By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Clovis native Paula “BB” Sherman said it was years after she started a new life that she realized what she had experienced was abuse.
“I thought this kind of treatment was normal. I thought everybody lived like this,” she said, explaining in the 1960s and 1970s people didn’t talk about domestic violence. “You never heard the word abuse.”
Sherman said she believed she was the problem and accepted responsibility for the verbal and physical attacks. She kept trying to stay one step ahead, but abuse just came in new forms.
“I felt guilty for being born. I felt like I didn’t even belong in this world,” she said.
“You hardly feel like a human being. I know I felt that God must be angry with me. Actually God wasn’t angry with me, he had given me choices before that and I made the wrong choices.”
Even today, with education and public service efforts about domestic violence, Sherman’s story is not unique, according to Terrie Davis, program administrator of Clovis’ domestic violence shelter.
The Hartley House was created in 1978 as the Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence, but changed to its current name in 2004. It provides temporary shelter for abused family members and children as well as emotional support and counseling.
Victims often accept abuse as a normal part of life, like Sherman.
“People a lot of times don’t even know they’re being abused,” Davis said. “A lot of them are isolated and uneducated, making them the perfect candidate for a victim.
“They don’t know there’s somebody out there that can help them.”
Sherman’s defense mechanism was to go numb.
“I stopped laughing, I stopped crying, I stopped feeling anything at all,” she said. “I was just a shell of a person.”
Sherman, 55, said she has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and often experiences flashbacks.
Embracing the pain, Sherman, 55, said she channels it into her writing and finds catharsis and hope in her efforts to help someone else.
At her lowest point, she said a suicide attempt failed. She reasons God wasn’t done with her yet.
“I know now that God permitted me to go through all the things that I went through so I could write about it and help other people,” she said.
The Fort Worth resident is preparing to launch the first in a series of 10 books and said she plans to donate all proceeds from her book sales to help fight domestic violence.
“If I could see every woman that had ever been abused living like I live now, I would have really accomplished something,” she said.
Abuse comes in many forms — emotional, physical, sexual, economic, verbal, and social — and it knows no boundaries of age, gender, race or socio-economic status, Davis said.
Davis said the shelter, which provides victims a safe haven from abusers, works with local groups to get the word out, attending fairs and other gatherings armed with literature and information about domestic violence.
“I think (we can make a difference) if we could start teaching (kids) from grade school up that violence in any form is wrong,” Davis said.
Davis said abusers are also educated through an intervention program that forces them to take responsibility for their behavior.
“When an abuser says ‘she asked for it’, we say ‘how did she ask for it? What were the exact words she used?’” she said. “This makes them step back a little bit. The abusers (must) realize they’re responsible for their actions, period. Nobody asks to be abused.”
By the numbers
34 — Women and children the Hartley House can accommodate.
25 — Average
number of calls to the local
domestic violence 24-hour crisis hotline per month.
5-7 — Average
number of times a victim of domestic violence will try to leave their abuser before they are successful.
June – Nine women, 25 children
July – 15 women, 29 children
August – Nine women, 20 children
September – Seven women, 10 children
Not just women:
Men are increasingly coming forward as victims of abuse, Davis said. In New Mexico there is only one shelter, located in Albuquerque, devoted to accommodating men but Davis said the Hartley House has alternate arrangements in place to provide shelter for men and their children so they too can receive the help they need.
Hartley House: 769-0305
Source : Terrie Davis, program director, domestic violence shelter.
“My Gidding Street Gang”
By BB Sherman
Scheduled for release in November, Sherman said the book, much of which is based on her experiences and memories, tells the fictional story of a young girl living in Clovis and dealing with abuse.