By JB Clark
TUPELO – Chelonda Smith is a member of the board of directors for S.A.F.E., a domestic violence shelter and assistance center, but five years ago she was trying to get her 6-year-old out of a domestic violence situation.
“I was a victim for 15 years,” the 42-year-old said. “When I had to start stepping between my son and my husband, I knew it was time to leave.”
Smith heard about S.A.F.E. after leaving her home in Georgia and arriving in Corinth.
“My son and I were homeless, and I had no car, no job, no family and no references,” Smith said. “I was at S.A.F.E. for three months, and they helped me file for divorce, find a job, learn techniques for identifying domestic violence, and when I found an apartment they helped me furnish it.”
She continued to go to counseling after leaving the temporary housing and now serves as a spokeswoman for the organization.
“A lot of people are ashamed or hurt or don’t understand they’re in a domestic violence situation,” she said. “They think they caused it and it’s their fault, but they need to know that’s not true, and there are places like S.A.F.E. to help so you don’t have to live that way.”
During October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, victims advocates especially encourage others in the community to speak up about domestic violence in an attempt to bring it to light.
A state task force recommended a new statewide domestic violence commission on Thursday that Gov. Phil Bryant said he’d make part of his legislative agenda. Mississippi ranks 13th nationally in domestic violence homicides with 1.57 deaths per 100,000 females, according to 2011 statistics from Violence Policy Center.
“We live in a society where this sort of thing is put away in the closet and we’ve been taught not to talk about it, but if we put it out there, we can put an end to it,” Smith said.
S.A.F.E. Community Educator Amelia Parkes said a goal for October is to let people know the signs and that it can happen to anyone.
“A lot of people don’t realize it happens in every ethnic group and race and at every socioeconomic level,” Parkes said. “It can happen to you or in your family. We want people to know the signs to look for and how to get help.”
The signs are not always physical. Domestic violence is any pattern of behavior in which one person tries to control another through threats and use of physical, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual or spiritual abuse.
The S.A.F.E. 24-hour hotline is (800) 527-7233 and can be used by anyone trying to leave a violent situation.
Anyone interested in helping others leave abusive situations can contact S.A.F.E. to volunteer as a counselor or child care provider or by donating household items to help victims re-establish themselves.
Counseling areas include budgeting, job skills, interview skills, parenting and stress management.
To promote domestic violence awareness, representatives of S.A.F.E., Verizon and Tupelo officials will speak at Fairpark at 10 a.m. Monday.