For victims of domestic violence, a voice can be a very powerful thing.
Hence the name of the new domestic violence survivor advocacy group, VOICES. Made up of about 20 domestic violence survivors, VOICES aims to stamp out silence about domestic violence and give victims the strength and resources to break free from their abusers.
"My story of violence and abuse began in 1978. It didn't end until 2005," VOICES member Mary Ann Carmack told a room of fellow members and reporters at a press conference last Thursday. "I was 18 years old, and after a brief and intense courtship, I married my husband. Within a week, he found a photograph and went into a rage because there were pictures of boys from my high school. He referred to them as my former lovers. He proceeded to hit me, push me down the stairs, and kick me until I got up and ran out the front door."
Carmack, along with VOICES members Miea Williams and Joyce Parkinson, shared their harrowing experiences as victims of domestic violence.
Williams was married to a pastor and recovering addict who beat her so badly doctors told her she was lucky to be alive. Parkinson found herself in a cycle of physical and sexual abuse that carried on from her first husband to her second. All three women describe the transition from victim to survivor as one of finding their voice.
"When I finally wrenched myself free of this situation, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done," Carmack said. "Now I can use my voice to be a voice for those who still live in fear of violence."
VOICES is housed in the Family Safety Center at 1750 Madison and connects victims with a large safety net, which includes resources such as counseling and legal support at the Shelby County Rape Crisis Center, the YWCA of Greater Memphis, the Shelby County Crime Victims Center, and the Exchange Club Family Center.
Vernetta Eddleman, manager of the Shelby County Crime Victims Center, estimates that the Memphis Police Department receives around 25,000 calls related to domestic violence each year.
"Some of these are repeat calls, but many are not," Eddleman said. "And for every one victim who calls, there are two or three other victims who don't."
The phone call or police report is only the beginning, Eddleman said. Getting out of the relationship is a process, one that many victims cannot do on their own.
"You are more likely to be a victim of homicide after you leave," she said. "That's why you have to have a plan."
This is where organizations like VOICES can point victims in the direction of the information and support they need to leave abusive situations safely. But simply acknowledging that domestic violence exists and happens to people of all races, genders, and classes may be the first and most important step to bringing domestic abuse to light.
"You live in silence. You live in fear and isolation," Carmack said. "But the perpetrator of violence and abuse cannot succeed without your silence. You think and hope that your silence guarantees your life. It doesn't."