Stella Hargrove, a domestic violence survivor, at her home in Upper Marlboro, Md. (Anthony Tilghman/ The Washington Informer)
Stella Hargrove, a domestic violence survivor, at her home in Upper Marlboro, Md. (Anthony Tilghman/ The Washington Informer)

Stella Hargrove lives a relaxed life in Upper Marlboro with her 14-year-old son who’s a high school freshman on the varsity football team, but it wasn’t always that way.

She endured mental and physical abuse from her ex-husband who she met while both served in the Army and stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Hargrove hasn’t seen her ex-husband for about 30 years and conceived no children with him, but the mental scars of his controlling nature remain raw. She won’t hang hand towels in her bathroom and doesn’t put canned goods in a particular order in the kitchen.

“I don’t like vacuuming the carpet because if I didn’t go behind and pick up the lint, I would get beat,” said Hargrove, a former Fairmount Heights town council member who moved to Upper Marlboro last month. “There’s a lot of things I don’t do. I hope telling my story will help others.”

Hargrove’s story highlights the kinds of nightmares revealed and resources shared during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

A policy in Maryland that went into effect this month deals with a person requesting a court to waive a publication requirement of a name change in a local newspaper. The law seeks to protect the privacy of both domestic violence survivors and transgender residents.

A victim’s efforts to insulate themselves and to seek solitude still doesn’t stop some from stalking, sending constant emails and making phone calls.

Prince George’s County police responded to slightly more than 20,000 domestic service calls last year. The police department received 15,617 so far this year,

Police said 11 domestic-violence related homicides involving intimate partners occurred in 2020. As of Oct. 14, the death toll in that category for this year stands at seven.

Officials at The Family Justice Center in Upper Marlboro said they noticed an increase of clients during the coronavirus pandemic as some people remain stuck at home with an abuser because many companies allow employees to work from home.

“When we were hearing from survivors, they were also taking the risk in calling us. They took advantage to go outside and take a walk, or walk a dog — that would be the only time they could talk,” said Delicia St. Hill, a bilingual program advocate at the center. “A trust factor is established and it is a non-judgmental environment. We are empowering you to make decisions that are best for you.”

Formulate a Plan

The justice center, an initiative of the county’s Circuit Court, also helps victims involved in elder abuse, human trafficking and sexual assault.

Since the center opened five years ago, St. Hill said about 6,000 clients have received counseling, legal services and other needs.

One surprising change since April 2020 has been a 30 percent increase in men and men with children seeking help.

“I have seen men sit in here crying because of their pride and self-esteem,” St. Hill said. “Anyone who comes through this door, we believe you. Our role is to hear your voice and help you with a plan with the partners based on your specific need who can help you through this journey.”

One major necessity to protect victims in the county remains housing, she said, especially with only one shelter.

The center can help put clients in a hotel for several days or connect them with a community organization for victims who may need to stay longer.

Until the state can help with additional funding to help build another shelter, there’s some advice for victims involved in a domestic-violent relationship: document all incidents that could be presented in court; develop an escape plan and save money when possible; and call 911 when a situation becomes dire.

“All of our resources are free,” St. Hill said. “We are not trying to tell them what to do. The situations they are in don’t allow them to have a voice. We are empowering you to make decisions that are best for you. We believe you.”

Hargrove said any victim involved in a toxic relationship must formulate a plan. Hargrove’s former brother-in-law helped her escape “from my torture” after he visited the couple from Florida and noticed some tension.

After she explained her situation, they created a plan for her to fake an illness while her ex-husband and his brother left the house for several hours.

“I saved money and was able to leave,” said Hargrove, who has two other children, ages 25 and 35. “It may take months but that person definitely needs to have a plan and once you finally have it achieved, leave.”

Anyone suffering abuse and in need of help can call the Family Justice Center at 301-780-8008, or go to www.pgcfamilyjusticecenter.org.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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