Among the many social problems the growing lake Norman area faces is one that often hides beneath the surface: domestic violence. But even if you can’t see it, don’t get the idea it’s not there, says Janice, a survivor who now speaks to others about her experience, and where they can find help.
WANT TO HELP? Lake Norman Cruise for Change Oct. 6 raises money for United Family Services and domestic violence programs. See below.
“It’s very easy for people to think it’s an issue that doesn’t affect Lake Norman,” said Janice, who asked that her real name not be used. But, she says, it’s a “myth” that verbal or physical abuse in relationships doesn’t happen here. “Nothing in the statistics suggests that is true.”
Janice didn’t really understand she was in an abusive marriage until she was referred to a domestic violence counselor at the nonprofit United Family Services, which has a Lake Norman office in Cornelius.
She thought her husband’s drinking was the problem. “I thought I had diagnosed him as an alcoholic. .. I was always trying to fix it,” she said in an interview.
She suggested he go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, which he did, but that had the opposite effect. “It just made everything worse.”
Her husband became increasingly controlling, verbally intimidating, and physically abusive, especially in bed. “He started harassing me 24/7,” she recalled. At times, “I felt like driving my car off the bridge.”
She changed jobs several times, and just “shut down emotionally.” She’d work long hours to avoid coming home.
As the abuse worsened, she found she needed help. “I had been to other counselors, but they couldn’t figure it out,” Janice said.
Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, Lake Norman region director for UFS, said it’s not unusual for counselors to miss the signs of domestic abuse if they are not trained to recognize it.
At United Family Services, Janice found help. She started with a group meeting with a half-dozen other women. When she tried to talk to other counselors and other people about her problem, “It was like speaking Russian and never meeting another Russian.” At the United Family Services group, “I was in a room with people who spoke my language.”
Her husband “made me think that I was crazy,” she said. But now, three years after she left and got help, she now understands she’s not alone, and help is available.
And now that she’s out speaking to others, she wants people to know that domestic violence is a real problem – not one to be hidden or dismissed. Nationally, she said, it is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 boys are victims of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, she says, rattling off statistics.
About 75 percent of women are victimized before they graduate from high school, she said.
In the Lake Norman area, United Family Services and the towns of Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville have joined forces to hire a domestic violence victim advocate. In the first year, according to Ms. Firmin-Sellers, the advocated helped just under 200 people. About half were domestic violence cases, one-quarter sexual assaults, and one-quarter child abuse.
“It’s among the most underreported crimes,” Ms. Firmin-Sellers said.
United Family Services is joining the nationwide effort to spread the word during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. The Cruise for Change on Oct. 6 is part of that work, as well as a way to help pay for the services UFS provides.
Meanwhile, town boards throughout the area are issuing their own proclamations recognizing the month and promoting greater awareness.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, you can find support at United Family Services. The nonprofit organization offers counseling, a battered women’s shelter, and domestic violence victim services – to help navigate the legal system. This year, UFS started a Domestic Violence Support Group. Find out more at www.unitedfamilyservices.org/ For specific information about the organization’s Lake Norman area services, visit http://www.unitedfamilyservices.org/mooresville-lake-norman/
HOW YOU CAN HELP?
United Family Services, which is based in Charlotte and has an office Cornelius, will host its annual Cruise for Change on Saturday, Oct. 6, to raise money for its domestic violence programs. The cruise is 6:30 to 10 p.m., departing from Queens Landing in Mooresville. The cost is $60 per person, including heavy hors d’oeuvres, a 1-hour open bar, dancing, a silent auction and a drawing for an iPad. Buy tickets at unitedfamilyservices.org. See also Facebook, www.facebook.com/CruiseForChange