By Martha Lawrence

Warm breezes refresh, vivid colors awaken senses, optimistic attitudes abound – it must be spring! It would appear to most that images of spring are antithetical to those evoked by the grim, over-populated world of domestic violence.

In fact, I’m often asked, “Isn’t it depressing to work with victims of domestic violence?”

The answer is, “Yes, it can be sad…”

The staff at Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) regularly listen to horror stories depicting the cruelty human beings are capable of inflicting on purportedly-loved intimate partners. Adding to the despair is the realization that each story often includes overlooked victims – frightened children who witness what no child should ever see or hear.

Contradictory to most assumptions, domestic violence is a crime driven not by anger but a desire for control. Sadly, it touches all racial, religious and socio-economic groups.  A manipulative abuser chooses to employ various tactics – physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and/or financial battery – to establish and maintain control over his* partner. These techniques, which may escalate in intensity and frequency over time, are often successful and leave the victim a shell of her former self – lacking any semblance of self-esteem, not thinking or acting like a person in a healthy relationship.

Periods of violence are interspersed with spells of sincere apologies, glorious reconciliations and promises of changed behaviors. After years of wildly fluctuating emotions, a victim is often left off-kilter in a chaotic world, unable to make decisions. She is at risk of becoming a prisoner for life – a life which may be shortened if physical abuse turns deadly.

Yes, witnessing the effects of domestic violence can be sad and, for some, more likely to inspire metaphors of barren winter than redolent spring.  However, at CODA, we behold inspiring metamorphoses in every season. We don’t require the earth to tilt at a certain angle to enjoy renewal and rebirth. Throughout the year, we see victims emerging from imprisoning cocoons so carefully crafted by abusers – eyes blinking in the light of new realizations.

They begin to grasp that, despite what they were told, the abuse is not their fault. They learn to appreciate themselves as human beings deserving of relationships filled with love, not fear. They are empowered by the realization that they are fully capable of making decisions for themselves and their children.

Sometimes there are only baby steps. A victim returns to a batterer an average of eight times before leaving for good.  However, each time she reaches out to CODA once again, she understands more about the abusive actions which have ensnared her.

She finally realizes she has been caught up in a pattern of behavior that reflects not on her own worthiness or accomplishments but on the premeditated manipulation of an abuser; that no action of hers can end the abuse; that despite dreams of an intact family, her children are at risk in an abusive home; that escalating frequency of abuse may increase the danger in which she lives and possibly lead to death.

With CODA’s help, a victim can begin the work of transforming from victim to survivor.  She can take charge of her life,  perhaps move on to a new home,  aspire to a new career, return to school, find outlets in art and volunteerism and inspire her children with her tenacity and strength.

In addition to counseling for herself and her children, a CODA client can access  emergency shelter, learn about her rights and legal options, receive assistance in applying for legal protective orders, discuss safety-planning and explore community resources available to further her future.

We encourage you to learn more about domestic violence and its devastating effects on our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods. We ask you to share your knowledge so domestic violence will be viewed not as a private matter but a crime against our community. Finally, we ask you to reach out if you suspect someone may be in an abusive relationship. Tell her help is available. Domestic violence can be deadly – it’s imperative we reach out now rather than wishing tomorrow, we had acted today.

For more information about CODA’s services which are confidential, free of charge and dependent on community support, please access:  or call


*As an estimated 87% – 95% of victims of domestic violence are female, thus the use of “she” and “her” when referring to victims. This usage does not ignore or discount the pain experienced by male victims. CODA serves both male and female victims of domestic violence.

Martha Lawrence is the Community Educator for CODA.


Celebrate spring and support new beginnings for victims of domestic violence at Carolina Spring Fling,  CODA’s annual Fundraiser. Carolina Spring Fling. Dance to the rhythms of Savannah’s Original Pirate DJ, Chuck “Boom Boom” Cannon and enjoy an array of fabulous heavy hors d’oeuvres created by Debbi Covington. Admission is $50 per person, $30 of which is tax-deductible.

Time and Location: Saturday, April 10, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

St. Peter’s Walsh Palmetto Room,  70 Lady’s Island Drive, Beaufort

Tickets:  843-770-1074×221 or