South Carolina has one of the highest incidents of domestic violence-related homicide in 2014. According to the latest South Carolina Report on Domestic Violence, Homicide Victims, 83 percent of reported incidents in the state were committed against women. Sistercare -- a private, nonprofit United Way partner agency serving Kershaw, Fairfield, Lexington, Newberry and Richland counties -- helps battered women and their children. Executive Director Nancy Barton said Sistercare’s purpose is to provide various services for women and their children who are survivors of domestic violence.
“The most dangerous time for a battered woman is when she leaves or is planning to leave. So often in media, it’s reported that the estranged husband, the ex-boyfriend or the abuser has the attitude of ‘if I can’t have her, no one can,’” Barton said.
Barton said the term “survivor” rather than “victim” is used to refer to those who have lived through domestic violence. Victim is used to refer to a woman who has been murdered.
“Survivors prefer to be called survivors. Survivor connotes you can make it, that there is hope and you survived it. Another point I would make is despite what people think, survivors are so strong and resilient. They endure because they fear they will lose their children -- survivors will endure what seems unfathomable,” Barton said.
Children, other family members or even pets can be used as a threat against the woman if she expresses the desire to leave an abusive relationship. Abusers may also threaten to harm themselves or others to manipulate their partner into staying with them.
In order to provide a way out of difficult situations, Sistercare offers many programs including counseling services for women and children, community support groups, individual counseling, court advocacy, a 24-hour crises/service line, emergency shelters, transitional housing and a rural outreach program. Barton said the programs are meant to help women break away from their abusers and build a new life in a safe environment.
“To break free of the abuse is a process. It’s not that you leave and everything is fine. For this process you need long term counseling, court advocacy, etc. These community-based services, while they don’t sound as dramatic as our emergency shelter, they are really a necessary approach to help,” Barton said. “The foundation of domestic violence is one person wanting to overpower the other. It’s using financial, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse to gain power and control. Violence is the tool and the ultimate control is to take someone’s life.”
Barton also wants to remind others of the damage verbal abuse can cause to another person.
“Never forget that domestic violence includes verbal and psychological abuse that survivor after survivor tell us is worse than most of the physical abuse. You’ll hear them say ‘I can’t tell you where my bruises and scars are, but I can still hear the words being said,’” Barton said. “It’s hard not to be affected when it’s someone you love and think loves you says awful things or puts you down. It’s a very effective tactic on the part of the abuser. I can’t think of a case where there has been physical abuse but not verbal. Once you wear down a person’s self esteem and self confidence, you are in a so much better position to control them.”
Barton said the following signs are “red flags” that someone might be in an abusive relationship:
• A strong control of a person’s actions such as how they dress or how long they are gone. The person could get in “trouble” for not reporting in. “There is strong control that interferes with your living and being your own person,” Barton said.
• One person in the relationship has possessive jealously over the other. “It is a serious indicator, too -- if there is perceived infidelity/cheating and accusing them of being with other people at every turn,” Barton said.
• Humiliating, criticizing or embarrassing someone in front of friends. “This can be seen in putting you down and acting like your opinions just don’t matter,” Barton said.
• One person might attempt to isolate the other from their loved ones or friends. “Isolating the survivor from her support network, family or friends is a sign. It starts subtle and insidious. Someone might say ‘You sure do talk to so and so a lot’ or ‘Why do we have to visit your family?’ or ‘You don’t have to go out with your girlfriends’ … over time, before you know it, so many survivors tell us they are cut off from their support,” Barton said. She added cutting off someone from their support gives the abuser more power over the other person and restricts their ability to get help.
• Receiving blame for the abuse. “What we see so often is the abuser blames the survivor for the abusive behavior. ‘You made me do this,’ or ‘If you had kept the children quiet,’ or ‘My boss was on me all day.’ Basically, they are not assuming any responsibility for their actions,” Barton said.
• Obsessive behavior towards the other person. “Psychologists call it obsessive love that is really pathological. They’ve got to have you every minute,” Barton said.
Sistercare’s crises hotline is (803) 765-9428.
“We encourage anybody to contact us if they perceive they are being abused, controlled or battered in a relationship. We are open 24/7,” Barton said.
(In the next part of this series, the C-I will take a closer look at how Sistercare operates in Kershaw County and specific services available in the county.)