It has been over a decade since Gina Iser left her attacker. Now she helps domestic violence survivors in Williamson County.
The move to Franklin was a turning point in Iser’s journey from victim to survivor. She called Franklin Police on her ex-husband. An officer separated the couple and quietly gave Iser the contact details of the Bridges Domestic Violence Center, a Williamson County nonprofit that helps those who experience violence.
It wasn’t the first time she had called the police on her ex, but it was the first time an officer had taken her aside to share options. She later called Bridges. This call changed her life.
She began to attend a support group and develop her “exit plan,” which is a plan to leave an abuser in the safest way possible. She left for good on April 1, 2009.
Iser now works as a lawyer in the courts where she helps victims of domestic violence navigate the justice system and the legal process for protection orders, which come with a mountain of paperwork.
“The court is overwhelming,” she said.
Iser also sits with the victim during court hearings when she is facing her abuser, which can be a stressful and terrifying experience. It connects them with other defenders and connects them with necessary resources, such as shelters.
Being an activist is rewarding for Iser, especially since she knows what the victims are facing. She doesn’t always share her own story with her clients, but sometimes opens up to let them know that she has also been the victim of abuse.
“The greatest resource you can be is a listener and giving them space and room to make their own decisions,” she said of her work. “I know the key for me was to reach out to Bridges.”
The pandemic has likely made the situation worse for victims of abuse, Iser said. She saw a dramatic slowdown in protection orders early in the pandemic, likely due to victims having little time away from their abusers and no privacy to call for help. When things started to open up again, she said “there had been a flood of contacts” of people seeking help.
How the center behaved during the pandemic
Domestic violence at the start of the pandemic was “an extremely stressful time,” said Lynn Schroeder, director of development at Bridges. Isolation is often a factor in abusive situations and has only worsened when the world has closed.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that Williamson County law enforcement responded to nearly 570 reports of domestic violence in 2020.
In the last fiscal year, July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, Schroeder said the center has helped more than 1,900 people, mostly women and children. While Bridges primarily helps residents of Williamson County, the center doesn’t turn away anyone who needs help.
With the county being one of the richest in Tennessee, some might be surprised at the domestic and family violence that takes place there. Financial abuse is significant in the county, Schroeder said. Women often show up in luxury cars they can’t afford, she said.
“You would think that stuff like that wouldn’t happen,” Schroeder said. ” It does not matter. It cuts across all socio-economic levels. ”
The center had to reshape some things during the pandemic, like reducing the number of beds they could offer in their emergency shelter from 15 to 10 to account for social distancing. Their transitional housing functioned the same and is currently assisting 27 people. Tenants pay low rent at the center and can live in the houses for up to a year.
“It allows people to put their feet on the ground who no longer want to live in a community shelter,” said Shroerder.
Many clients of the center come to see them after the intervention of the police. Schroeder was a volunteer officer in the 1980s and established ties with Williamson County law enforcement. When the police respond to an incident of domestic violence, they can ask the center to send a representative to share options with the victim.
The center, which was founded in 1998, has expanded its services to include counselors, a health clinic, and a pet shelter. Some victims may be afraid to leave their pets behind, giving them one less obstacle to seek safety, Schroeder said. The center is designed to help victims every step of the way when they leave their abuser.
Bridges added abuser intervention classes to its roster in 2017. Students attend under a court order from a Williamson County judge for the 26-week course. The educational program aims to break the cycle of violence and rehabilitate the abuser.
The center hopes to expand its services in the coming years to include a lawyer and strengthen its transitional housing options. Their homes are full 96% of the time, Schroeder said.
How to help and get help
The center needs donations, whether financial, material or even voluntary. Visit the centre’s website to see what it needs.
For those who need help, call the center at 615-599-5777.
Contact Brinley Hineman at email@example.com and on Twitter @brinleyhineman. To stay up to date on Williamson County news, sign up for our newsletter.