Women in Memphis speak out against domestic violence

Jessica Riley, Memphis native and mother, discusses her encounters of domestic abuse in her previous relationship. Riley is currently a sophomore at The University of Memphis.

By Destini Johnson and Carmyn Oliver


Mary Dickerson, a former domestic violence victim had her first incident of abuse with her husband of seven years. She remembers being three months pregnant with her youngest daughter and she and her husband were in their car.

Dickerson said her husband had stopped the car and told her to get out and then banged her up against the car.

“I felt that I could not really do anything about the situation. I was thinking okay, I’m married and this is my husband. No one is really going to believe me and then I thought, my child won’t have a father,” she said.

Dickerson continued by saying that her husband would physically abuse her several times in front of her daughter, and in one case had fired gunshots in their house.

Dickerson said her husband would act inappropriately in front of her daughter’s friends, by pulling his pants down and showing his buttocks to her friends and would start arguments.

“Many women think that it’s going to stop, and he’s going to change but it never does. You are just pulling yourself down a dark road and the abuse takes a toll on you, and it also takes a toll on your children,” she said.

Dickerson said that she advises other victims of domestic violence to get out of it immediately, and do not wait and think that it’s going to get better and that he is going to get better.


She said to find someone who are comfortable talking with and leave immediately because it never changes.

In the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds by an intimate partner. Forty percent of women in Tennessee experience intimate partner violence, rape and stalking in their lifetime.

With these statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,  there are the questions: “Why do these women stay? Why don’t they just leave?”

“When you first meet a person, you already have it set in your mind that they are going to stay that way forever. But when something happens unexpectedly, she might say, “Oh he’s not really like this.” But really she is hoping that he will revert back to the way he was before when they first met.” – Brittany Bowers (Photo by Carmyn Oliver.)

Micheal Duke, associate professor of social and medical Anthropology at the University of Memphis, said that there can be many factors that prevent women from leaving a violent relationship.

“An intimate partner not wanting to leave a relationship is not only because of fear or a control issue,” Duke said. “It could be because of resources.”

Duke said if the person who is the perpetrator of violence controls the resources or their mobility, it is in their best interest to want to stick it out in the relationship.

Duke also said religion might also play a role in which the victim would want to stick it out.

“In some conservative churches where the idea is, if you’re married you don’t leave your partner, it can become a problem,” he said.

“But regardless of what people may think of divorce, if someone is in a certain situation then they have to get out.”

Domestic violence in Memphis has increased from the last year.

According to Marquiepta Odom, the director of abused women’s services at YMCA Greater Memphis, the total of domestic violence incidents for January 2016 was 461. For this year in January 2017, the total was 505.

Odom said these numbers are due to lack of education and awareness about domestic violence, and so many women just don’t understand all of the dynamics of domestic violence.

“We think about the physical abuse and we say that we will not put up with that, or I will never let a man hit me. But when I talk to women about the financial abuse and the emotional abuse I see a difference on their faces,” she said.

“A lot of women are just not educated enough about domestic violence and are not comfortable enough to leave. Then there are some women who don’t have enough support to leave.” – Kaylin Johnson (Photo by Carmyn Oliver.)

Just like Duke, Odom said economic abuse is a huge factor because several of these women depend on them.

“They depend on these men to take care of them for housing and they depend on them to take care of them and the children,” she said.

“A lot of them say that if I leave, then we may end up in a shelter. And some of them are just not willing to give up that lifestyle.”

Odom continued by saying that she notices that many of the women that come to the shelter, ranging from age 18 to mid 30s and in some cases mid 40s, have very low self-esteem and have issues with their mothers.

“From being here I have learned that a lot of their mothers have allowed things to happen to them and I saw that the other figure was not there,” Odom said.

“So when you have things like that involved, these women are running and looking for a hero in a man.”

Not only are the women scarred from the violence from their romantic partner, but the children are affected as well.

Children who grow up in homes where domestic violence is present, according to a study by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, are at a higher risk of becoming abused and are likely to become abusers.

Odom said that she has observed some alarming behaviors from children in the shelter.

Above are a list of statistics associated with victims of domestic violence.

“They are emotional and the smaller children are very clingy to their mothers. So when we get counseling for the mothers, we get counseling for the children also,” she said.

Odom said that many of the children have a strong bond with the abusive parent, that they often times resent their mother for leaving the abuse.

“Because the children are so young, they don’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence,” Odom said.

“All they know is mama took me from my daddy, my home, my love, my affection and now we’re at this place, and I hate mama.”

Odom said that pressure from the children lead many victims to go back to their abuser when they leave the shelter.

Along with these reasons on why some women choose to stay with their intimate partner and endure the abuse, there is the question: Why do some men put their hands on their intimate partner?

Greg Williamson, mentor and co-owner of Circle of Life Transformation Center talked about what provokes the men to be violent with their lovers.

“It has a lot to do with what is going on in that guy’s life, and it just the simple fact that men just take it out on that weaker vessel. And it just so happens that the intimate partner is the weaker vessel at that time,” Williamson said.

“And somewhere down the road in the relationship, it has become an acceptance of his escalating anger. Women just have a nature about them where they just want to make things right, so they kind of accept the outbursts.”

Williamson said some men have grown up in environments where there was not much respect for a woman, and this type of environment has been passed down through generations.

And just as Odom and Duke had stated, Williamson said that the woman may be in an environment where the man is the sole provider, so she feels as though she has to accept the outbursts in order to live a certain way.

While domestic violence has increased, there are still ways for victims to get the help that they need.

Gayle Beck, Chair of Excellence in Psychology at the University of Memphis,  and lead researcher of the Athena project, gave out recommendations that were essential in assisting with the victims mental and emotional health.

“There are tons of resources in the city. There is the Crime Victim Center, and then there is the Family Safety Center, which are especially for women who have experienced intimate partner violence,” she said.

Beck said women do not have to go to six different places to get the things that they need. Everything is all in one place whether it’s emergency housing, protective orders or whatever free services that she will need.

Regarding the Athena project, Beck said that she and other members in this organization offer private mental health assessments that deal with post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety in the aftermath of domestic violence. A they make individual health recommendations for these women.

Beck concluded by revealing what the name, Athena, signifies for the project that she leads.

“Athena was the goddess of domesticity and war. It describes what these women are in the middle of. They are in the middle of trying to make a home and a relationship and they are in war with their partners, even though they didn’t even ask for it,” she said.

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