Clark Atlanta University’s annual campaign against domestic violence is taking place this week in conjunction with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Tuesday, October 13, 2015, this writer attended the “Survivors Stories” program and witnessed real-life testimonies of Chyna McGarity, co-founder of Purple Casket Campaign; Demisha Burns, Ph.D., CAU alumna and residence director; LaDonna L. Roberts, founder of the Austin Tyler Foundation; and Elletta Denson, Ed.D., CAU alumna, educator and advocate. They shared their stories of tragedy and triumph and how they are coping and/or overcame the domestic abuse with their boyfriends and in some cases husbands.
“My story began when I was in college. He was my knight in shining armor. I was pursuing my degree and he was into his career. Eventually, our plans became his plans and he decided he wanted to move overseas to Panama,” starts McGarity. When she moved overseas with her then-husband, she was financially dependent upon him and didn’t have much autonomy.
“He was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No one knew he was demeaning. He dehumanized, sexually and verbally abused me. I was not allowed to go to church. No one believed me, not even my family [or his commander in the military]. He was distant and cold; when I arrived in Panama,” says the former model who still wears the bite mark scars today.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, one of the signs that could signal increased danger, is when the “abuser threatens to kill the victim.” McGarity and Burns both had the experience where their lives were threatened.
“I decided to change my life when my son saw my husband slap me across the table and beg his father not to harm me. It was my D-Day [decision day],” adds McGarity. For Burns, it happened while she was traveling out of town with her then-fiancé who threatened to shoot her in their hotel room. His actions were a shock to Burns because they were so in love and they made each other’s world go ’round and one day “you become that b****, that h** and things of that sort. Nobody should ever say that to you. He said to me, ‘Give me a reason not to kill you, not to blow your brains out.'”
McGarity credits Partnership Against Domestic Violence as her guardian angels who helped her get her life on track. Burns relied on her social work training, a career she chose after witnessing her father domestically abuse women. “There is not a woman in my family who have not endured domestic violence in some shape or form, whether physically or emotionally, sexually. For me I thought it was not going to happen. Sometimes the hardest advice is to take your own.”
Roberts was shot by her boyfriend. “I am a victor of domestic violence. Not a victim. My incidence occurred nine months after I left a physically- and psychologically-abusive relationship. I gave him the ring back with no communication and no interaction. Because he was the perfect father, I wanted to keep him in Austin’s life when I decided to move to Atlanta [from Albany, Georgia]. He said I was moving to be with a man and that I was trying to take his son away from him. He pulled out his service revolver [he was an on-duty police officer]. He shot me first, shot our four-year-old son and turned the gun on himself, committing suicide” in 2004.
The crime took place at their son’s daycare. Their son also passed. “That ruined me until I sought God and asked him what he wanted me to do. I decided to make a difference instead of being angry at the world. I started the Austin Tyler Foundation and we go on to empower, embrace and educate women to live a healthy life after the abuse.”
Denson was shot multiple times by her husband who was also an educator. Sharing her story publicly for the first time, Denson says “I decided to leave and live,” as she stood on the podium wearing the sorority jacket of her oldest daughter who was 16-years-old at the time of the shooting in 2004. Denson’s husband was her step father. He actually pointed the gun at his step-daughter attempting to shoot her as well but the gun was jammed. Denson showcased a mini movie reenacting the events of that fateful day.
Reports show that danger increased for victims of domestic violence when they try to end the relationship or take steps to gain independence.
“My story unveils a new face that is not talked about often, domestic violence amongst professionals that generally doesn’t involve a cycle of [physical] abuse. My story has no scars at all until after the shooting. It does include a cycle of emotional abuse that goes unnoticed in a professional world due to our status and stature. We were role models and mentors. If you asked me today if I thought I would be shot six times, my answer would be no. I never saw it coming.”
Studies show that a verbally abusive partner is a variable “most likely” to predict that a woman would be victimized by a boyfriend or husband.
“Survivors Stories” was produced by the members of the Sigma Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, who were inducted in Spring 1985.