By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
Survivors of domestic abuse have a new outlet for support in North Mecklenburg, thanks to the efforts of United Family Services Victim Advocate Amy Putnam and Client Specialist Heather Chavis, who this month started hosting group meetings for area survivors. (“survivors” is the preferred term, rather than “victims.”)
Ms. Putnam is the victim advocate for the three North Mecklenburg towns, and 80 percent of her referrals have been domestic violence cases, she said. So she saw a clear need for a domestic violence support group in the area.
Seven women turned out for the group’s first meeting July 10, and six attended the July 24 meeting – including four new women. And Ms. Putnam continues to receive calls from survivors interested in attending, she said.
“It’s a huge step for (the survivors) to even come to the group,” she said. “They’re getting past those levels of guilt, shame, and embarrassment, and moving to a point where they can accept help.”
Word of the support group has spread mostly through referrals and word-of-mouth, Ms. Putnam said, and she in encouraged by the turnout. The group is diverse, and includes women ages 30 to 60 or so from the three North Mecklenburg towns and as far north as Statesville. One woman drove two hours to make it to the last meeting, she said. Some members are no longer in abusive situations, but are still suffering from their past experiences, and some are still in abusive situations, be them physically, emotionally, or psychologically abusive.
“They don’t have to share their stories if they don’t want to,” Ms. Putnam said, but so far the group members have been very open and the result is “empowering.”
“They’re coming together and realizing they’re not alone,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how much they find that is similar, and how many characteristics (their abusers) have in common.”
“Sitting back and allowing that to happen is really powerful,” she said.
During the first group meeting, the women defined topics they want to discuss during future meetings, such as: What does abuse mean to me?; Restoring self and self-care; and the judicial system, among others.
“A lot of them are really in tune with what they need from the group,” Ms. Putnam said. And the group members have been open, welcoming, and “just want to help each other,” she said.
The ultimate goal is for the facilitators to remain silent, Ms. Putnam said, and for the women to lead discussions with each other.
“No one gets it until they’ve been through it,” she said, referring to abuse, so the women are themselves the best resources for others. Some have shared with the group how they got out of their abusive situations, and others have shared what they are currently going through. The women also have a “lending library” of books and resources, Ms. Putnam said.
And for those who aren’t ready to share yet, or perhaps are not ready to attend a meeting, “that they know help is out there is the biggest thing,” Ms. Putnam said.
Women who are interested in meeting can call Ms. Putnam at 704-808-4743. She will talk with them – either over the phone or in person – about their reasons for wanting to attend the meetings, and will ask basic questions to assess their safety level, she said. UFS takes security precautions for the meetings, which are free and convene every other Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at a location known only to attendees. Click here to view a flier for the meetings. (PDF)