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When Leaving Is Not Enough

Options become even more limited for domestic violence victims

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Terrie Bertha probably never saw it coming as she settled into her Southwest Charlotte home on Sunday Oct. 28. She'd done what's so hard for victims of domestic violence to do – gotten away from her attacker. According to court papers, her estranged husband Mario Bertha had a violent past.

That violence included beating Terrie Bertha two years ago. So when he showed up at her home that night, it was not pretty.

Mario Bertha had a gun. He shot his wife, then himself.

Bertha's case is not isolated; domestic abusers in Charlotte are killing their victims at an alarming rate. Eight women have died at the hands of men who were supposed to love them, according to the Domestic Violence Advocacy Council, so far this year. At this time last year, there were five homicides.

Domestic violence survivor Natasha (not her real name) knows that she could've been a statistic. She said two months into her 14-year marriage, the abuse started. She was pregnant and her Marine husband choked her. Though she did leave, she returned. And at first, she never told anyone what was going on. She didn't have a support system of friends and family to tell her to leave. Even though she left her husband when Nicole Brown Simpson was killed, Natasha still went back. It wasn't until 2003 that she got the guts to leave for good. Her strength came from her daughter, she said.

"Things were going pretty bad," Natasha said. "My daughter said, if you can't be happy then you shouldn't stay."

And though she'd heard those words from her counselor, when they came out of the mouth of her 13 year old, Natasha said it was time to make a change.

"I wrote him a check for $2,000 and gave him half of everything that was in the house," she said. Then Natasha took a self-defense class to empower herself, took a gun class and got a concealed weapon permit.

When she saw her ex in court again, she let him know, "I have a gun and I will shoot you."

But many in the domestic violence community don't recommend women arming themselves. Michael Sexton from the Women's Commission says that it is just too easy for a physically stronger man to take the gun away from a woman and use it against her.

Nichols admits that she got rid of her gun but when she told her ex that she was willing to use it, she didn't have another problem out of him.

All women aren't that lucky.

Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call To Men, believes prevention is key in stopping violence against women.

Men, he said, are taught at an early age to devalue women. "When boys are playing sports and they're not doing well, the first thing we say is stop playing like a girl. We need to challenge the norms of manhood." Porter says domestic violence has its roots in sexism.

Sexton says it's about power and control. Two definitions but the same result: someone gets hurt or killed.

"Abuse is a choice," Sexton said.

If you're one of the lucky ones, after you've been beaten, pushed and kicked, you can try to look for a bed at Charlotte's Shelter for Battered Women. There are only 29 beds in the Charlotte shelter. At times, because there are so many women in need, they have to use motels. That's why when a victim walks into the shelter, an action plan is immediately put into place.

Can she go to a loved one's house? Get a place of her own or just get the hell away from the man who kicked her ass? (And yes, men can be victims of domestic violence, but according to Sexton the vast majority -- 90 percent -- of victims are women.)

Karen Parker-Thompson, United Family Services' director of domestic violence services, said that each woman who comes into the shelter is different, but they all share the same shock, fear and disbelief. "Eventually they do leave for good," she said.

What you need to leave:

• $50 or more in cash

• A small bag with extra clothes

• Bank account numbers

• Checkbook

• Your social security number

• Partner's social security number

• Partner's date of birth, workplace and telephone number

• Insurance policies

• Marriage license

• Birth certificates and passports for you and your child/children

• List of important phone numbers

• Sentimental valuables and photos

• Medications

• Extra keys for home and/or car

• Don't tell your partner where you are going!

Source: Mecklenburg County Women's Commission.

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