Harrington opens up about domestic abuse

MICHELE LONGWORTH | Metropolis Planet

Rita Gower, left, director of Guardian Family Services shelter, lends a shoulder for Felicia Harrington to lean on last week, when Harrington opened up about her six-year experience with domestic violence. For over 20 years Gower has lent her shoulder to many women and men in Massac County who have suffered from domestic violence.

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but for Metropolis resident Felicia Harrington, she dealt with domestic violence every month for the past six years. This year she sought help from Guardian Family Services (GFS) Shelter in Metropolis.

She is now telling her story to help raise awareness about domestic violence and the services provided by GFS.

Six years ago a man Harrington had known since she was a child came to Metropolis for a visit. After re-connecting, he talked her into moving with him to Nebraska with her son, 11, and daughter, 5.

He had been in the military, and she explained there were times he raised his voice and yelled over some small things. But three months into the relationship she experienced violence and knew she had made a mistake.

She was the victim of physical violence, which included rape, combined with mental and emotional abuse. Twice her abuser held her hostage. Not only did she experience violence, but her son and daughter also were victims from her abuser's actions.

They lived in a small village of 500 people, and she could not get out. "I was in his territory," she said. He was well known to everyone and became clear to her as long as she and her children were living there with him, she would never be able to break free. They lived with him in Nebraska for five years, but never married him.

Eventually she "sweet talked," him into moving to Arizona -- a neutral location, "back to civilization," and a chance to get out of the situation she was in.

"My children are damaged. My little girl was cutting and trying to hide it," Harrington said.

"My son was at the point he wanted to run away from home and he was so depressed,"

That was her breaking point -- when she saw her children hurting. Herringon was tired of stuggling to live and was at the point where she thought if she killed herself her children would be better off.

After they moved to Arizona she made the decision to leave her abuser. He had a job making deliveries, and once a week he delivered to Los Angeles, California. Once he called Harrington to say he was in L.A., she knew she only had eight hours to load up a U-Haul truck with her belongings and get herself and her children away from him.

She ended up in Kentucky. "Upon arriving into Kentucky he was going to get help. He was going to change. He was going to do this and that. He wanted to come. So I let him. Actually I helped him. It wasn't a week later and it was the same thing," she explained.

Harrington ran away from him a second time and ended up at GFS in July. "This time I ran to Rita. I said 'I need help,'" she said, adding, "When I came here I was a hot mess. I was suicidal … I was a mess," she said with tears in her eyes.

She had her son, now 16, with her. She had placed her daughter with her grandparents in North Carolina.

Harrington got an order of protection against her abuser. He talked her into dropping it, and she did.

Four days later, Harrington was back at GFS.

Harrington got a second order of protection ,and when her abuser showed up in court, he had hired an attorney, who had asked for a continuance. Two weeks later when they were back in the courtroom he was there and was married -- "to his next victim," says Harrington.

At 55, ending up at a women's shelter, "It wasn't the perfect situation," said Harrington, who said Gower helped find a doctor, who helped her.

She said so many times people believe the abuser in a domestic violence situation. She said sometimes people try to turn the situation around and blame the person who is getting abused.

Harrington said some people think domestic violence only happens to people who are in a lower socio-economic class, but she says that is not the case, and the issue is one which affects every class and all walks of life.

For Harrington, her abuser controlled the situation. She had no vehicle, and all of her family lived in Metropolis. She had hardly any friends.

When they moved to Arizona, she did not know anyone but eventually made some friends. One of friends eventually came to her and asked, 'What is going on with you.' She said if it were not for him, she probably would not be where she is today.

"You have to believe us. When we don't tell people, when we smile in the public, it's because we're scared to tell people -- because we have to go home with these people behind the closed doors. If we tell you, and you tell them we told, our life is worse," said Harrington.

Harrington said it took her a long time to 'get the backbone,' to run, and she is grateful she ran to Gower and GFS because had she not had them, Harrington says she probably would not be here today.

She wants the public to know when a person who is being abused -- male or female -- finds enough nerve to say they are being abused, or their children are being abused, "Believe them, because you might be the last chance they have."

For Gower, domestic violence is a subject she deals with and witnesses on a daily basis. She says most of the time people ask her, "Why does someone stay in an abusive relationship?"

"No one ever asks "Why does he abuse?" putting the blame on the person who is responsible for the violence," said Gower.

GFS shelter was established in 2002.

Gower said GFS gets a reputation as being "man haters," but she explains that is not the case. In 2019, GFS has seen 253 adult female clients, 17 male clients and 90 children for a total bed nights of 2,634.

GFS has a 24-hour crisis line available day and night and staff is trained to make referrals to all local service agencies to handle any type of call. This year the hotline has received 930 calls.

Other statistics this year include 5,055 direct service hours to GFS' clients, 108 emergency orders of protection (for up to three weeks) and 78 plenary orders of protection (up to two years).

GFS receives funding from Illinois Attorney General's Victims of Crime Grant; Violence Against Women Act, through the Department of Justice; Illinois Department of Human Services; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Emergency Solutions Grant; Massac County United Way; Harrah's Casino; Joppa Baptist Church and Community Christian Church.

According to Gower, GFS receives revenue from various fundraisers as well as from donations from churches, businesses, community organizations and citizens.

Because the shelter is open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, the shelter needs a lot of items, incuding: paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, large size diapers, baby wipes and gift cards for gas.

Donations along with the funding are what keep GFS going. When women who have stayed at the shelter are ready to move out on their own, often times GFS is in need of furniture, such as beds. She said as long as mattresses are bug-free, GFS would be glad to accept them as well as microwaves.

For more information, call 618-524-4357 or to donate, send checks to Guardian Family Services, P.O. Box 742, 117 West 10th St., Metropolis, IL 62960.

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