Echols says some of her clients are women from Potter’s Clay. But she also has women living in the community who seek her help, hearing about her services via word-of-mouth. She says that abuse knows no boundaries, affecting women across all socioeconomic spectrums.
“These are people in your backyard,” she said. “Surprisingly, there are a lot of women in domestic violence situations who come randomly to me. In conversation, they will mention that he is very violent, they will say, ‘I am kind of scared.’”
She added: “I have seen affluent women in my office. Now I am getting any kind of domestic violence client. The majority are working women who come to see me who have put up with abuse for long periods of time, and they are just tired.”
“This affects all kinds [of women],” she said. “This is a social problem, and it is a problem in our community.”
She says the most rewarding part of her job is not only helping victims leave and assisting them with whatever legal help they might need, but also seeing victims turn into survivors. In time, their lives dramatically change after escaping the abuse. This, Echols says, is why she does this work.
“It has been tremendous,” she said. “Those women who had the courage to leave, and some of them are two or three years down the road and doing wonderful things with their lives. It gives other victims hope and encouragement.”
Echols is also working to spread awareness via the Garland County Domestic Violence Task Force. She, along with its members, meet monthly, working with survivors, the judicial system, counselors and other non-profits in the community to create a consortium of services and also to create programs to educate more people the issue.
She says there is a certain taboo attached to domestic abuse, that it only happens to women who might have addictions or who might live in poverty. That it is embarrassing. That no one can understand why a woman would choose to stay with an abuser. That women feel like somehow they have failed.
“We are trying to educate the public right now and show that it is a problem,” she said. “It is a problem a lot of people want to ignore. No one wants to get involved with anyone else’s problems. They don’t want to step in and ask those hard questions.”
“We really are tackling big problems,” she added. “I am seeing the numbers of people in abuse situations is large. I want people to not look at it as a taboo.”
But Echols says she also has to deal with the reality that abuse victims frequently change their minds, deciding to return to their abuser. This is often the most misunderstood aspect of domestic abuse, and it is complex to understand. Echols says no matter how many times a woman decides to return, she will not give up on them or judge them. She says that it is crucial to support a victim when they decide they are really ready to leave, to act quickly and “to not let them think about it.”
“Even if you go back,” she said. “I am here to walk with you down this journey until the time you decide you are done with it.”