Safe Shelter holds domestic violence vigil in Forsyth Park

Safe Shelter holds domestic violence vigil in Forsyth Park
Updated: Oct. 4, 2017 at 11:21 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Did you know Metro Police responded to more than 4,000 domestic calls last year in Chatham County as well as 138 domestic-related aggravated assaults?

It's a growing problem in every community - one that most people don't want to talk about - but while we avoid what's uncomfortable, people are dying. Wednesday night, Safe Shelter shined the light on what some only whisper about during its annual candlelight vigil.

One by one, supporters came forward to honor the 95 women and men who have been killed during a domestic violence situation in the last year in Georgia. Among those victims are three young women from Chatham County.

Twenty-five years ago, Serene Lee lost her mother to domestic violence. She will never forget how her father abused her mother over and over again.

"Sometimes, I would witness my father pull her hair and drag her across the floor. Sometimes, I would witness him punch her in the face," said Serena Lee.

Memories that haunt her to this day. She now shares her story to encourage others to leave and call Safe Shelter.

"We get people in the middle of the night who are literally running for their lives and we give them safety. We put things in place for them, we put documents in place for them. We do safety planning. We help them when they move out of the shelter. We give them hope," said Cheryl Branch, Executive Director, Safe Shelter.

Etta, a survivor who wishes to remain anonymous, found hope and resources to rebuild her life at the Safe Shelter. She says her 16-year marriage was like a roller coaster ride. Whenever he hit her, he blamed her.

"I was six months pregnant and he knocked out my teeth," she said.

She says he threatened to kill her several times.

"I was scared because many times throughout the 16 years, he said he would kill me and sometimes told me to do it to myself. He said I would never leave, that I was his possession. Even if he didn't kill me, he said someone would do it for him," she said.

It took a police officer who had responded to her call for help two times to convince her to leave.

"I said 'I don't have a way out.' He said to me, 'if I find you a way out, would you go?' I said 'yes, but my kids don't want to go with me.' He said, 'take the ones that want to go and run.' That was the hardest thing I had to do," she said.

The officer called Safe Shelter. Her 10-year-old daughter planned their escape and now she's slowly rebuilding her life. Etta says it hasn't been easy, but she knows if she would have stayed with her husband, she would be among the victims.

As for Etta, since leaving her husband about a year ago, one of her children has come to live with her, so now, only one of her children remains with her husband.

If you need help getting out of a domestic violence relationship, call the Safe Shelter 24-hour crisis line at 912.629.8888.

WTOC's own Dawn Baker hosted Wednesday night's vigil.

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