Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Leaving more difficult for abuse victims than we imagine

She spoke as a girlfriend, abused by her boyfriend.

She spoke as a wife, abused by her first husband.

She spoke as a daughter, abused by her father.

The cold, harsh sentences don't even begin to illuminate the pain Natalie Baird shared last week at the Spring's annual Gift of Peace event. In an address wrought with emotion, Baird told of living with fear, dealing with bruises and being choked until she passed out.

She delivered reminders about the physically and mentally debilitating acts of domestic violence and how everyone needs to help eliminate this horrid societal ill.

But my biggest take-away involved Baird's mixed feelings about her father.

A former board chairwoman for the Spring, she was set to deliver the keynote at the 2012 Gift of Peace event, with her second husband, Cory, by her side.

But Cory had to drive to Lakeland to check on her aging father. Her mother was out of town and Baird got concerned when her dad didn't answer the telephone.

Baird confessed that Cory's departure made her angry at her father. That anger changed to regret when Cory called and told Baird her father had died. She suspended the speech and rushed to Lakeland.

The courage she displayed in returning to this year's Gift of Peace event and laying out all of her emotions left me in awe. The task may have seemed insurmountable for some, but Baird pushed forward through halting words and watery eyes, determined to make a difference.

She spoke not only of the moments of abuse her father inflicted, but how he was abused as a child. She shared that his brand of discipline crossed the line of acceptable parenting, but also explained he played a critical role in helping her break free from an abusive relationship years later.

She hated some of his acts, but appreciated the love he showered on her during other moments. She recalled with a smile how they sat together on football Sundays and rooted for his favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

The next time someone argues that the simple solution to any abusive situation is for the victim to leave, think about the complexities of the relationship between Baird and her father and realize it's just not that easy.

We can't continue to dismiss the complicated emotions involved in domestic violence and suggest that the abused somehow invite punishment or deserve torment.

Yes, every victim needs to escape, but it's easier said than done.

"Sometimes the victim thinks death may be easier than having to live without that person," Baird said.

Probably no one understands the need to support victims more than Baird. Now a Tampa lawyer, she teamed with her husband and two other local attorneys, Miriam Velez and Jason Valkenburg, to create Are You Safe, a nonprofit that helps domestic violence victims obtain domestic violence injunctions.

Are You Safe's misson: Help every victim and their children escape abusive relationships and assist the victim in transitioning to a better life.

Baird found her way out and I love that she strives to light the path to safety for others. The Spring (thespring.org) and Are You Safe (r-u-safe.org) deserve the community's support as they cast lifelines to victims whose lives may be cut short because they can't escape.

That's all I'm saying.

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