.

Over two-thirds of female victims of violence documented in 1993 were related to or knew their attacker.

Between 1995 and 1996, 80 percent of women who were stalked by former husbands were physically assaulted by that former partner, and 30 percent were sexually assaulted.

A 1993 study revealed that households experiencing domestic violence were close to five times more likely to be the scene of a homicide than other homes and that, in households where a handgun was kept in the home, family members or acquaintances were 43 times more likely than intruders to be killed by that handgun.

Although divorced and separated women comprise only 7 percent of the population of the U.S., they account for 75 percent of all battered women and report being assaulted 14 times more often than women still living with a partner.

Free workshops

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Rim Community Connection is now presenting a series of free workshops, from 9:30 a.m. to noon, related to the issues of domestic abuse.

October 14 "Shattered Relationships: Preventing domestic violence," by Darlene Curlee and Norma Runion, M.Div.

October 21 "Parenting: How to really love your children," by Judy Griffith, M.A.

October 28 "Transition to Community: Succeeding in a changing world," by Simone Lake, B.A.

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