by Ricky Riley
Rainey Allison Karr and her boyfriend were hosting a celebratory get together with some friends. Karr was cooking the food. When she finished, her partner wanted something different than what she had prepared but Karr refused to cook anything else. Out of anger, he grabbed a cast iron skillet full of hot grease from the stove and threw it at her.
The handle hit Karr in the mouth, knocking out a few teeth. The hot grease splashed on her torso area and left a burn on her stomach. Her friends stepped in and saved her from further abuse that night.
That was six months ago.
To keep away from her attacker, Karr, 32 at the time, stayed in safe houses for five months provided by the Partnership against Domestic Violence (PADV) in Fulton County and Women’s Resource Center for Domestic Violence (WRCDV) in DeKalb County.
Karr, a resident of DeKalb County, said she had panic attacks and lived in constant fear in the months after the attack.
“The police brought me to the safe house,” Karr said. “PADV helped me get a restraining order against my boyfriend. It’s kind of scary at first [living at a safe house]. It takes time to get used to. They welcomed me. I learn a lot from [the organization]. [PADV] made me understand what abuse was.”
She hopes to volunteer with PADV to help others who have experienced domestic abuse. PADV primarily serves Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The agency operates two safe houses and provides resources for victims.
DeKalb County has one of the highest rates of fatalities associated with domestic violence, according to Nicole Lesser, executive director of The Georgia Coalition against Domestic Violence.
The coalition serves the metro Atlanta area and works closely with safe houses such as the WRCDV and PADV.
They intend to increase public awareness, achieve legislation to protect domestic violence victims and gather more state-funding for domestic violence programs, according to Lesser.
“Domestic violence is a major issue that crosses economic, social, and racial demographics,” Lesser said. One of her goals, she said, is for society to become more aware and take action against it.
Recent state cuts have led to a $3 million cut from the coalition’s budget. The program’s budget dropped from $4 million annually to $1 million last year.
In the wake of reduced funding, fatalities from domestic violence continue to escalate and the number of safe houses is shrinking.
“Women with the highest number of obstacles have a greater need for the safe houses,” said WRCDV director of development Amber Harris.
Approximately 94 percent of the women in the safe house are African American, and most range in age from 20-45, Harris said. They may have children and they possibly can’t find anywhere else to go, she said.
There are 32 beds available at the safe house. However, if a family gets turned away, WRCDV will help them get bus passes, hotel rooms and clothing if the need arises, Harris said.
S. Barber stayed at the WRCDV safe house for about two months last year. After being in an emotionally abusive relationship with her husband, she decided that she had to get to a safe place.
“I decided to be proactive and find a safe house to rest comfortably [at night],” Barber said. “The room I stayed in [originally] was a four-bed suite. The first thing I noticed was how clean and orderly everything was. The administration was very welcoming. [Later on] I shifted to a two-bed suite.”
According to Barber, the safe house was filled to capacity. She said she felt fortunate to get in. “A lot of women needed the services,” she said.
Barber’s advice to women in an abusive relationship is to get help.
“I definitely tell women to learn the signs of a domestic relationship and get out. [Domestic violence] goes beyond education and [class]. In my case, my partner was male and I was female. However, it is a phenomenon that is genderless.”