Posted: 5:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Victim’s advocate shares personal story of abuse and recovery

By Richard Jones

Staff Writer


Etta Caver didn’t know about violence when she was growing up, but the unexpected murder of her mother began a tragic life journey through two different domestic violence relationships.

At age 47 and after a 24-year career with AK Steel, she returned to college and earned a masters degree in social work that has not only allowed her to become an advocate for victims of domestic violence as they navigate the legal system, but to also become an instructor in family studies and social work at Miami University.

Caver told her story Monday to a group of Miami University Middletown students and staff as part of the campus’ celebration of Women’s History Month.

Caver said she grew up in Dayton, the oldest of four children whose parents divorced when she was 3 years old.

“There was no violence in our neighborhood,” she said. “We played kickball in the streets and made up our own games. Nobody bothered us and we never had to worry about being snatched from the street.”

All that changed one day in August 1969, when she was 15 years old and she found her mother in front of their house with four stab wounds. By the time help arrived, it was to pronounce her dead in the yard.

She and her younger siblings ended up living with their grandparents in Hamilton.

“I did not know how drastic a change that would cause to my life,” she said. “It was front-page news and preceded us to Hamilton where we were identified as the kids whose mother was murdered.”

Although they were the subject of “wild rumor and speculation,” Caver soon met an older boy and married him as soon as she graduated from high school.

“My life was consumed by him,” she said, but “I didn’t know that he grew up in an abusive home. His father was abusive to his mother and his granddad to his grandmother. I thought I could show him how good life can be.

“We had a beautiful wedding, but that’s where the beauty ended.”

He started treating her badly, and within a year, after she discovered that he was addicted to heroin, the abuse intensified “because his secret was out.”

Caver got a good job at AK Steel, thinking that a stable income would solve their problems, “but he thought I was trying to gain power, and the abuse got worse.”

It was several years, two children and three incidents in which her house caught on fire from her husband’s carelessness that she finally got a divorce and moved to Middletown with her children to be away from him and closer to her job.

Her sister arranged for a man to help her move, Caver said, and he took it to mean that they would be dating. He turned out to be “a parasite,” she said, eventually moving in, commandeering her car while she walked to work and intercepting her pay checks.

“I felt like I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire,” she said.

When she tried to leave, she ended up in the hospital, and kept going back as the violence escalated.

“Nobody gave me sound advice or information on how to be safe,” she said, and she soon ran out of hospitals because she wouldn’t go back to one a second time.”

Although she was reluctant to get help, the final time she went to the hospital with a broken bones in her face, the possibility of facial paralysis, a damaged eye socket and five loose teeth, she decided to make a major change in her life.

In 2001, her kids grown, she decided to go to college at Miami’s Middletown campus to get a degree in computer technology.

“I was talking one day to a student about my story and she told me I sounded like a social worker,” she said, so she changed her major.

She eventually got involved with the Citizens Against Domestic Violence and began working as a victim’s advocate for Middletown Municipal Court and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, and still teaches a domestic violence awareness class for women trying to navigate the system.

The most important thing for women in domestic violence situations is to have a trusted friend and an escape plan. She told of one woman who worked for a year to save money and get a job in another state.

“Most women who are murdered are murdered when they try to leave but don’t have a plan,” she said. “A lot of times, (the police and other authorities) get tired of women calling and going through the court system only to get back together, so they act like they already know what’s going to happen — and they do.”

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