New name, logo embrace SafeHomes' mission

Jenny got married at the county jail, where her soon-to-be-husband was doing time for beating her up.

He hadn't proposed so much as threatened her: "come to the jail now and let's get married."

There was no family to witness the short ceremony.

Her wedding gown was a T-shirt and corduroy skirt.

She was 17.

Life up until that point had already been rough with her man, but it was about to become "hell on earth" as Jenny puts it.

For the next nine years she was punched, kicked, slapped, choked in her sleep, verbally abused, garroted with fishing line and wrapped in a sheet and left for dead.

"It almost cost me my life," said Jenny, whose identity is protected because she is in a safe haven for domestic violence victims. "This man refuses to stay away."

The difference, she said, was SafeHomes Inc., formerly SafeHomes of Augusta, which gave her shelter in 2007 and is giving her a place to stay because her ex-husband continues to stalk her. Jenny said she is waiting for her daughter to graduate high school before moving "far, far away."

SAFEHOMES, WHICH HAS been providing shelter to victims of domestic violence since the late 1970s, changed its logo and name this month to better reflect its mission and purpose.

Meghann Eppenbrock, spokeswoman, said SafeHomes of Augusta was shortened to SafeHomes Inc. because the non-profit actually serves 10 counties in Georgia.

The name change also comes with a remodeling of the SafeHomes' shelter for victims of domestic violence. Eppenbrock said the shelter was able to provide basic amenities, but community donations and volunteer work have transformed it into a friendlier and more welcoming home.

From the outside the house easily blends in with the surrounding neighborhood. Past the side entrance (a sturdy door that's always double-locked), is a dining area with a long rectangular table that can comfortably seat eight people. A large rug covers the blond wood floor in the living room, which is tastefully decorated with iron candle sconces and leather couches piled with pillows.

JENNY CAME HERE two weeks ago to escape her ex-husband. In spite of a permanent restraining order and years of separation, Jenny's ex has a habit of popping up unexpectedly.

"He'll give me enough time to think I'm safe ... then I'll suddenly see him (driving behind me)," said Jenny. "It freaks me out."

She's often asked why she stayed with an abusive husband for so long. The answer is complicated, but Jenny boils it down to one word: "fear."

Love and maybe a misguided devotion play a part early in the relationship, but it's more the fact that the abuser has gotten away with the beatings for so long that it seems no one can save you, Jenny said.

"I might go away for a day to let him cool down, but my intentions were always to go back," Jenny said.

Her first visit to SafeHomes changed that. For the first time in years, she could sleep without fear. People built her up, gave her choices, exposed the lies she had believed for years. That's when she realized she could never go back.

SafeHomes "helped me free myself from something I was ... bound and chained to," Jenny said.