“I was in a relationship for six and a half years, and it was good for the first…probably six months to eight months. After that it just ran immediately downhill and I felt trapped. I did try to leave a few times and I was physically held down. I got thrown around. I got sexually assaulted. My partner practically waterboarded our son when he would cry and have fits, and my partner didn’t see anything wrong with any of it. He truly believed he was doing the right thing and he still believes that to this day.”
Cammie’s story may sound extreme and rare, but in the past year, Saving Grace has provided services to nearly 5,000 individuals, including over 200 children. In these types of domestic violence situations, leaving one’s home and relationship — no matter how toxic — isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“I remember four years ago being in California,” Cammie continued, “and we got in a huge fight and I had this voice in my head just saying, “Leave now. If you don't leave now, you're going to go through stuff that you don't want to go through.”
“But I wasn’t getting black eyes, or a broken arm or broken ribs, like some other people that I knew, and so I thought, “Oh, well…it’s not that bad.”
For many domestic violence survivors who are parents, they wrestle with decisions they fear will ultimately hurt their children in other ways.
“I hated the idea of breaking up a family, you know? But last November, I was done. I tried to leave and he wouldn’t let me go. He stopped me in the driveway and hopped in the car. He went from anger to crying, to begging and promising anything to get me to stay. He said he’d change. I thought, “Maybe this is really happening.”
Through that time, Cammie was bringing in most of their household income. “I was wearing my body down. I wasn’t able to be a mom. I’d come home late just to have my money taken straight away from me. Her partner worked very part-time. “I kept begging him, asking if I could just — you know, work a normal job.”
“Can I just be a mom? Can you work? Can you find something to do?”
With Cammie only finding some sleep most days between 3:30am and 7:00am, her body finally reached its limit and she spent most of December last year in bed. With rent coming due, her partner’s response was, “It looks like you just have to start hustling.”
After another round of abuse and empty promises to change, Cammie’s relationship with her partner only worsened.
“He started getting even more controlling and manipulative, and more sexually abusive. I would come home bawling…just crying in my car…too scared to go home, too scared to go to sleep. I knew that shouldn’t happen in my own home and I knew there was no way I could raise my son around this. He’s young enough, but he would say, “Daddy, don’t be mean to mommy. Why don’t you just move out?” You know, he’d say that to his dad and so I realized even he knew things aren’t right.”
Cammie hired an attorney and got a restraining order.
Then, she found Mary’s Place.
Mary’s Place is a safe and neutral location for parents needing safe exchange monitoring or supervised visits without having direct contact with each other. It’s a place for non-custodial parents to spend meaningful parenting time with their children in a friendly and safe atmosphere.
“Mary’s Place has been wonderful. It was really scary at first because you’re down at the bottom in your life and I thought people were going to look at me weird. But they make you feel comfortable, even over the phone.”
This summer, Cammie and her son were able to attend Camp Mary’s Place. “It was amazing. My son and I got to go somewhere together and do something outdoors. Going there and meeting all the other moms and kids…my son got to see that he’s not alone. He had just felt isolated and confused.”
Cammie’s partner refuses to visit his son at Mary’s Place.
“My attorney assigned him to lunch visits, which I regret doing. Visits at Mary’s Place are better and supervised for a reason. His dad came to lunch the other day telling our son about the toys waiting for him at the house, and to beg me to let him go home. It’s hard to explain everything going on to a six year-old boy.”
These recent events demonstrate the toll domestic violence takes on a family, but fortunately, there is help.
“The staff has helped me so much. Anytime I need anything, they’re available. I really like my new Saving Grace counselor and I’m getting counseling for my son. The Mary’s Place advocate helped me with paperwork and legal documents. Just knowing that there is a spot that’s as sweet and caring as Mary’s Place out there…I know that my son’s going to be safe there.
“To have something out there so kind and caring…like truly caring. That gives me a lot of comfort.”