Once, Shannon’s ex-husband pointed a gun at her side for accidentally letting their dogs out of the house. Other times, he’d hit her for no reason, or wake her up in the middle of the night, pull the covers off her and yell. There was often alcohol on his breath. But the rage — she didn’t know where that came from.
“I just felt like I was walking on eggshells,” said Shannon, 41, who requested that her last name be withheld for her safety. “His quick temper — I didn’t know when it would show up.”
She was married seven years to a man who would constantly play mind games like changing the alarm system password. She’d go to work with bruises on her arms or a broken rib. Sometimes, she’d hide in the woods near her home during his bouts of fury.
Last year in Leon County, there were 1,729 domestic violence offenses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those were only the incidents reported.
Three domestic violence victims died. Thirty were raped. Almost 300 aggravated assault offenses were reported.
On Tuesday evening, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council will host the March to End the Silence on Domestic Violence, to bring awareness of the issue. The walk will culminate in a dinner and speech by survivor Melissa Dohme-Hill.
Six years ago, Dohme-Hill was stabbed dozens of times by her then-boyfriend at her home in Clearwater, ABC News reported. Since then, she’s found love — with the paramedic who saved her life after the horrific incident.
“My message to any woman that’s in an abusive relationship is that you’re not alone and there is a better life after abuse,” she told the TV station. “You deserve to be loved and respected and never, never should a man lay a hand on you, and it’s not acceptable by any means.”
She’s now a public speaker who advocates for victims and shares her experiences. Dohme-Hill, a violence prevention advocate at Tampa Bay’s Hands Across the Bay’s Domestic Violence Division, also calls herself a “Sur-Thriver.”
Help is available here, too.
Studies show that good ways to mitigate domestic violence are well-coordinated community responses and community awareness, said Domestic Violence Coordinating Council Director Kelly O’Rourke, a research associate at Florida State University’s Institute for Family Violence Studies.
The council meets the third Wednesday of every month and hosts free awareness workshops throughout the community.
“We’re working on prevention,” O’Rourke said. The council has been concentrating efforts on educating teens and college students not to let strong emotions turn into violent communications styles. “We’re working with them on how not to turn that into anger and shoving and pushing and power and control. We have to start early with the teenagers.”
For Florida A&M University’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers, the council did a dating abuse and communication workshop.
“We call them Teen Peer Adviser workshops,” she said. “Participants get a T-shirt and are trained to spot the red flag or warning signs of a dangerous relationship and how to help friends in need.”
Those warning signs span the spectrum, but there are some tell-tale signs friends, relatives and co-workers may notice.
“They become more withdrawn or isolated, maybe they don’t come around as often anymore,” said Emily Mitchem, assistant director at Refuge House, which offers local services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims and is part of the council. “A change in personality, a change in their demeanor.”
Friends may notice victims’ partners may exhibit controlling behavior, like overseeing their social media accounts, Mitchem added.
If someone thinks their friend or relative is being abused, they can call Refuge House’s emergency hotline at 850-681-2111 or refer their friend to the hotline. In the last fiscal year, more than 2,000 calls were made to the hotline.
“They’re very afraid of people finding out and their safety is in danger,” Mitchem said. “Believe them and support them, and let them know that you’re there for them.”
Since last summer and as of June 30, Refuge House admitted 280 women, men and children into its emergency shelter; 1,079 people received aid from the courthouse injunction assistance program and 239 received counseling services. In total in the Big Bend, close to 5,000 people received assistance from the organization.
O’Rourke hopes Tuesday evening’s event will help people understand the warning signs and where to go for help.
Every year since her abusive marriage ended, Shannon has been attending the DVCC march. She didn’t talk much to anyone about what she was going through. After the relationship ended, she’d sleep with a knife under her pillow out of fear of his return.
She still lives in the same house on the outskirts of Leon County. But she’s made it her own, rearranging decor and furniture.
“It’s something that’s in my past, and it’s not going to be in my future,” she said.
She hopes other victims get help or talk with someone they trust about the turmoil.
“Don’t keep it quiet like I did,” she said. “It takes strength, and you’ll find strength you didn’t know you had — and when it’s all said and done, you’ll feel so much better.”