Kerr, a domestic violence survivor, married her former husband in December 2010 after meeting him through the church they shared.
“He knew the bible backwards and forwards, as we all know Satan knows the bible. He was a gentleman, and he was looking for me, he was looking for someone like me,” she told a gathering of leaders from the nonprofit and faith communities.
Meeting at Tabernacle Baptist Church Thursday, the interfaith domestic violence training was sponsored by the Domestic Violence Task Force and Bartow Women’s Resource Center.
For Kerr, the signs of abuse were there before he hit her for the first time in February 2011.
“Yes, [there were signs of abuse], no violence but anger - the least little thing ticked him off. There was something about being in the grocery store, he’d get mad and walk out every single time so obviously he had a bad experience in the grocery store,” she said.
After the February incident, he promised he would never hit Kerr again, that he would get help through the church and ask God for forgiveness.
The next time her husband hit her, she almost died.
“He busted my spleen. I had to have two chest tubes to drain the blood. He broke three ribs, he made this lung [compressed], I had two blood transfusions,” Kerr said of the Aug. 28 beating. “I almost died eight times over the 30 days.”
Originally charged with simple battery under the Family Violence Act, the charges were upgraded later to aggravated assault due to the extent of Kerr’s injuries.
To those present, Kerr offered simple advice: Start children young learning about abuse and do not ignore the signs.
“I would say look for the signs of abuse. Let everybody know that abuse is not OK, no kind of abuse. If it doesn’t feel right, that’s abuse,” she said. “And we’ve got to start our children and teenagers to learn this because up to this point that’s something we haven’t really done.”
According to FaithTrust Institute, surveys from the U.S. and Canada indicate that domestic violence occurs in 28 percent of all marriages, but that number could be higher since most domestic violence incidents go unreported.
Speaking to the group, Judge Velma Tilley and Pastor Tommy Harris stressed that clergy and the church can become a resource for abuse victims.
“What can we do? We can listen. We can believe what we hear and we can be non-judgmental. That’s what you’re good at already – being non-judgmental listeners,” Tilley said.
Creekside Fellowship Church Pastor Mike Abernathy said, as a pastor, he has seen a rise in the number of abuse cases.
“I’ve been in ministry 32 years, and I think I’ve seen more violence and had to report it as a pastor to DFCS, I’ve called them more in the last two years than I’ve ever called DFCS in the whole 32 years of being in Bartow County,” he said.
That increase is why the minister views training and understanding the issue as vital to the faith community.
“I think I’m probably speaking for every pastor in here: In 32 years of running into family violence, I’m so glad you’re coming this way and we are trying to go that way, to try and get people help,” Abernathy said.