Domestic violence survivor: ‘It’s never too late’

Several months ago, a young woman made the bravest choice of her life.

She put her elementary-aged children into their car and they left a man who was supposed to love them all, but through physical, emotional and mental abuse he tolled on them, it’s hard to see the love there because he also directly threatened their lives. That was her breaking point.

While the young woman’s story is heart-wrenching, it’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.

It’s cases like hers why the Domestic Violence Center of Grays Harbor (DVC) exists. In the past year alone, the young mom’s case was the 253rd that Gloria Callaghan, executive director for the DVC, and her staff full of domestic violence survivors has helped this past year. The organization, which uses 100% of the funds to help the survivors who come to them for help, also provides a safe space in Grays Harbor County.

“The ladies that run these programs are more than amazing,” the survivor said. “They are always there, willing to listen and do everything they can to make you feel safe and comfortable. Since taking part in the Next Steps Program (which is the second step of recovery DVC provides) we’ve been placed in an apartment where I’m able to work and save for me and my children. We’re able to rebuild and find stability in our life. It’s been a struggle for a long time, but now my family is at a place where we can try to find peace.”

Molly Bold, who helped Franzine Potts emcee the 100+ Harbor Women Who Care event on March 12, apologized a couple times for not putting out tissues for the women who heard presentations from DVC, The Back to School Marketplace and Coastal Harvest. The event, combined with a few donations since then, raised $37,240, according to Maryanne Welch, which bumped the total amount of money the group of charitable women has helped raise up to $113,135 since 2019. Donations are still rolling in.

Callaghan weighed in on the DVC’s incoming donations.

“We’re just thrilled,” Callaghan said. “The amount of survivors that we’ll be able to help with this donation is just amazing. And it will go all to survivors. It will go 100% for the survivors. So we were very excited about that.”

Kelly Toomey, who also helps with the DVC, said “thank you” and “we are extremely grateful.”

“It’s gonna change lives,” Toomey said. “It’s gonna keep so many survivors safe and help them move forward in their journey.”

The young survivor’s speech made the tears run throughout the Hoquiam Elks Lodge. It wasn’t out of pity. It was because of the gravity of her words and the empathy shared because of the wretched abuse the young woman and her children had to go through.

Unfortunately, her story didn’t start with the shameful behavior of her ex-husband. She said she grew up in a “broken home,” and how she always had to move around.

“Usually the things we don’t experience or get as a child, we tend to search for as adults,” the survivor said. “I believe from experience that love is the most common emotion children feel neglected from. So, without feeling love as a child, you are blinded by what true love is. Our minds are tricked into believing that anything is love and that’s what we look for. Domestic violence has always been a part of my life. Seeing that as a child changes your mind into believing what you’re supposed to accept and settle for. It’s a continuous cycle that just keeps going. It’s almost like it’s genetic.”

It seems the last few years have been even worse for the single mom and her children.

“For the last four years, I’ve lived many of the worst days of my life,” she said. “I allowed myself to accept and settle for absolutely nothing. I chose to give myself to a man I believed I would be good enough for, a man I believed I could change, but boy did I get a rude awakening. There are so many things that happened, but just to speak on a few: I was manipulated, brainwashed, broke and belittled. (I was) destroyed down to my very core.”

And then an audience member announced in the room that was silent outside of the young woman sharing her story, that “We’re here with you.”

The survivor sounded convinced during her tumultuous time with the mean-spirited, vindictive person who was supposed to love, cherish and support her, that one day “I would be enough.” She accepted terrible behavior she “knew was unacceptable.”

“But the truth is, you are more than enough,” said the young woman who, like others in the room, had to fight the tears rolling down her face. “You are strong, you are valued and you are worthy of everything you deserve. If you continue to settle for nothing, nothing will be all that you get.”

The survivor left before it could get any worse, a choice many struggle to make, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it seems impossible to escape because what will they do after they leave? How will they be able to take care of themselves or their children? And sometimes the known is better than the unknown.

“I finally left my husband after all the years of mental, physical and emotional abuse,” she said. “I was lost and found myself starting over again. I felt like the world was against me and my life was spiraling out of control.”

But then she got help from DVC. But the words she used on March 12 were her words alone, according to Callaghan.

“It was like God’s work happening before my eyes, because when I needed help the most, the DV Center was there,” the survivor said. “With no hesitation they welcomed my children and I. We were almost immediately placed into the shelter and from there, we have only progressed to better things. Gloria and her team are so caring and just willing to do anything for you. If it wasn’t for this organization, my children and I would probably be living in my car. Words can never express how thankful and appreciative I am.”

And then the survivor had a message for anyone who needed help and hadn’t yet reached out to an organization similar to DVC.

“There is help,” she said. “All it takes is you making the first step. Your life is important and life is too short to be anything but happy. You’re always going to disappoint people in your life, but never disappoint yourself. There’s always a second chance and it’s never too late.”

Kelly Toomey, who also helps run the DVC, summarized how the center has helped many women like the young survivor who spoke at 100+ Harbor Women Who Care.

“She is one of the 253 people who walked through our doors this last year,” Toomey said. “With that, we sheltered 83 of those, including (this survivor.) We also had 68 children with those (people) who came through. Those are just a few of the numbers. When we hear statistics, we don’t always put a face to that. That’s one of the reasons why I like doing this. This is our survival and this is what we do. We provide advocacy and it’s always about safety. That’s our primary question every time, ‘how can we keep you safe, how can we keep you comfortable, how can we protect you?’ We follow their lead. We don’t make their decisions. All of this was her choice. We did nothing but support her. This is all her. She did all of it. We were just there and we watched and we supported her.”

As hard as the survivor’s story was to hear at 100+ Harbor Women Who Care event, it’s not an extreme example of domestic violence. Toomey explained.

“Sadly no,” Toomey said. “She’s just one of several stories. Many of our survivors come in with really similar stories. It’s heartbreaking. And a lot of the stories we hear is just as heartbreaking as that one.”

Toomey was clearly proud of the young survivor’s courage to leave her violent situation.

“This was a huge success. She got out and she’s doing it. And there are some who are in very dangerous relationships that aren’t ready to get out yet,” Toomey said. “We had 253 people walk through our doors and the stories that they shared, all of them are heart-wrenching.”

To contact the center, give them a call at 360-538-0733. The crisis line is manned 24 hours per day, seven days per week by DVC’s staff. To reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 800-799-7233.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at