Although many people wear purple ribbons in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the stigma of domestic violence still continues.
Survivors are made to feel broken and ruined and most won’t talk about it, said Morgan Farr, a rape crisis volunteer counselor.
Jamie O’Roke knows those feelings all too well. She met her boyfriend at a young age and never thought things would turn out like they did.
“He was really nice. I never imagined he would abuse me,” said O’Roke, 28. “First it was a push. Then he started hitting me after I became pregnant with our daughter. It was like walking on egg shells all the time.”
Out of embarrassment, O’Roke, who lives in Killeen, wore long sleeves to cover the bruises left by her abuser.
“I hid it from my mom. But she saw the effects in my daughter, Elizabeth,” she said. “The whole time he was hitting me, Elizabeth was there.”
O’Roke reached her breaking point when her boyfriend threatened to kill her and Elizabeth and put a gun to Elizabeth’s head.
“When I left, I was still afraid, ‘Is he going to follow me? Will he find me?’” she said.
O’Roke’s fears were realized when her boyfriend broke into her mother’s house in a violent rage.
“As he entered the room, I held my daughter and prayed,” O’Roke said. “He was going to kill me. He raised his gun, and I felt something heavy and thick right in front of me. It was like (he) had seen the devil. He became afraid and ran out of the house.”
Her boyfriend was arrested and eventually sentenced to three years in prison.
The Killeen Police Department responds to an average of 200 domestic violence calls monthly, said Sgt. Candice Reyes of the major crimes section of the Criminal Investigation Unit. Many domestic violence incidents involve frustration with financial problems, raising children, custody issues and infidelity, she said.
“Many of the individuals tend to be the younger adult population,” Reyes said. “They don’t have the maturity level or necessary skill to deal with the issues they face.”
Farr, who lives in Killeen, has volunteered as a rape crisis counselor for three years. She thinks of the women she counsels as friends rather than “cases.”
“I build a special bond with the survivors because I know what they are going through,” she said.
Farr, a domestic violence survivor, spent 10 years in counseling. She knew her attacker but still cannot discuss what happened to her without it being an emotional trigger.
O’Roke attended counseling while still in the relationship with her boyfriend and several years afterward.
Elizabeth, now 6, attended counseling for more than a year but may always be affected by the experience, O’Roke said.
“Sometimes, she still wakes up screaming. She will run and hide if someone knocks on the door. She shakes in fear. She is afraid of men and loud noises upset her. She doesn’t like change.”
Three years later, O’Roke struggles for her normal life.
“He put so much ugliness in my head. His voice is still in my mind saying ‘You’re stupid. You’re not good enough. You’re not a good mother,’ she said. “But I remind myself that I am an amazing mother because I got Elizabeth out of that situation despite how frightened I was.”
Help other survivors
O’Roke is seeking a degree in social work. Like Farr, she wants to help other domestic violence survivors.
“To be able to bring something positive out of this situation would be amazing. If I can relate to the victims, that’s huge,” she said. “For me, it was very freeing to know that somebody understood me and that I was not alone.”
Reyes encourages victims to help themselves by reporting incidents as soon as they occur, providing identification and contact information on any and all witnesses, providing a written statement detailing what happened, and allowing officers to photograph injuries, even if the victim is unsure about pursuing charges.