Small towns are important.
One of my all-time favorite things is attending an event in my hometown. I love seeing the familiar smiling faces and the genuine care about how I’m doing and the years of shared memories between us.
But, there’s an element to small towns that everyone knows about and for some reason isn’t truly dealt with: domestic abuse.
In 2018, abuse is a hot-button topic on the national stage. Hollywood is currently in an unprecedented level of chaos as major celebrities and studio executives are being outed as predators left and right. Our Politicians, too, are facing scrutiny, as it seems daily we hear that a member of Congress or The Trump Administration has been accused of assault or abuse.
You just never know what happens behind closed doors. Behind even the most perfect door, there lies a closet of secrets ready to burst forth.
The reality of domestic abuse is one that tends to be hidden away in a staggering number of homes across the country. In the United States, an average of 20 people are physically abused by domestic partners each minute. This equates to more than 10 million abuse victims annually (NCADV). Unfortunately, abuse is not just limited to partners. Behind Closed Doors, UNICEF’s campaign to fight domestic abuse in the home, states that children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others and might even be encouraged in doing so (Unicef).
Some (but not all) victims become abusers. Many are able to rise above their circumstances, choose a different path, and work to make the world a better place.
This series of stories is about your neighbor. It’s about your coworker in the next quad over. It’s about your sister, your mother, your daughter, your father, your brother, your son, your wife, your husband, your friend. It’s the supermarket clerk or the CFO of a major cooperation. It’s your Uber driver, waitress, bartender, or doctor.
Abuse has no title. It has no age, gender, or location.
In order to protect the victims and parties involved, names have been changed and the location of the events is purposely ambiguous. I urge you to read these accounts as if it's happening in your own town - because it is. The stories I will be sharing in the series of articles, however horrifying and harrowing are unfortunately not unique. Teenage girls and women all over this country in quiet rural towns are covering up bruises with their foundation, are wearing hair extensions because their hair has literally been ripped from their heads, and are making excuses for the abhorrent way their partners are treating them.
In case you’re just joining us, this narration of domestic violence at a local level is told through the story of Mae Matthews and Lynn Mitchell. Prior to my first meeting with them, I gathered articles from our local newspaper outlining incidents involving their abuser, Cody Smith. I will be discussing two of those incidents. The stories contain graphic detail and may be triggering to some readers.
It was a morning like any other in the Smith household. Mae and Cody were at his parents' home where they were living at the time. Mae was upstairs in their bedroom when she heard commotion coming from downstairs. As she ran down, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her 18-year-old boyfriend of two months and his 23-year-old brother were in an intense brawl - while Cody was holding his 11-month-old baby sister. Mae rushed into the room and hurriedly took the baby out of the room. The fight began to escalate; Cody threatened his brother with a knife and his brother slammed his head into a weight bench.
Eventually, the police were called. Cody was sent to jail and his brother was released on his own recognizance. An order of protection was put in place against Cody, which according to Mae, was followed for about 12 hours. The next night, his parents smuggled Cody and Mae in through the back door.
It was after this incident that Mae learned instances like this were not uncommon in the Smith household. Fights would be had, police would be called, the court would get involved, and the family would work their way around law enforcement to continue doing exactly what they wanted.
In between this incident and the next case the local paper covered, there was a slew of fights, police calls, etc. There was one time, Mae recalls, that Cody got into an altercation with his mother that ended up getting physical.
She looked Mae in the eyes and said, “if this is what he does to his mother, what is he going to do to you?”
But, you see, he already had begun to show his true ugly and charred colors.
As we sit in the back of a local coffee shop, Mae sees the headline of the next article I’ll be discussing. Tears well in her big beautiful eyes, “I’m sorry I just know what this one is about. I don’t talk about it. I haven’t thought about it in a really long time.”
A year later, she and Cody were supposed to be going to see a therapist. They had been fighting a lot and were reeling from the loss of an unborn child (I will be covering this part of Mae’s story in another article). He had started to leave without her, but she ran after him insisting that she accompany him. For one, because at the time she thought that they were fighting so much because SHE was doing something wrong. And two, she expected that he wouldn’t actually go.
They began to fight in the driveway. He shoved her, smacked her and hurled his usual insults, “You’re a wh*re. You f*** everyone. You cheat on me. You’re disgusting,” the usual. But the fight began to escalate. Thankfully, the two now lived across the street from her grandmother, so she ran to her house. Unfortunately, she was not home. When he caught up to her, and this next part is brutal, he dragged her by her hair into their apartment. He dragged her by the hair, out of her grandmother’s driveway. He dragged her by the hair, through the road. He dragged her by the hair, up the stairs and into their second-story apartment. He then continued to yell at, hit, and kick Mae. A few minutes later, the unmistakable pound of a police officer was heard. “Go get in the shower. Don’t say a word. Go take a shower.”
Mae pauses telling her story and says, “I can’t believe I listened.”
She got undressed and turned on the shower. A moment later there was a knock at the bathroom door, “Mae please come out here.” says the voice of an officer. She opens the door, and he scans her, wrapped in a towel, obviously not wet, marks on her face and arms and he pauses on her head...
“Ma’am please tell us what happened here.”
“Nothing happened, I was in the shower.”
“You clearly weren’t in the shower. Can you please step out here.” She complied.
And it was then that she noticed clumps of her hair scattered throughout their apartment.
Cody was charged with felony aggravated family offense as well as misdemeanor accounts of assault, menacing, unlawful imprisonment and criminal mischief. An order of protection was put in place. He was sent to jail and remained there for two weeks.
He called Mae every day from prison... From a jail in the same county that had just imposed a 5-year order of protection against him.
But, you see, he had changed! He was going to get his life in order. He was going to get a steady job and treat her the way she deserved to be treated! He was going to get help, go on medication, and everything would be alright. So, of course, when he asked her to write a letter to the judge asking him to lift the order of protection, she complied. He was really going to change this time.
To this day, Mae wears hair extensions to cover up the patches on her head that were ripped from her scalp.
It was this incident that made me realize how much her story needed to be told. She has forgiven herself for believing his lies and accepting him into her life again. Forgiveness is a powerful force and when you love someone so deeply, you desperately want to usher them back into your arms.
But abuse cannot be overlooked. It can’t be pardoned with a flood of flattery and empty promises. It will happen again.
All of this happened in a small town. She gave her statement in a small police office, while Cody sat in the next room with his eyes on her the entire time. He was able to call her every single day from that county jail. His family lived three doors down from the judge that would continue to handle his cases. Police routinely are called to whatever place he resides. Although he currently is on strict probation relating to his most recent offense, in the time Lynn Mitchell and Cody Smith were together, his parole officer called him one time and only visited once (and it was scheduled) so he and his family had time to hide their illegal possessions. He operates a “business,” he doesn’t even remotely follow his curfew, and for some reason, has a baffling amount of social media followers. He remains free and his reputation unscathed.
He has also gotten the girl he had been dating for two months pregnant. She is halfway through her pregnancy now and as of this article, the two have recently broken up.
I do not claim to know the answers to solve the domestic abuse problem in Hometown, USA. But, I do know that overlooking that hidden black eye on your coworker or the troubling comments your friend’s boyfriend makes to her perpetuates the issue. We can no longer be silent. We must rally together and create a safer world for our children.
I really do love being from a small town. Everyone knows everyone, which means news spreads like wildfire and in a crisis, my town doesn’t hesitate to rally together. Our ultimate hope is that Mae’s story, along with Lynn’s, will start conversations about domestic abuse in every small town in America and that together we can help put an end to domestic violence.
No one rallies like Hometown, USA