To many, the description of “domestic violence” brings to mind physical abuse. A black eye or bruised arms are easy to see and label as domestic violence, but there are many forms of domestic abuse or violence and some may take longer to heal than physical injuries. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but as prevalent as domestic violence is in this country, the community should be aware of it year-round. The COVID pandemic has shown that it’s, as Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence Director Robert Dalton said, “bubbling beneath the surface.”
“A lot of people think about domestic violence as physically beating you up,” Marsha Burton Millsaps said. “I didn’t have a lot of that. The abuse I suffered was more of a control and intimidation nature. It’s been a long time and I still think about it sometimes. What people need to know is that there is hope. I want people to look at me and see that I made it through.”
At just 16 years old, Millsaps ran off to Charlotte with the intention of marrying her first boyfriend.
“When you’re in a religious household and in a relationship with someone and it gets physical, you feel the guilt and think that you’ve got to marry him” she said. “There wasn’t any pregnancy involved.”
Realizing her mistake, Millsaps called her mother who told her that at this point, everyone knew she had run off and she had to get married now.
“I knew it was a mistake from the very beginning,” Millsaps said. “He changed immediately. It was the usual things – separation from family and friends and manipulation. He moved me to New Jersey, away from everybody. He then joined the service and went to Germany.”
The first married teenager to graduate from Lincolnton High School, Millsaps was soon pregnant with her first child. After the baby was born, she went to Germany to be with her husband. The violence escalated.
“I couldn’t go out of the house, I couldn’t have friends,” she said. “He slapped me one time while we were in Germany. I was pregnant again and I begged him to please let me go home. I was eight months pregnant when I came back. I knew at that point that I had to get out, but he kept coming back and finding me.”
The couple tried to patch up their relationship. They got an apartment “up on the hill,” but Millsaps’ husband kept his restrictive hold on her. She couldn’t work, couldn’t have friends and couldn’t do the things that she wanted to do.
“Then he pulled a gun on me and said, ‘you’ll never leave me,’” she said. “I’ve never been so scared in my life. I called my brother and told him I had to leave. He gave me money and I moved to New York City with both of my children.”
Millsaps thought she left her husband behind and was getting her life back together until she ran into him on 144thStreet in New York.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “We got back together, and he started doing drugs. He’d get mad at me and take it out on the kids.”
For example, he’d move all the furniture into one room and put Millsaps and the two children into the room with no furniture. She’d call the police, but when they got there, they’d believe her husband’s account.
“I had no bruises,” she said. “All this took place over about two years.”
When her stepfather died, Millsaps returned to Lincolnton for the funeral.
“He was so afraid that I wasn’t going to come back, he kept my daughter and let me take my son,” she said. “Once again my brother helped me out and bought me tickets to fly back to get my daughter. When I got there, I told him that everything was fine, to go ahead and go to work. I got my daughter, came back to Lincolnton and filed for divorce.”
It took Millsaps a long time to recover from the mental abuse she experienced. Even after her divorce, her abuser continued to call and degrade her. She didn’t keep him from his children, but he only saw them a few times. He remarried, twice, but the relationships didn’t last.
“My kids saved me,” she said. “If they weren’t involved, I don’t think I would have left. I don’t know what his demons were, but sometimes you can’t fix people. You have to fix yourself.”
A lot of women fear being alone thinking there aren’t any good men, Millsaps said, but she proved that wrong. She’s been in a healthy relationship for 38 years.
“There’s plenty of services available now that weren’t available when I was going through this,” she said. “You’ve just got to ask for help. Weigh the options – you’ll be surprised at what you can do. It’s not going to get better. You’re fooling yourself thinking it is. Even in the best relationships, there’ll be problems. You have to know if it’s going to be a dangerous problem or not.”
The statistics are staggering. In North Carolina, from 2019-2020, 59,239 domestic violence and sexual assault clients were served, according to the N.C. Council for Women and Youth Involvement. The most common age of victims was 25-59 years old. Of those victims, 46,476 were women and 11,618 were men. The victims were predominately white.
Since 2016, there’s been an increase in the percentage of men seeking domestic violence and sexual assault services. Since 2011, there has been an increase in the percentage of African American domestic violence clients. Since 2019, there has been an increase in the percentage of shelter services provided to children.
In the first half of 2020, the National Domestic Violence Hotline documented 2,542 contacts from North Carolina. The state ranks 10th in terms of contact volume to the hotline. Of these victims, 98% are experiencing emotional/verbal abuse, 71% physical abuse, 29% economic/financial abuse, 29% digital abuse and 12% sexual abuse.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Over one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
One in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.
One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered "domestic violence."
One in seven women and one in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
One in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.
The Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence operates a 24-hour domestic violence crisis line at (704) 736-1224 where victims can access information about domestic violence services.