ELIZABETHTOWN — “Come, sit down and talk with me, in private and confidential. You’re not alone, and you’re loved.”
That plea is going out to women this month, as Families First of Bladen County launches a women’s support group for females in domestic or sexual abuse environments. Marjorie Lewis is the coordinator of the group.
“I’m a survivor of domestic abuse,” said Lewis, who also authored two books on the topic. “When you go to the grocery store or shopping, stop and look at the women going by — look at the way they walk with their male partners, the expressions on their faces. They’re beat up and depressed, and they’ve been called ‘dog’ or told they’re ‘dirty’ or ‘Who wants you? Look at you,’ and their self-esteem goes away.
“They think, ‘I have to stay with this person — he’s the only one who will take me’ or ‘What will happen to my children if I leave? I don’t have a trade. I can’t do anything.’
“I want to help those women become self-sufficient,” she continued, “so they can hold their head up when they’re walking.”
To that end, the women of the support group will learn skills, such as how to make wreaths, that they can use to make money and not be dependent on their abusers. It will also, according to Lewis, be a safe space to talk and be heard.
Statistically speaking, however, Lewis knows many of them will return to the bad situation. The average abuse victim will return to her abuser seven to 10 times before leaving for good. The reasons for returning vary as widely as the women being abused.
“Maybe she goes back because of finances, or maybe he’s threatened her, or he threatened to kill an animal or harm her family,” Lewis explained. “He may tell her he’s going to contact DSS and tell them she’s on drugs, whether or not she really is.”
For Lewis herself, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came one day when she and her then husband were fighting and her 12-year-old son stepped in and told his father that if the elder hit his mother again, the son would kill him.
“That’s what it takes — a red flag,” said the survivor. “I knew I had to get my son out if I didn’t want him to wind up in jail. It takes something drastic for you to be determined to stay gone.”
Lewis has been working with abuse victims for 11 years now and says “they’re coming out of the woodworks” in Bladen County. The agency served approximately 360 women last year.
“It’s here, and it’s happening,” she commented.
For those caught in abusive situations, Lewis reiterated one message.
“You’re not alone. You’re loved. In our group, we can talk and joke and be confidential and empower one another and be kind to one another. Call me, or call our supervisor Vickie Pait.”
Though the group is strictly for women, Lewis said the organization also serves men caught in abuse.
For information about the women’s support group, Lewis can be contacted by calling 910-862-2534.
If you or someone you know are victims of domestic or sexual abuse, call 910-641-0444 to reach Families First’s crisis hotline.
Since 1995, Families First has worked to identify, address, and attempt to rectify issues relating to and associated with domestic violence and sexual assault in Bladen and Columbus counties. Funding and support comes through the counties and through donations and sales at thrift stores, the government of Columbus County, Governor’s Crime Commission, and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.