By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Joni Johnson volunteers to help women in violent relationships because two years ago she was a victim of dating violence.
In September of 2011, 33-year-old Johnson of Baldwyn packed her children and pets into a friend’s car and left Dallas for a new life in Mississippi, free of her abusive boyfriend.
“I was in a violent situation that I didn’t see coming and by the time I realized it, (my boyfriend) had cut me off from all of my friends and family,” Johnson said. “We got along great and moved in together and then all of a sudden he starting controlling everything I did – who I talked to and what I was wearing.”
Johnson said because she had separated herself from her friends and family at her boyfriend’s behest, and because he convinced her she was worthless, she didn’t know where to go.
Luckily, she kept in touch with one friend and that person came to the rescue.
“My friend and her mother got some money together and drove over to pick me up,” she said. “I’ve got kids. I had dogs. It’s like a whole family they had to take on when they took me.”
The friend’s mother volunteered at S.A.F.E. in Tupelo, and now Johnson does too.
S.A.F.E. is a shelter and resource center for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“They told me about it and I wanted to be as much a part as I can because they do help people,” she said. “They’ve helped me to get my feet on the ground.”
More than two years later, Johnson is finishing her associate’s degree at Itawamba Community College and enrolled to start her bachelor’s in social work at the University of Mississippi.
“He told me I wasn’t worth anything – that I’m stupid,” she recalled of the abusive boyfriend. “And he had me believing it for a little bit, but I graduate in May and made the president’s list with five As. I’m anything but stupid.”
Johnson said dating violence and domestic violence are hard to talk about because victims often feel foolish for letting themselves be victims.
The abuse started slowly and happened over time until she felt trapped, Johnson said.
“It’s easy to see all the signs when you look back on it but not when it’s happening,” she said.
Now, she’s helping to organize the Silence Hides Violence 5k race to raise money for S.A.F.E. and promote dating abuse awareness.
What is dating violence?
Almost 1.5 million high school students in America experience physical abuse from the person they are dating each year, according to LoveIsRespect.org. In adolescents, 1 in 3 is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from the person they’re dating.
Of all teens in a violent relationship, only 33 percent will report it.
Amelia Parkes, community educator for S.A.F.E., said 10 of the most common sign of abuse from a dating partner are:
• Checking your cellphone or email without permission.
• Constantly putting you down.
• Extreme jealousy or insecurity.
• Explosive temper.
• Isolating you from family or friends.
• Making false accusations.
• Mood swings.
• Physically hurting you in any way.
• Telling you what to do.
Anyone who needs help leaving an abuser can call S.A.F.E.’s 24-hour hotline at (800)527-7233.