Dawnn is a survivor.
Nearly a decade ago, the 35-year-old woman was attacked by her former fiance after they’d broken up.
They had a child together. They were trying to co-parent. She was moving on with her life, but she said he didn’t want to let her go.
Houston County prosecutors described the attack as brutal and savage.
Dawnn, which is not her real name, shared her experience Thursday at Take Back the Night, an empowerment event sponsored by the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia. The group provides support and recovery services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
On average, nearly 20 people per minute, which is 10.5 million a year, are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“I’m not going to lie. It’s scary,” Dawnn told The Telegraph of talking about the domestic-violence incident publicly for the first time. “But the reality is that if nobody says anything, including myself, there may be somebody else that ends up the same way that I did — except far worse than me and that means like not making it ...
“And honestly, I wasn’t supposed to make it,” Dawnn said. “I was not supposed to be able to walk anymore. I was not supposed to be able to have my dream (job) and I was supposed to be done and not happy ever again.
“But through the years, the healing process, I’ve turned my entire life around. I’m living the life that nobody thought I would be living now because I didn’t let it defeat me.”
Today, Dawnn has a fulfilling career, a thriving marriage and a second child. Her loving husband is also her confidant.
Shattering the silence
The Take Back the Night event is designed to give survivors like Dawnn a voice.
“It’s kind of their night to change their way of thinking about what’s happened to them,” said Denise Atkinson, sexual assault center director for the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia.
And gaining that voice enables them to overcome, according to Atkinson.
“I think it gives them back their life if they’re able to do that,” Atkinson said.
Shannon Morgan, advocate coordinator at the agency’s Warner Robins office, added, “It’s part of the healing process. It’s hard to start that process if you’ve never shared that experience with anybody.
“Many of these survivors or victims were … assaulted as children and have never told anyone. ... They carry that within them. So, you cannot really start the healing process until you tell someone,” Morgan said.
Someone who identifies as a survivor, Morgan explained, is someone who feels like they have been through the event and have come out of it and found their healing.
A victim would be someone who is still dealing with the event, still feels the victimization and is still actively living through the trauma, Morgan said.
“We would hope that everyone would eventually become a survivor ... that is the goal,” she said.
The Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia’s Warner Robins office offers a full array of sexual assault services. All services are free. The agency works with the Salvation Army, which operates a safe house in Warner Robins.
“We do everything on site,” Atkinson said. “We can offer them a medical exam. We can offer them evidence collection. We can offer them medication to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent pregnancy. We talk to them about the fact that there will be an advocate with them throughout everything.”
The advocate also can also talk to those desiring help about the other available resources like counseling and legal services, Atkinson said.
The Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia has been serving Bibb County and surrounding areas since 1978, according to Telegraph archives. The agency offers both a sexual assault center and safe house in Bibb. The agency was asked by Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to pick up the Warner Robins area after the nonprofit social services agency, Hodac, closed its doors in September 2017.
The crisis hotline is operated 24 hours a day and can be reached at 478-745-9292.
The healing process has been a long road for Dawnn — one that has included therapy, lots of family members helping her to get better and stronger and a chance to start over, she said.
She recommends counseling, journal writing, an outlet like physical fitness or a hobby, and having someone trusted to talk to outside of therapy.
Dawnn also found support through three victim’s advocates at the district attorney’s office during the legal process. Her attacker is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence.
Though those women no longer work for the district attorney’s office, they continue to keep in touch. Two even came to her wedding, she said.
For Dawnn, sharing her experience at Take Back the Night was an extra medal.
“An imaginary medal — but an extra medal on my chest that says that I, once again, am not going to let this beat me,” she said. “I’m not going to let him beat me anymore.”
A candlelight vigil closed out the event, which was held on the Warner Robins campus of Middle Georgia State University and in partnership with the Houston County District Attorney’s Office and Robins Air Force Base.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports:
▪ One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, including slapping, shoving or pushing.
▪ One in seven women and one in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
▪ One in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data was not available for men.
For more information about the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia, visit the agency’s website is at www.cl-sh.org.
Telegraph archives were used in this report.