Domestic violence a growing problem

COVINGTON - Since the beginning of September 2006, there have been 14 violent deaths in Newton County. Of those killed, authorities say nine of them were related to incidents of domestic violence.

"I think there's been an increase in (domestic violence) because people don't like to talk about it and nobody's doing anything to prevent it other than social service agencies that have to deal with it on a daily basis," said Vickie Stevenson, executive director of Project ReNeWal. "Most of your local politicians don't want to talk about it because ... it's something people just don't want to hear."

Project ReNeWal is a domestic violence intervention program servicing Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties.

Stevenson said the program receives calls from the Department of Family and Children Services, as well as local law enforcement agencies and area hospitals on a daily basis concerning victims of domestic violence.

In 2006 Project ReNeWal served 3,348 people, providing 44,664 services to them, according to Stevenson. The services provided included such things as counseling, clothing, food, changing of locks, parenting classes, protective orders, relocation assistance and transportation.

The nonprofit organization physically sheltered 304 people last year and responded to 4,388 crisis calls, which are calls from people who are in actual physical danger.

Thus far in 2007, the program has rendered services to 3,392 victims of domestic abuse and answered 3,233 crisis calls. Stevenson said those numbers will most likely continue to rise as the holiday season approaches.

Stevenson said it's hard for many women, as well some men, to leave the abusive relationship they're in because their abusive partners often prevent them from doing so.

"It's very hard because most of the time they've been prevented from working or socializing. They're not allowed to do anything independently from the family because (he or she) is controlling their entire life," she said. "We have women that come here with master's degrees that haven't been allowed to work, and they have to go back and start over."

Children are often the victims of an abusive relationship, as well, and Stevenson said the women who seek refuge at the shelter have an average of three children who accompany them.

According to Stevenson, one in three women will be the victim of abuse at some point during her life. Stevenson emphasized, however, that men can also be victims of domestic violence and pointed out that their shelter is the only one in the state that can house men as well as women.

Stevenson said the recent death of Pam Spencer has affected the Project ReNeWal staff and made them aware of how important their jobs are.

Authorities say Spencer's live-in boyfriend, Rick Breedlove, shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself in November. He has been charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in connection with the crime.

Breedlove survived the shooting and has remained in critical condition at an Atlanta area hospital since.

"I wasn't shot, but I was beaten and lived in fear for years in just such a situation," said Mary Ann Thomas, a friend of Spencer's from out of state, who said she, too, was a victim of domestic violence.

"Women who are being abused are also being cut off from friends and family, it is part of the abuse cycle," she said. "Some friends told me if I continued to see this man they did not want to be a part of my life. Score one for the abuser. My family told me I was weak and stupid to continue seeing this man. Score one for the abuser. The best thing that was said to me was, "I don't know what is happening between you two, but I think there may be hitting, punching or more. If I am wrong, please forgive me. But if you need someone to be there, call the police, or (to) support you in any way, you call me. Day or night.'"

Thomas said she ended up working for more than two years with a shelter in her area to "teach myself how to never get into a situation like that again. The other part of the equation was to give back to the community because the women's shelter was my refuge and gave me good information and support."

Project ReNeWal has a crisis line 24 hours a day, seven days a week that can be reached at 770-860-1666.

To find out more about how to donate or volunteer, call the shelter's administrative line at 770-860-9770.

The nonprofit organization receives a third of its funding from the Georgia Department of Human Resources. The other two-thirds is gathered from local fundraising.

Stevenson said the organization is in need of playground equipment. All donations to Project ReNeWal are tax deductible.

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: At a glance

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence recommends you:

· Memorize numbers of people you can go to for help, local crisis lines and emergency numbers. If you feel you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

· Tell others you trust, such as neighbors, friends or co-workers, and talk about ways they can help.

· Identify escape routes and where you can go if you need to run away quickly.

· Talk to your children about what they can do during a violent incident and how they can keep themselves safe.

· Put together an emergency bag with your important papers or copies of your papers. These may include: passports, visas, green card, EAD card, Social Security card, drivers license, birth certificates, marriage certificate or other proof of marriage, such as pictures or wedding invitations, proof of divorce if either you or your spouse had a previous marriage, public assistance documents, tax returns and pay stubs for you and your spouse, and copies of your abuser's immigration documents.

· Pack your medical prescriptions, extra car keys, money, checkbooks, credit cards and a list of contact numbers. Keep the bag with someone you trust.

· Trust your instincts. If you feel you are in danger, you probably are. Try to get to a safe place as soon as you can.