By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Domestic violence is not a respecter of persons, Greg Williamson, a former abuser, believes. “It’s multicultural,” he said. “Abusers come in many forms, different ages.”

Greg Williamson

Likewise for the victims. Many of them are women whom men have battered or degraded. Or both. 

Men have been victimized too, though only a miniscule number. Women have been known to batter or degrade men as well.

“It is a power and control type situation. That’s where it starts,” said Gwendolyn Turner, a survivor of domestic violence. “Whatever the reason for the power and control, it’s always a main component.”

Williamson and Turner agree that the root cause of domestic violence is environmental and because of one’s family dynamics, which impacts both abusers and victims. 

It affects the entire family, he said.

The environment was Williamson’s introduction to domestic violence. He grew up in the inner city in the former (William H.) Foote Homes housing project where violence was commonplace. 

He sold drugs too in a drug-infested environment of hoodlums, pimps, prostitutes, and other seedy characters. It was a toxic environment that was normalized, he said, “when you see it on the regular.”

“I saw domestic violence all my childhood and growing up as a teenager,” said Williamson, calling such wanton violence a traumatic experience that manifested later in his life.

“When you get to a point where you’re old enough to act out on them…you will find out that when you get angry, those are the things that you go back to because those are the things that you witnessed,” he explained.

He’d abused women in relationships, he said, only when the abuse was triggered by something from his past. “Mine was more verbal,” he said, “a little bit of physical with the grabbing under the arms and shaking.” 

Turner’s story differs. She’d never witnessed domestic violence – until she was embroiled in a volatile relationship that began with a constant barrage of verbal abuse, mental abuse, and emotional abuse. 

“With emotional abuse, those are hidden scars, hidden wounds. My downfall was I did not know the red flags, the signs, the warning signs of domestic violence,” Turner explained.

 Turner was seven years into the relationship before realizing she was a victim of domestic violence. “It’s hard to detect violence before you get into the relationship,” she said.

Her parents argued, she pointed out, but they didn’t fight. “There was never any violence,” she said. “There was never any turmoil.” 

Domestic violence was foreign to her. She was clueless. “I simply thought that this was an expression of love,” she said. “It’s that controlling and mental abuse that you don’t recognize.”

Williamson grew up without a father in the home. There wasn’t a male figure to teach him to respect women, he said – even though he didn’t see as much abuse in his single-parent home. 

He said his mother wasn’t the kind of woman who would capitulate to an abusive man. “So, when it happened, it immediately stopped,” he said.

But the violence Williamson had witnessed outside the home, in and around the housing project, would find its way into his relationships as an adult. 

He’d picked up negative traits and bad behavior from the perpetrators of violence and employed them when he was angered or agitated. There were triggers that unleashed his fury.

Turner had had enough and broke free from her abuser. Then she turned her victimhood into advocacy. A former employee at Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County, she went to work to help battered women – men too.

“I had the opportunity of working with three generations (of women). They were all being physically abused. It’s an acceptable part of the family dynamics,” said Turner, now a renown domestic violence advocate.

“I heard a pastor say once, ‘you draw what you saw,’” she said, adding: “Abusers also target their victims.”

Williamson managed to turn his life around as well. He met an evangelist in the church and befriended her. “I started going to church every Sunday, and God started to work on me,” he said.

During lunch one day, she confided in him that she’d been a victim of domestic violence. He told her he’d been an abuser. Then they brainstormed and a non-profit organization was launched called Circle of Life Transformation Center. 

The center provides domestic violence training for companies, schools, churches, and other non-profit and for-profit organizations. Ex-offenders are given a new lease on life as well via the center’s re-entry program.

“God worked on me and showed me the value of a woman and the purpose of a man,” said Williamson, owner of Kings Barber & Beauty Emporium. Now he intends to return to school for a mental health counseling degree.

“The process of healing starts with separating yourself from the abuser,” Turner said. In society, “we don’t have enough hard conversations about what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Victims can call the YWCA Greater Memphis helpline at 901-725-4277; the helpline for CAAP’s Domestic Violence Program at 901-272-2221; and, of course, the Family Safety Center’s helpline at 901-249-7611. 

Young men can contact Dr. Jeffery Ryan Futrell, president of Young Man University, Inc., at 901-825-3326. There is help for married couples too. Contact Rickey Floyd, lead senior pastor of Pursuit of God Transformation Center, at 901-353-5772.

Floyd is the president of The Husband Institute, Inc., a boys-to-men mentoring program, and he’s the founder of the School of Marriage Enhancement, a Ricky and Sheila Floyd Ministries, Inc. program.