I meet Julie Owens and her father, the Reverend Bob Owens, at Cabo Fish Taco in early February. Listening to him crack "dad" jokes and belly laugh, it's hard to imagine that they lived through — and survived — the stuff of horror films.
Julie met her future husband David in early 1987. He was charming, they fell fast, and got married later that year. After the wedding, David became overly jealous and controlling. He accused her of affairs and lying and rarely allowed her out of his sight. He wouldn't even permit her to drive herself to work. Possessiveness turned into threats to kill himself. After he deprived her of sleep for 48 hours by holding her at knife point, she escaped Texas, where she was living at the time, to Hawaii, to live with her parents. David entered Alcoholics Anonymous, blaming his substance abuse for the mistreatment. She was three months pregnant with their son.
David's temperament seemed to improve, so with the encouragement of loved ones Julie allowed him to move in with her and her parents so that they could attempt to be a family again. But hope for normalcy faded when the abuse resumed, this time more violent and extreme. She filed for divorce on Sept. 2, 1988, the day he punched her in the face for the first time.
On Sept. 9, Julie returned to her parents' house after a day of sailing with friends to find David waiting to ambush her. He beat her relentlessly, held her hostage in a bedroom, and told her that he was going to "cut her father's eyes out," in front of her. "He pounded my face into the wall and held a knife to my throat. I thought I was going to die," she says. When her father arrived, David attacked Bob. "He was slashing at his face, and I thought that my dad was blind." Attempting to save her father, Julie was stabbed in the abdomen. David eventually spooked and fled, and the police arrived.
"Dad was on one side of the ambulance and I was on the other ... and I heard him say 'Julie, I can see, my eyes aren't gone,' and that was the moment that I finally began to cry," she says. Her father required 40 stitches for the knife wounds to his face and head.
"What Julie does is so important," says Bob, with his hand in mine after a warm introduction and the explanation of my purpose for crashing their Sunday plans at the NoDa restaurant.
At a very spry 82 years old, Bob pastors a small church in NoDa and is the epitome of the traditional patriarch (in a good way). Julie, who moved from Hawaii to Charlotte to be closer to her parents, lives in the parsonage next door. Since 2005, she has committed herself to saving others like her, serving as a regional director for the North Carolina Council for Women, an advocacy group within the state Department of Administration that administers $12 million in grants annually to domestic violence, sexual assault and displaced homemaker programs across the state. Last year, it helped more than 61,000 women regain control of their lives, much like Julie did some 20 years ago.
A woman is beaten or assaulted every nine seconds in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that nearly one in four women are battered — repeatedly abused by a partner — or raped by a partner during adulthood, and three women are killed by a current or former partner every day. In 2012, more than 35,000 domestic violence calls were reported to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and more than 745 domestic violence homicides have occurred in North Carolina since 2002, according to information compiled by crisis management advocacy group Safe Alliance. Battering a woman in North Carolina is a misdemeanor offense for which perpetrators often incur zero jail time.
"If any other demographic group was being targeted and slaughtered at this rate, people would be up in arms," says Julie, 57.
Julie's organization, led by Jenny Ward and Jill Dinwiddie, launched the eNOugh campaign in January. Dinwiddie and Ward hatched the idea and solicited money from corporate sponsors, including Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Bank of America, Piedmont Natural Gas, the Carolina Panthers and others. Part of North Carolina's 10-year plan to prevent "intimate partner violence," the program will begin with a two-county pilot, which includes Mecklenburg and Iredell, to learn "how community awareness and engagement can prevent violence," according to the website. Julie serves on the campaign's committee and helps recruit local volunteers.
eNOugh will target the younger demographic with in-school workshops and programs, still in development stages, and educate corporations and businesses throughout the two counties about the financial impact of domestic violence. (Billions of dollars are spent annually on lost productivity and healthcare costs.) The end goal is that more domestic violence incidences will be reported and more abusers will be prosecuted. In February, it began gathering financial support from state and local governments to gradually expand to the rest of North Carolina.
David was convicted in 1990 of two counts of attempted manslaughter, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 20 years, out in seven, and on parole for three before he went back to prison for a violent attack on another woman, that time sentenced to life. He and Julie eventually shared an amiable relationship, exchanging letters and art work, and she even let him meet their son. Two weeks before I met Julie and her father in February, David died of terminal cancer in prison.
After years of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, constantly living in paralyzing fear, she describes herself as now living in a phase of "post-traumatic growth."
"Since David died, I shared on LinkedIn that I live in Charlotte. ... After 25 years, I can share where I work and not be concerned that I am in any danger," she says.
For more information, visit www.enoughviolence.com.