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F.or the third year in a row, Debra McGrew visited the Woman’s Club of Madison to speak for Refuge House, a place of safety for women fleeing from violent relationships. And for the third year in a row, she introduced a speaker who was a survivor of domestic violence.
This year, the survivor, not only of domestic violence, but of child sexual assault as well, is also the Madison County SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) Coordinator.
Cherie Rowell described a childhood of living all over the state, following her father’s work in the construction business. Both her parents came from large families that included ministers, law enforcement officers and business partners, but in spite of having law enforcement officers in the family, child sexual assault was something that just wasn’t talked about among family members. The man who assaulted Rowell as a child was a close friend of her family’s, so she remained silent about it for years.
When she was older, she met one of her dad’s employees and immediately fell in love. He was a “charmer” who could fool a lot of people who didn’t really know him, and the two were soon married and had a son and a daughter.
However, the charmer turned out to be extremely jealous, and one of the worst beatings she ever endured at his hands was because she had spoken to another man. She would learn later that constant accusations of infidelity were a common means of control for many abusive men. Constant accusations keep the accused off-balance and paralyzed with fear of another beating.
The charmer was someone who hurled emotional and verbal abuse at her. Even though her parents has raised her to be a strong person, she took it because, “You’ll agree with anything they say just to get them out of your face.”
And while a woman is desperately agreeing with and enduring all this invective just to keep the peace, doubts begin creeping in and eating away at the soul, eroding ones sense of self-worth.
The charmer Rowell had fallen in love with was also someone who used, abused and sold drugs, and forced her to lie to the welfare office about their income so they would qualify for assistance. Whenever she wanted to get out of the situation and leave, he would remind her that she had just committed welfare fraud and would go to jail.
It was a danged-if-you-do-danged-if-you-don’t situation that many women in dangerous, violent relationships know all too well. Leave me and you’ll go to jail is only one of many variations that include leave me and you’ll lose the kids…leave me and (fill in the blank)…leave me and I’ll kill you…
There were similar “no-win” dilemmas, where no matter what she did, it would be wrong. He wouldn’t show up to pick her up from work, but catching a ride home with someone else “wasn’t the best idea.” She lived three miles from work, and her only other choice was to walk. Sometimes she asked a female coworker for a ride, but the woman often refused; once in a while she would agree but tell Rowell, “You’ll have to walk home from my house.” Rowell learned later that this woman was also in a controlling, abusive relationship, where giving rides to coworkers “wasn’t the best idea.”
By then, her closest family members were four and a half hours away.
She finally realized she had to leave, after a neighbor lady stopped to chat with her while she was sporting a black eye and playing with her children in the front yard, and remarked that, “Your little girl is so pretty…what happens when she grows up and thinks that’s love? What happens when your son grows up and thinks that’s how love is expressed?”
Those words haunted her until she realized she had to leave. Later, she would learn that the neighbor woman was speaking from experience, having been married to a law enforcement officer, an abuser, but someone who was looked upon as a respectable part of the community. This neighbor woman had to find the courage to
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