“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone”

Published 1:45 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

Mill Spring woman’s personal story of domestic violence survival

COLUMBUS—He always carried a knife on him and was bigger and stronger than her. Would trap her in the house and tell her he would kill her before the police could make the 20-minute drive to their remote location when she would try to call 911. 

It is a story many may only see in movies, but many others know all too well. 

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A domestic violence victim who fled to Polk County from Tennessee to save her own life is now telling her story.  

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Steps To HOPE is partnering with the Tryon Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 27 to raise awareness and money by showing the Lifetime Original movie “Reviving Orphelia.” The movie is free with donations to Steps To HOPE welcomed. 

Reviving Orphelia is a story Wendy West and so many women have lived. 

West was in an almost 11-year marriage with a man who she did not know had a history of domestic violence. 

He had been arrested and jailed for battery in the past and West said she would advise anyone to do a background check on people they are dating. 

“I didn’t know that when we were dating and he was wonderful then,” West said. “I thought I had met my person. But, he is a predator and I fell victim to a predator.” 

West said because of his past, he never actually hit her, but there was emotional and physical abuse, as he would frequently corner her in a closet, or against a wall or some place that she could not get away. 

“He was very intimidating,” she said. “He always had a knife on him.” 

She said when someone is bigger and stronger than you and carries a weapon you tend to do things that keep you safe at all times. 

“If I called 911, he would threaten to kill me,” West said. “We lived way out in the country. It would’ve taken the sheriff 20 minutes to get there. The times I did call 911 he would tell me I wouldn’t live long enough for them to get there and to hang up.” 

One time she did get through to 911 and had to hang up. The 911 dispatcher called her back and asked if she was okay. West said she responded that she was okay that minute. So a deputy came out to the house, but since no abuse was witnessed, it was a “he said, she said” situation and no charges were filed. 

“It’s a terrible cycle and it repeats over and over and every time it gets a little worse and a little worse,” West said. 

She said her husband kept changing medications for multiple diagnoses and as a mature wife she felt like he was ill and she needed to help him. They got married in their later years. 

West also said her husband was a well-respected businessman for a Fortune 500 company and she covered up the abuse in the community. 

“Very few people knew,” she said. “I covered it up. When it finally came out there were shock waves in the community.” 

But West did have a safety plan for years. She said she never knew how he was going to be and she eventually sought help in Tennessee. She always made sure she left a window unlocked in case she needed to get out, she always had at least enough money put away in case she needed a hotel room and had a gym back she kept extra clothes in so it would not catch his attention. She also got her two dogs certified as service dogs so she could take them with her to a women’s shelter if need be. 

She said Tennessee does not have a Steps To HOPE, which is a wonderful facility and does have accommodations for pets. 

“Steps To HOPE, which a lot of people don’t know, is one of the few shelters in the country that provides shelter for women or men and their pets,” West said. “It really distinguishes itself.” 

West said her last straw with her husband was finding out he had been unfaithful. She discovered at Christmas of 2015 that he had been unfaithful for years. Then she found out he had been taking pictures of women without their knowledge. 

“I was the last to know,” she said. “I trusted my husband. He traveled for business. I never suspected it for one minute. As it turned out, that was part of the pattern.” 

Then there was the last incident. She said he trapped her in the driveway by putting his car in front of the gate and taking all the keys for the outbuilding, where she did artwork. When she went out to the road to see if he was there, he tried to run her over with a car. 

“That was the end,” she said. “I was done then.” 

West also said there was a lot of inappropriate sexual behavior. She said she saw things she had never imagined were possible in her lifetime. 

“It was so deliberate and so premeditated on his part,” West said. 

She said she discovered he was participating in voyeurism and she discovered he was following women and taking their pictures and the women had no idea. 

After he tried to run her over, West said she fled to friends’ houses with nothing but a few clothes. After a couple of months, she came to Mill Spring, where friends had a cottage for her to stay in. 

“I thought, this will be safe and they would do their best to protect me and I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore,” she said. 

Her friends got together and got her pots and pans and another friend, who has cancer and can no longer lie down, gave West her bed. She said the things she thought she treasured, no longer mattered. 

“I remember how much I’m loved and how much people care about me,” West said. 

When she got to Polk County, she discovered Steps To HOPE. 

“Steps To HOPE for me was like falling into a feather bed,” West said. “It’s a wonderful place.” 

She attended support groups through Steps To HOPE and said she discovered most women in abusive relationships stay for financial reasons. 

“I didn’t have any money when I left,” she said. “He closed the bank account and I couldn’t get to the money.” 

She said her reason for leaving had more to do with her daughter and granddaughters. 

“Really and truly the reason I (left) was that I wanted to be an example to them,” West said. “How could I have lived with myself if something were to happen to my granddaughters given the sexual component?” 

She said once seeking help with Steps To HOPE she began counseling with their counselor Ann Moss, which is a completely free service and going to support groups. She said the support group meetings are normally packed with people ranging from as young as a teenager to a woman in her 80s. 

“If this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” West said. “And it does happen.” 

Now that she is out of her situation, West hopes to help others. She wants to go out in the community and talk to people who would want to hear her story. 

“At least I don’t have to be afraid anymore,” she said. “It has made me want to be a better friend, a better role model for my children and a better human. If we don’t shed light on it, it’s never going to change. For too long, these things have been acceptable. It’s no longer acceptable.” 


Steps To HOPE women’s support groups


Mondays at 10 a.m. 

Wednesdays at 5 p.m. 

Appointments also available 8 a.m. -5 p.m. or after hours if prearranged. 

Call Steps To HOPE, located at 60 Ward St., Columbus, NC, at 828-894-2340 for more information.