The Family Safety Center on Thursday, July 25, celebrated the launch of VOICES, a new victims advocacy group consisting of domestic violence survivors and local organizations in Memphis and Shelby County.
VOICES is a partnership of Family Safety Center, Shelby County Crime Victims Center, Shelby County Rape Crisis Center, YWCA of Greater Memphis and the Exchange Club Family Center with a mission to raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence within the community through public education. The group originally launched nationally in San Diego in 2002.
Miea Williams, a survivor of an abusive relationship, last week helped celebrate the launch of VOICES, a new victims advocacy group made up of domestic violence survivors and local organizations.
(Family Safety Center)
“These organizations have come together to support this group of domestic violence survivors and help shed the light on services that are available to help victims escape unhealthy relationships and build a better life,” said Olliette Murry-Drobot, Family Safety Center executive director.
The Memphis Police Department’s Domestic Violence Bureau reported 23,375 domestic violence cases for 2012, and there were 30 domestic violence-related homicides.
Three domestic abuse survivors told their stories at the VOICES launch event in Midtown.
Mary Helen Carmack lived in an abusive relationship for more than 26 years, with a husband she said was often irrationally jealous, controlling and violent. After suffering for years in silence she was inspired by seeing monthly Oprah Winfrey shows on domestic violence, which helped her see that she was not alone and that there were hotline numbers and agencies that could help.
“When I finally wrenched myself free from the situation, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Carmack said. “I’m a survivor, and my life is wonderful now. I’m thriving and can use my voice to be a voice for others who still live in fear and silence.”
Miea Williams is also a survivor of an abusive marriage. She said her ex-husband was a licensed ordained minister, who also had problems with drugs – something Miea did not know when they married – and the cycle of abuse began a few months into their marriage when his drug problems resurfaced.
“First it was verbal abuse, pointing the finger and blaming for minor things like the dinner being burnt or the clothes not being washed, so I felt like if I could be a better wife things would be better,” Williams said.
She stayed with him and tried to help as his drug addiction and violent outbursts intensified. Then one Sunday morning after he had been away for two days on a drug binge, she said he attacked her in front of their children before church, striking her in the head and then repeatedly kicking her in the neck and back.
“In the emergency room, they told me I was lucky that I wasn’t dead or paralyzed,” said Williams, who suffered lifelong hearing loss in one of her ears and soft tissue damage at the base of her skull and down her spine.
She sought counseling and support for herself and her children at the Exchange Club Family Center, and she eventually decided to go back to school to get her master’s degree in counseling so she could help others like her in leaving abusive relationships.
“Things didn’t go well when I tried to get a restraining order,” said Williams, who is now a member of the board of directors for the Exchange Club. “Things didn’t go well when I tried to get another place to live, or when I had no money in the bank. I don’t want another woman or man to experience those hardships when trying to get help.”
Joyce Parkinson is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. She said her first husband was physically violent and one day attempted to kill her. Luckily she escaped and spent the next three years getting her life back in order. Eventually she remarried and thought she had found the right guy, but he became abusive in a different way.
“There are different types of abuse, and emotional, sexual, financial and spiritual abuse is so long lasting. If a person is always belittling you, telling you that you are worthless or useless, and they control every aspect of your being, it’s worse than being hit because it is like a tape recorder being played over and over in your head and you can’t turn it off,” Parkinson said.
In 2008 she and her children could not take the abuse any longer, and she decided to make a change.
“I wanted to break the cycle that I had grown up in, and that took a lot of time, prayer and getting involved with people that have my best interests at heart,” Williams said.
Today she provides support and services to abuse victims as president and executive director of the organization Walking Into a New Life.
“Together we can make a difference, and collectively our voices can and will be heard to help change the perception of domestic violence in the community,” she said.
Family Safety Center volunteer Angie Dagastino said VOICES will also strive to address injustices in the court and criminal justice system for survivors of domestic violence.
“VOICES as a group will speak out and confront those issues, and we will demand legislation that works for victims,” said Dagastino, who feels the criminal justice system minimizes the violence that men and women experience. “We are no longer going to allow the system to treat domestic violence differently from other crimes.”