GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – At some point in their lives, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence.
Since the start of the month of May in West Michigan, at least three women were killed at the hands of their partners. Three women connected to West Michigan killed: a loving 74-year-old grandmother, Grace Thrasher, in Texas Township; a 42-year-old mother, Laura Stineback, in Dowagiac; and a 44-year-old girlfriend, Amy Wienski, from Homer Township.
They are victims, whose loved ones, and perhaps even themselves, may not have seen this coming.
“Just like a victim can look like anybody, an abuser can look like anybody too,” said Shelly, a victim survivor of domestic violence.
These women’s partners are charged with their murders, in separate cases of domestic violence happening in our communities. It is a horrifying fate that Shelly escaped herself: a domestic violence survivor, who says she realizes now that she was in an abusive relationship for years.
“Even though there were warning signs there, I didn’t recognize them,” said Shelly. “Today I know more. I know what those warning signs can be.”
Program Director at Safe Haven Ministries Tara Aday said warning signs can start small, including abusers controlling and isolating their partner, and the victim having fear.
“Fear can be a huge red flag or indicator of an abusive relationship,” said Aday. “We often will ask the people that we serve that maybe are unsure if they’re in an abusive relationship, do you have fear of your partner? Do you fear maybe saying something to your partner, or approaching a subject with your partner? Or even having fear of leaving your partner?”
Shelly said at first, she suffered in silence.
“I did everything in my power to make sure friends and family didn’t know what I was going through because I was ashamed, like I can’t believe I’m being treated this way,” said Shelly.
As an independent, career-driven women, Shelly thought she could change the way she acted to dodge abuse. But now she knows abusers will change their tactics to keep control. Shelly said she wishes she would have known that abuse is not just physical.
“All forms of abuse are wrong: whether it’s emotional or economic control, or threats or intimidation, there’s many different forms of abuse,” said Shelly. “I think one of the reasons I stayed is because I thought that people only should get out of relationships for physical abuse, but knowing there’s lots of types of abuse and none of them are right.”
On average, research shows it takes an abused person leaving seven times before they leave the relationship for good. For Shelly, it took her almost two years. However, Shelly urges anyone who is unsure, or who is facing abuse, to reach out for help, and take the first step in getting out.
“Making a call doesn't mean that you need to leave, it just means that you’re starting to recognize that things may not be right, and starting to look for ways or places that can give you the type of support that you really need,” said Shelly.
Now Shelly is giving back, working as a volunteer with other women in need. She wants to ask loved ones of anyone facing abuse to stay supportive, even if that person goes back-and-forth to the abusive relationship.
But Shelly also reminds any victim that there is hope, and organizations are ready to help.
“There is life after, and that has shaped who I am,” said Shelly. “I’m a different person today because of what I’ve been through; but I think I can be a different person, I can be a stronger person because of it.”
Aday said domestic violence is not getting easier to talk about, but people are reaching out.
In the last two months, they’ve seen a 40-percent rise in people calling their abuse hotline.
All of their services are free, and coming June 9, Safe Haven Ministries is hosting a seminar for friends and families on how to support a victim of domestic violence.
If you, or anyone you know, have questions or feel like you are being abused and need help, call a 24/7 abuse hotline:
Safe Haven Ministries: (616) 452-6664
YWCA West Central Michigan: (616) 451-2744