Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse marks 25 years

If it weren't for the violence Bonnie Connolly witnessed as a child, she said she might not have been so passionate about taking a stand against domestic abuse. And if she hadn't done that, thousands of local women and children might not have escaped their own dangerous situations.

"At the time I guess I didn't really realize what was driving me," Connolly said. "But somebody ... pointed out to me, 'Well, given the fact that you grew up in an abusive home and your mom never had any place to go, it would only make sense that that's something that you would be driven to provide for others.' "

After she moved to Beaufort in the 1980s, Connolly became the director of Citizens Against Rape -- now known as Hope Haven of the Lowcountry, the children's advocacy and rape crisis center. She quickly realized there was no help for battered women in Beaufort. So in 1985 she and a group of other women started The Women's Network, which later grew into the nont Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse. CODA opened its first shelter the following year.

Since then, the organization has served more than 10,000 victims and their children in Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, according to executive director Kristin Dubrowski.

The group, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, offers free and confidential legal assistance, counseling, case management, a 24-hour crisis line and an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Dubrowski said CODA has received more than 49,000 hotline calls and sheltered more than 4,200 women and children in the past 25 years.

One of those women was Beth, who asked that her last name not be given. Beth and her two young daughters went to CODA for help almost 22 years ago. They lived in Colleton County at the time, and Beth knew she needed to get out of a relationship with an alcoholic boyfriend. But it wasn't until he almost killed her that she finally left.

She said he had beaten her within inches oflife with the butt of a shotgun. After she spent some time in the hospital and was physically improving, Beth grabbed her clothes, her children and the $11 she had to her name and headed for CODA. She and the girls stayed at the shelter for about a month.

That was not the first abusive relationship Beth was in; nor was it the last.

In 1993, her new husband abused her in front of her daughters. She went back to CODA and started going to counseling. She said that was the turning point in her life and she has not been in an abusive relationship since.

"I would not be alive without CODA, and my children wouldn't have had the life they had without CODA," Beth said. "My prayer is that the women that go in there and use CODA appreciate it and the opportunity it gives them and that ... they do realize that it is an opportunity for them to get out of what they're in and start over, and to have a really good life."