ALBANY, Ga. --It bothers domestic-violence survivors that victims have to fear being jailed for protecting themselves.
"My husband put a .357 Magnum to my head, and he beat me with a belt," said Karen Lawrence, an Albany resident. "But if I hit him and gave him a scratch, he would just say go ahead and call the police. They'll put us both in jail."
Lawrence spoke from the audience at a Liberty House-sponsored discussion on domestic violence labeled "The Face of Domestic Violence" Thursday at Darton College.
Her experience also touched on Tuesday's gunshot killing of Christopher Donaldson by his ex-wife Marlina Hamilton, Lawrence said.
"If the man leaves when the police were there and then he comes back, everyone I know in that situation knows that the man comes back much more mad," Lawrence said. "Any woman will tell you that.
He is mad you called the police and he is mad you made him leave."
Police reports indicate Donaldson left Hamilton's residence before midnight Monday after police arrived on a domestic violence call. Police found no evidence of violence on that call.
When Donaldson returned after midnight Tuesday, Hamilton fatally shot him in the groin and chest with a handgun, reports stated.
A Dougherty grand jury indicted Hamilton on Wednesday for felony murder and aggravated assault.
"Hamilton has indicated that she acted in self-defense," said Greg Edwards, Dougherty Judicial Circuit, district attorney. "But the evidence was presented to a grand jury and the grand jury felt that there were questions that could best be answered by a jury trial."
Although Hamilton was not a client of Liberty House's programs for domestic-violence victims, Silke Deeley, the organization's executive director, hopes authorities will allow her to speak with Hamilton.
"We don't know what happened in this case," Deeley said. "She could have been threatened and placed in fear of her life."
In a predominantly female audience, many of the about 60 people seemed to identify with having lived in threatening situations. When panel member Nancy Reimer related her history, there were nods of recognition.
"The stereotype of the victim is that they are usually weak, poor and uneducated. This is not true," Reimer said. "I was well off (financially) and educated. I owned an airplane and had a three-carat diamond ring. We looked like the ideal couple you might sit next to in church."
It turned out that Reimer's husband at the time was abusive, she said. She left him and retired in 2009.
That was part of the message from the discussion. The help is there whether a victim is poor or not. There are ways to leave a violent situation and begin a new life no matter how hard it seems.
However, there is more to be done and greater cooperation between church groups, pastors, non-profit agencies and law enforcement.
Also on the panel were: John Pasley II, pastor at Cray Chapel, Victor Powell, bishop of Rhema World Cathedral, Victoria Johnson, special prosecutor for domestic violence, Ana Moorhead Thomas, pastor of Jesus Lion of Judah, and Jennifer Thomas, of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
The panel was presented as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.