Domestic violence victim services find gaps in outreach

Like so many women who unknowingly enter into an abusive relationship, Ellen was swept off her feet immediately by the romantic gestures of the man she would marry.

Soon after their wedding, though, all the expensive gifts, trips, flowers and attention he lavished upon her devolved into a pattern of near-constant belittling, threatening and hitting. "Once we were married, it just turned into a nightmare," Ellen said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is referencing her only by part of her full name because she fears retaliation from her ex-husband.

Ellen endured more than two decades of abuse before she left her husband in 2000 with the aid of her family, friends and faith. Her story ended better than many others.

Domestic violence took the lives of 129 Georgians last year, according to the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report that was issued this week. The report, produced jointly by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, aims to save lives by identifying gaps in services for victims.

Among the 2010 report's findings:

  • From 2003 through 2010, at least 962 Georgians died due to domestic violence.
  • Georgia ranked 10th in the nation for its rate of men killing women.
  • Children were present for 43 percent of the domestic violence killings studied.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that just one in five domestic violence victims killed since 2004 had received assistance from emergency shelter programs.

That is because victims often do not view shelters as a place that will meet their needs, especially if they're still stuck in an abusive relationship. It's important for victims to know those organizations provide more than just shelter, said Maggie Reeves, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.

"We have all these resources and all these programs, and there really is a disconnect," Reeves said. "We've had to start over in public education."

Services offered by domestic violence programs include safety planning information, job assistance, counseling and support. Most, if not all, of the approximately 65 domestic violence programs in Georgia offer those services free of charge.

Ellen said she clung to her Christian faith as her husband systematically stripped away her independence. One day, a doctor she believes was sent by God sensed her struggle when she consulted him about her heart palpitations. After determining her symptoms were stress-related, the doctor took her hands, looked in her eyes and asked "what is going on?"

She burst into tears and confessed the misery her marriage had become. Ellen said it was then that she realized she had to leave.

Even so, it took five more years before she finally did. That's typical of battered women. Statistics show they will return to their abuser an average of seven times before they make a permanent break.

After her escape, Ellen became part of the solution. She joined a support group, volunteered to train nurses how to recognize battered women and works part time for a religious organization in Atlanta.

She sees the years she spent with her ex-husband as part of God's plan.

"What he intended for evil," she said, "God intended for good."


To view the 2010 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report, go to

Georgia Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-334-2836

Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence website:

The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline:  1-866-331-9474 or online chat