Behind locked gates, security cameras and “No Trespassing” signs at the Time Out Shelter, the shadow of domestic violence remain largely hidden from view.
The bland front view offers little clue to what lies beyond the chain link fence. It looks like any other faded, suburban home, but that’s all a façade.
Inside, the wallpaper is peeling, the curtains are torn and the walls well scribbled on. Children cry, women cry, volunteers sigh and intimate-partner violence remains Payson’s dispiriting secret.
Recently, the shelter granted the Roundup access to bring awareness to an issue that police cope with every day, which one in four women will face in their lifetime and that few people talk about.
Domestic violence in Rim Country has been increasing at a rapid rate.
As other crime statistics have fallen in the past four years, arrests for domestic violence by the Payson police have risen 138 percent.
The Roundup met three women in three very different stages of recovery.
One woman, still shaken and raw from her escape, was already thinking about returning to her abuser.
Another had staggered through the wrenching risks and changes that came with leaving, but now stood ready to move into transitional housing and start a new life.
The third woman had come back to the shelter as a volunteer — 10 years abuse free.
The center itself is going through a metamorphosis, after several years of brutal budget cuts. It has now hired a new director and all the while managed a full house of clients.
When we dropped by on a Tuesday afternoon, the center’s small, barren yard was abuzz with children. A handful of women stood with deadpan expressions, watching the children run back and forth — screaming and playing.
One boy cried for his mother after another child smacked him.
“Play nice,” the mother shouted.
The 26-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified, said the children could play rough. But then, she said her children had watched their father beat her for years before she started fighting back. “They have seen a lot of violence,” she said quietly.
The woman had only recently arrived at the shelter from the Valley, after the emotional abuse proved too much to bear.
The woman said she had thought about leaving for some time, but stayed for economic reasons.
“I finally got sick of everything,” she said. “I decided it was time to go, money or no money.”
It was the second time she had left, the first time was three years ago.
But she went back because she couldn’t find a job, so she convinced herself that the abuse “wasn’t that bad.”
This time, she had come to Payson hoping to find a better life and escape for good.
But at the moment, she said life didn’t seem much better in the worn and overcrowded center, coping this year with more than $150,000 in lost state and federal grants.
“At home, my kids had their own rooms. Here, we have to share everything,” she said. “I am hoping to get out of here.”
As we walked through a set of doors and past a wall of security monitors, a mother sat at a kitchen table, chopping up chicken, half a dozen of her children huddled around. The weary, 26-year-old then led me up a flight of stairs to the living quarters.
Here, bunk beds circled the perimeter, every wall marked with children’s scribbles. In her room, she had tossed everything she owned on the bunk.
In a separate, empty nursery, the blinds hung limp from years of sun damage. Even in the daytime, the rooms were gloomy.
“It is so chaotic around here all day,” she said. “It is hard to want to stay, but if I am not here, I’ll go back to him.”
Victims offer many reasons for going back. Most tolerate abusive behavior because they fear even worse abuse, losing their children or facing homelessness. Many convince themselves the abuse will stop — or refuse to see their treatment as abusive.
Some do leave — repeatedly — but then return.
One woman said she went back repeatedly, hoping he had changed, afraid to break up the family.
The 26-year-old we spoke with said she could not afford to take care of her two boys on her own.
Deanna Watkins, who transitioned from victim to survivor and now center volunteer, said she sees such women all the time. In fact, she was herself once that woman.
A decade ago, her mother called the Time Out for help getting her daughter out of a traumatic relationship.
When Watkins arrived, the first thing she wanted to do was leave. She didn’t need the help — she insisted — because she wasn’t being abused.
At least that is what she thought at first.
A 48-year-old woman also at the shelter getting ready to move into transitional housing, said she also didn’t consider herself abused when she first arrived. Statistics show victims of domestic violence often know their perpetrator well.
The women who spoke to the Roundup all said they had endured years of abuse. It usually started subtly soon after the relationship started. Controlling behavior and demands escalated into yelling and violence, both physically and sexually.
Most never considered leaving until after they’d suffered severe physical violence.
Up until that point, many women accept violence as a normal part of a relationship and life, Watkins said. Many also grew up with violence.
For Watkins, domestic violence seemed so normal that she thought any loving relationship would involve some abuse. In fact, all three of her spouses beat, berated and controlled her.
At 38, Watkins started having epileptic seizures as a result of her frequent beatings. When her mother finally called the shelter for help, Watkins refused to go.
“I was so mad when I first came here,” she said. “I didn’t want to come to the shelter, I didn’t think I was even being abused.”
So Watkins said she’s not surprised that the young woman on her first time in the shelter is already thinking about returning to her violent partner. She simply doesn’t yet see his behavior as abusive, said Watkins quietly, watching her from across the room.
Later, the young mother talks, watching her two boys running around the yard. She lights a cigarette and looks away. “I have nothing,” she says. “I don’t have child care, a job — I am losing every way you look at it.”
“But you’re not dead,” Watkins said.
Next: Two women who have escaped abusive relationships talk about how they did it — and what women still trapped now need.