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Annual event raises domestic violence awareness

Photo by Ralph

Photo by Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A few days before Thanksgiving 2008, Edi's daughter was tied to bed posts in her Florida home and strangled with a belt. Her abusive husband turned the air-conditioning to frigid, the better to preserve the body and quell odors, and then he scrammed.

Six weeks later, he was identified by facial-recognition software in a Las Vegas casino, where he was arrested on murder charges.

Edi, as she identified herself, is still haggling with attorneys and awaiting a murder trial. She's pushing to keep her daughter's memory alive, while scorning what she perceives as a societal indifference to domestic violence.

"A woman or child that is killed in our society today is an atrocity," Edi boomed from a podium Thursday morning.

Edi's heart-wrenching story highlighted a perennial "Speak Out" by the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Georgia's largest domestic-violence network. The agency operates shelters with undisclosed locations in Gwinnett and Fulton counties.

Experts say intimate-partner violence in Georgia has reached alarming levels, possibly the byproduct of a sour economy.

"You cannot pick up the paper any day without seeing the effects of domestic violence in our community," said PADV vice chairperson, Liz Patrick.

The ninth annual program brought together "victors" of domestic violence to share stories of grief, shame, courage and redemption in the creaking upstairs courtroom of the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse.

PADV statistics illustrate a surge in local and statewide domestic violence since 2008, when the economy's slide reached critical levels, driving up unemployment and foreclosure rates.

The only state-certified provider in Gwinnett, PADV experienced a 120 percent jump in Gwinnett clients between 2008 and 2009.

Last year, about 7 percent of all domestic-related fatalities in Georgia (9 cases of 125) happened in Gwinnett. The total killings represented a 12 percent increase over 2008, PADV officials reported.

Police point to anecdotal evidence in recent cases as proof that domestic fatalities transcend the barriers of race, social status, age and even gender.

In recent weeks, Gwinnett authorities have handled a murder/suicide in a modest Lawrenceville home, a suicide and attempted shooting in a posh, gated community in Buford, and the case of a Duluth woman accused of trying to set her boyfriend's home ablaze after a quarrel.

Gwinnett police Cpl. Brian Kelly said stresses like economic difficulties can fuel an existing problem, lead to increases in instances of violence and heighten the severity of clashes.

"Economic stress is not the cause of domestic violence," said Kelly, "but it's likely a factor that can worsen a domestic situation already prone to violence."

PADV spokeswoman Susan Berryman-Rodriguez agreed that a difficult economy can acerbate problems, but stressed: "The root cause of domestic violence is power and control," she said.

Phyllisia Taylor endured extreme physical violence -- her abuser shot her in the shoulder, then doused her in boiling rice -- before she found the strength to seek help. Her actions broke the "generational curse" that had dated back to her grandmother, who was slain by her grandfather, she said.

Taylor has a lighthouse tattooed over scars left by her ex-husband's shotgun blast, symbolizing "a beacon of light in what was once a dark place," she said.

For more information on the Partnership Against Domestic Violence, visit www.padv.org. A crisis line is available for all victims at 770-963-9799.