Shelter spreads awareness for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 17, 2019

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METRO DETROIT — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and organizations that aid those who are suffering or have suffered unsafe and unhealthy home environments are reaching out to educate more people about the realities of abuse.

Turning Point, a domestic violence shelter and outreach center in Mount Clemens, helps hundreds of individuals working to leave unsafe environments each year. Administrators such as Karan Bates-Gasior, chief development officer at Turning Point, say the effects of abuse can be extreme and far-reaching.

“It has a ripple effect; it’s not just the one person being abused,” she said. “If a dad hits a mom, their children see that and that affects them. It affects parents, siblings, friends. … It really ripples out and touches everyone. We had almost 600 women and kids go through our shelter last year.” 

Stephanie Harris is among the many women who have gone through Turning Point. Now she works with the organization to educate the public about Turning Point’s mission and to help others find their way out of toxic living situations.

“Abuse can come in a variety of ways,” said Harris. “There’s a lot of nonverbal and nonphysical abuse. That’s not how you should be treated. If you think you don’t deserve to be treated this way, you’re right. From day one, I could have told you it was wrong, and yet I stayed. Through my journey with Turning Point, I learned how my fear of being alone was so much more than my fear of staying. I had to heal an old wound and regain my independence before I could take action. When I started regaining control, he started losing it, and that’s when it ended in rape.”

She said what many people don’t realize is that abuse can come in a variety of forms. Not only can each kind cause different kinds of trauma for those suffering, but abuse can escalate over time as it did in her situation.

“It’s not just physical abuse. There’s a misconception in society about that,” said Harris. “I was in a relationship for seven years, and for four of those seven years, I was working with Turning Point to get out. For most of that time, it was mostly emotional or verbal abuse, but it culminated in sexual abuse while I was unconsious. I had two counselors actually say to me, ‘He’s not hitting you, what’s the problem?’ but abuse does come in many shapes and forms. I’ve had people say, ‘I wish he would be hitting me, so I could show people the bruises.’”

Bates-Gasior agreed that there are many misconceptions about domestic abuse.

“Statistically, 1 in 4 women are likely to experience some form of domestic abuse. People don’t think it can happen to them or their neighbors or family, even though it most likely already has,” she said.

One of the key things she hopes more people learn this Domestic Violence Awareness Month is that abuse can often be virtually invisible to everyone but the victim and their abuser. She wants people to know it’s OK to ask questions or seek out an expert if they suspect something may be wrong, or if they see something suspicious.

“It happened (to me) when no one was around. He was very charismatic and everybody saw him as one type of person, but in private, he was a different type of person,” Harris said. “Follow your gut. Reach out to people who are trained in this if you suspect something. There are people who are experts who have experience in situations like this, and they won’t judge you if you contact them.”

She also wants those in unhealthy situations to know that there are people they can speak to and people who will listen and help them no matter how hopeless their situation may seem.

“What I’ve learned in my journey is that working with someone who is trained in this area and trained in dealing with individuals who go through this cycle of power and abuse really helps,” said Harris. “Other people will tell you it’s normal or it just happens, but it’s still wrong.” 

Harris and Bates-Gasior hope they can spread the word that resources are out there and that places like Turning Point are ready to help.

“One of the biggest things we want the public to know is that we are here and we are free. If people need help, we are an option,” Bates-Gasior said. “We have a 24-hour crisis line people can call. We have multiple crisis counselors, we work with personal protection offices to protect people, we have court advocates who can go to court with people and help them through that process. We offer everything from group sessions to an emergency shelter.”

Bates-Gasior said people should reach out immediately, because abusive situations can get worse, and the earlier someone gets out, the better.

“When someone does decide to leave a bad situation, often they don’t know where to go or what to do next. They can call a crisis line. They can get help and find resources,” Bates-Gasior said. “Our crisis line number is (586) 463-6990 or they can go to … (Share) the information for places like ours. Just giving one of our cards to someone can change their life. That one gesture can mean a lot.”