CODA: Nonprofit fights ‘different faces of abuse’

By Carson Moore

This past year, South Carolina was ranked #2 in the nation in the number of homicides related to domestic violence. Catherine Stewart and the rest of the Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) board have something to say about that.

Stewart moved to Beaufort in July 2011, and discovered the CODA board through the Parrish Church of St. Helena. “A lot of the people that join the board have had a personal experience with domestic violence,” she said, “I haven’t, myself, but I saw that this was a good organization, and an excellent cause.” The current CODA board consists of a varied group of people that includes a former school librarian, a gynecologist, an active-duty Marine, and Stewart herself, a marketing and advertising agent.

As the current Vice President of CODA’s board, Stewart works tirelessly to spread awareness among the people of Beaufort County—not only of the fact that domestic violence is incredibly frequent, but that help is readily available as well.

“Domestic abuse is our nation’s dirty little secret,” said Stewart, “People generally think it’s an icky topic, and try to keep discussions away from it. “ For instance, The Vietnam War began in 1959, and ended in 1975. During that time, there were approximately 58,000 American soldiers that lost their lives in combat. Over that same time period, approximately 51,000 women lost their lives to domestic abuse at the hands of their partners, yet there are still tens thousands of instances of domestic abuse in the United States every year.

CODA’s Beaufort chapter services four counties in South Carolina: Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper. In 2012, each of South Carolina’s 46 counties was ranked in domestic violence victimization rates per capita. The study named Colleton County as 6th in the state, Jasper County 13th, Beaufort County 21st and Hampton 43rd.

In 2009, Beaufort County alone had nearly 2,000 victims report incidents. “We’re best known in our own county,” said Stewart, “Because the shelter is located here, and many of our fundraisers occur here. However, we are trying very hard to expand our reach to really incorporate those counties that don’t feel the CODA presence as strongly.”

Traditional physical abuse is not the only problem that CODA aims to tackle in South Carolina, however. “There are many different faces of abuse,” Stewart explained, “It’s not just a black eye, and it’s not just a broken bone.” Abusers often use isolation, financial control, and verbal abuse to manipulate the victim, and the dangers of abuse can affect outsiders as well. For example, Stewart recalled an incident that occurred 11 years ago in which two Beaufort police officers lost their lives when a woman called in a report of domestic violence. By the time the officers arrived on the scene, the abuser had armed himself with a firearm, and both police officers were killed. “It’s important to understand that domestic violence doesn’t only affect the people in the relationship,” Stewart explained, “Police officers and counselors—oftentimes there are, in fact, more people at risk.”

Beaufort’s branch of CODA covers an area of approximately 2,500 square miles, and has staff members manning the hotline 24 hours a day. In the past year alone, they have answered 4,050 calls on the hotline, and provided 168 survivors and their children with shelter, for 4,833 total nights. CODA’s shelter is a spacious, six-bedroom house that can hold up to 24 residents at a time. It features six bedrooms, a children’s playroom, and an overwhelming sense of safety and security for survivors.

“Clients are at the greatest risk when they leave. When they finally make that hard decision to pack up the kids and flee, that’s when the abuser is most likely to come after them. So we try to give the survivors the greatest sense of safety that we can, and encourage building positive attitudes again.”

CODA also offers what they call ‘outpatient services’. “These are the services we offer outside the shelter,” explained Stewart, “They are free of charge, and possibly the most important part of our organization.” These services include lawyers and counselors that work with the staff to assist survivors with court appointments.

CODA’s counselors teach women to learn the early signs of abusive behavior, and encourage them to develop healthy mentalities in regards to their situation.

Currently, CODA is trying to attract more local interest for board membership. “We really would like to get more men interested in board positions,” said Stewart, “We’re always making a pitch for interested community members to reach out to us and get involved.” The board holds ten monthly meetings throughout the year, as well as a meeting in January that is open to the public. These meetings typically feature one of CODA’s clients, stepping up to speak about her personal experiences with the group. “It’s definitely an experience that most people don’t forget,” said Stewart, “It helps people really see the different faces of abuse.”

To contact CODA, please visit their website: http://www.codalowcountry.org or call their 24-hour hotline at 843-770-1070 or 800-868-CODA. The email is coda@islc.net.

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