Abuse survivors help each other overcome
Posted September 18, 2014
To climb out of a life-threatening abusive relationship, Thelma Cole got help from another woman who had trod that dangerous path years before.
Advocate Kit Gruelle helped Cole navigate the court system in Chatham County.
Gruelle understands because she's been there.
"My own experience – many, many, many years ago – helped me understand what's it's like to be partnered with a man who is controlling and abusive," Gruelle said.
Cole's partner, Michael Holland, hit her, called her names and taunted her.
"He would strangle me to the point where I would pass out," she said. "I faked it a couple of times and so he finally let me go."
Then he would apologize, and Cole would forgive him.
"He would always come back and say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry. It won't happen again,'" she said.
It's a story Gruelle knows well.
"It's hard for us as advocates to see these cases that we know are so dangerous," she said. "Battered women can predict their own deaths and oftentimes they do."
Cole sought out Gruelle and got help.
Given her personal experience, Gruelle knew better than to blame the victim.
"I just got tired of the stock question being 'Why doesn't she just leave?'" Gruelle said.
It's not that easy, Cole said.
"I think people are naïve to domestic violence. They say it's her fault she doesn't get out. But it's really hard to get out."
Holland was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2002 and spent less than six months in prison. Even today, most domestic violence cases are still charged as misdemeanors which lead to very little jail time.
Cole went on to speak with state lawmakers about the need to increase strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony. In 2004, they passed House Bill 1354 which dramatically strengthened the state's domestic violence laws.
She's now in the position to help others who suffer at the hands of a loved one.
"It makes me feel good, and hopefully it saved somebody's life," Cole said.
And now she focuses on the future. She believes with the help of advocates like Gruelle, victims can rebuild their lives.
"You can get out," Cole said. "There's life after. There's people that help women in domestic situations."
eNOugh domestic violence: eNOughNC
WRAL and our parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, are partners in an effort to prevent and end domestic violence called eNOughNC. On eNOughNC.org, victims and batterers can find resources to break the cycle of violence, and members of the community can find ways to help.