September 30, 2022

Our Shameful Secret

8.2 min read| Published On: September 30th, 2022|

By Gary Corsair

Our Shameful Secret

8.2 min read| Published On: September 30th, 2022|

Domestic violence taints Lake & Sumter counties.

Lake County, we have a problem.

While we celebrate crystal-blue lakes and lush fairways, monsters are giving us a black eye we can’t cover up with sunglasses and suntan lotion.

For thousands of citizens, the county promoting itself as Real Florida, Real Close … is Real Dangerous.

Monsters who demean, strike, and emotionally abuse the very people they claim to love live among us. 

How big is the problem? In 2019*, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office reported 1,719 domestic violence related offenses.

You read right; five times a day, one of our neighbors phoned 9-1-1 and shouted, sobbed, or whispered something along the lines of, “Please help me, he’s going to kill me.”

And those are only the documented cases. We can only guess how many victims were too afraid to call or prevented from seeking help.

It took Bonnie 20 years. She didn’t pick up the phone when husband No. 1 threw a frying pan at her. Five years later, she didn’t call; she just moved out when husband No. 2 threatened her son. 

Bonnie (not her real name) was invisible until husband No. 4 pointed a pistol at her face and began locking the bedroom door at night and sleeping with a pistol under the pillow and a shotgun nearby. Bonnie didn’t seek help until he slammed her against the wall and hissed, “You are my wife, and you will never leave.”

Why did she stay so long?

“In between the times of crazy, the devotion, undying love and support comes through,” she says. “I think ‘This is NOT his fault.’ Service to his country has severely wounded him. God would not put me in this situation if I couldn’t handle it. I can do this. I can love and support him through his pain. Leaving is quite possibly the hardest thing you will ever do.”

Kelly Smallridge, director of Haven of Lake & Sumter Counties, Inc., understands why thousands of Bonnies stay with tormentors.

“If you think about how women are raised; we’re raised as caretakers,” Kelly says. “And we want to believe what people tell us anyway. That’s just human nature. So, when someone says, ‘I promise I will never do it again.’ We want to believe that.”

What a victim should believe is their abuser will not and cannot change.

“If they hit you once, they’re going to do it again,” Kelly states.

That’s what Kelly tells women—and men—when they explain through broken, bloody lips that they stayed with a partner who hit them.

There are valid reasons why women stay to be hit again and again, and/or verbally attacked and emotionally belittled.

“It’s hard to leave a relationship when you have that emotional connection, or you have children, or you don’t have a job, or you have no money, there’s a million good reasons why they stay. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to really leave,” Kelly says.

Bonnie can relate. Her bank account was empty when she left No. 4. But she finally left. 

Leaving nearly cost Bonnie her life. 

In a voice breaking with emotion, Bonnie returns to the terrible scene: “He exits the truck with his blank, mission-to-kill face. I am screaming, ‘You need to leave!’ He jumps in his truck. I start to run. He is trying to run me over. ‘I am going to die!’ I run into the house and lock the door. I see through the window that he has parked by the barn a good distance away. He is walking towards the house … approaching on a mission to kill. My phone is left outside in my panicked retreat. I find my pistol. I run out to the top of the hill by the house screaming, ‘You have to leave!’ He continues his advance. No words, nothing… I fire warning shots away from him … He finally stops about 50 feet away after multiple warnings and retreats.”

Bonnie understands she’ll never be completely free.

“The constant reliving the event and every diesel truck sound sent me into a collapsed ball of sobbing mush on the floor or ground – wherever I happened to be at the moment. I was on the verge of suicide. If not for my dog, I would be dead,” Bonnie says. “Every diesel truck still sends me into a panic, in spite of living in another state, although I no longer collapse. You can start over. You can heal with the right support. You can find your true self for the first time or reclaim your true self if you were ever lucky enough to have known yourself at some point in your life. You may lose your job, your home, your car, your pets. You WILL lose family, friends, and acquaintances. You will feel devastatingly alone.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s the point of this article.

Not sure if you’re in an abusive relationship, or about to enter one? Look for your mate or prospective partner in this summary of “characteristics of batterers” from a list The Haven provides clients. Doing so could save your life.

Domestic violence shelter has turned away thousands

Domestic violence is a big, big problem, but it’s not THE
big problem.

Lake County’s lack of facilities and programs for domestic violence victims is the larger issue.

“We normally, within our shelter, would serve 40 clients at a time, but we’ve been limited to 14,” says Kelly Smallridge, director of Haven of Lake & Sumter Counties, Inc. “The county commission wouldn’t give us a new zoning to do 40. We have a waiting list and since this happened, we’ve turned away probably
3,000 people.”

What “happened” was a 4-1 vote by Lake County Commissioners on January 28, 2020 to deny Haven’s request to rezone in rural Lake County so the capacity of the shelter could be increased from 14 people to 120.

During the meeting, Commissioner Josh Blake, who made the motion to deny the rezoning request, opined that Haven is bound by the promise made in 2002 that “there would be no more than 14 people at the facility.” He also cited concerns
by neighbors.

Kelly disagreed then, and 3,000 domestic violence victims later, she still disagrees.

“I’ve fought them and fought them, and I don’t have any money to keep fighting them,” Kelly says.

With that said, Kelly cannot bring herself to utter the words, “Sorry, we’re full,” to a victim of domestic violence.

“What we do, as opposed to saying, ‘We just can’t take you,’ we try to find them a place in another county, or a homeless program, or something so that we can accommodate them in some way. Basically, right now, we’re dependent on other shelters and whatever we can do to find them a safe place,” Kelly said.

Those who oppose expansion of the Haven’s shelter for abused women have valid reasons for their position. 

Obviously, so does the Haven’s board of directors. 

The impasse is unfortunate, to say the least.

Characteristics of batterers

  • Often have low self-esteem

    • May appear to be “tough, strong and confident,” but really suffer from low self-esteem. 
    • May be emotionally “needy” and have become dependent on their partner.
    • The thought of losing their partner feels threatening. Controlling and jealous behavior follow.
  • Rush into relationships

    • Many victims dated or knew their abuser for less than six months before becoming engaged or living together. 
    • Can come on like a whirlwind, claiming “love at first sight,” and using flattery such as “I have never felt loved like this by anyone.”
    • May need someone desperately and will pressure a partner to commit to a relationship before they are truly ready.
  • Excessive jealousy

    • It’s often said that jealousy is a sign of love. Jealousy has nothing to do with love; it’s a sign of possessiveness and lack of trust.
    • Of course, not every twinge of jealousy is a sign of impending doom to come.
  • Controlling behavior

    • May explain away their controlling behavior as a concern for their partner’s safety, a need for you to use time well or to make good decisions.
    Warning signs:
    • Anger if you are “late” coming home.
    • Questions about where you went, who you talked to, etc.
    • Doesn’t let you make personal decisions about the house, your clothing, etc.
    • Keeps all the money.
    • Makes you ask permission to leave the house.
  • Use isolation

    • Tries to completely isolate their partner from friends, family, and their support system so the victim will be totally dependent on the abuser.
    • May call you names like “whore” or “slut” and/or accuse you of cheating when you express a desire to spend time with friends.
    • May accuse you of being “tied to apron strings” if you are close to your family.
    • Accuse people who are supportive of causing trouble.
    • May restrict use of the phone and/or car.
    • May try to keep you from working or going to school. 
  • Unrealistic expectations or demands

    • Often expect their partner to meet ALL of their needs, be the perfect partner, lover, and friend. 
    • Says things like, “If you love me, I’m all you need and you’re all I need.”
    • May expect you to take care of everything for them; emotionally, physically, and sometimes economically. 
  • Male supremacy

    • Obsessive about being recognized as “the man of the house.”
    • Makes rigid rules and expects their needs to be catered to at all times, including in the bedroom. 
    • Sees you as unintelligent, inferior, and less than whole without the relationship. 
    • They will often tell you that no one else would want you or that you are nothing without them.
  • Use of force during sex

    • May show little concern about whether you want to have sex and use sulking or anger to manipulate you into giving in to sex. 
    • They may start having sex with you while you are sleeping, or demand sex even when you are ill or tired. 
    • They may want to “make up” by having sex after they have been physically or verbally abusive.
  • Poor communication

    • Typically have trouble with discussing “feelings,” especially very strong ones like anger or frustration. 
    • Without skills or self-permission to express themselves in constructive ways, they can lash out with violence. 
  • Negative behaviors to cope with stress

    • Studies suggest that batterers, in general, have a higher incident of drug and alcohol abuse than non-batterers. Drugs and alcohol CAUSE lower inhibitions, making an already frustrated and violence-prone person more likely to fall back on violence as a crutch. 
  • Blame others for their actions 

    • Commonly use the actions of others as excuses for their own behavior. 
    • They blame the person who made them angry, often asking their victims, “Why did you make me do that?”
    • They may make mistakes and then blame you for upsetting them. 
    • They may tell you that YOU are at fault for almost anything that goes wrong. 
    • Abusers see themselves as the victim in the relationship, and do not take responsibility for their own feelings or behaviors.
  • Are prone to hypersensitivity

    • Easily insulted and may view the slightest setback as a personal attack. 
    • They will rant about the injustice of things that are really just a part of life, such as having to go to work, getting a traffic ticket, or being asked to help with chores.
  • Dual personality

    • Many abusers are also excellent actors. They may appear to function well at work, with friends and family, etc. That makes it difficult for a victim to get support from friends and family, who may try to convince the victim that their spouse is not abusive.
  • Cruelty to animals or children

    • Punishes animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain. 
    • May expect children to be capable of things beyond their ability. They may tease children until they cry. They may be very critical of other people’s children, especially any children you bring in from a previous relationship. 
    • May threaten to prevent you from seeing children you have no biological rights to or punish children to get even with you.
*The most recent statistics available.

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About the Author: Gary Corsair

Gary Corsair began writing professionally while attending high school in Greentown, Indiana. He's spent most of the past 46 years in writing, reporting, editing and producing roles for newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio. He's served as publisher and editor of three newspapers, TV news director, and executive producer of two documentaries about The Groveland Four. Gary’s earned more than 65 awards for journalism excellence.

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