Gulf Coast Woman

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    Detox your kid’s social feed

    By Melanie Robinson For parents of teen girls, it’s normal to hear complaints about not feeling pretty enough or wanting to look more like a celebrity — but when does the complaint become a real body-image issue? According to researchers at the Dove Self Esteem Project, teens are scrolling on social media apps an average of […]

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    Domestic Violence Awareness 2022

    Every minute, 20 people on average are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, hopelessness and even homicide, as 72 percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner.  As horrifying as the statistics are, change is possible. And like all progress, it begins with […]

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    The do’s and don’ts of advocacy

    By Stacey Riley

    As a longtime advocate for survivors of interpersonal violence, I recognize that I continuously tote around a soap box and pull it out at any time someone needs educated about the realities of domestic violence or any time the gross mistreatment or misunderstanding of victims occurs. On these occasions, I have been able to identify approaches, intentional or unintentional, that either help or hurt victims. 

    If you wish to be an advocate for those experiencing domestic violence, here are some dos and don’ts: 


    • Believe those who confide in you that they are being abused by an intimate partner. 
    • Let him or her know that you are available to listen anytime. 
    • Provide information to him or her on ways to get help. 
    • Put the responsibility on the abuser, not the victim. 
    • Hold the abuser accountable – call him or her out on the abuse. 
    • Intervene in a safe manner when you see someone being abused in public. 
    • Educate yourself on the dynamics of domestic violence. 
    • Educate others on domestic violence. 
    • For businesses: Implement policies for responding to employees who are being abused. 


    • Ask “Why do you stay?”
    • Cut the victim off when he or she doesn’t leave the abuser. Isolation makes escape much more difficult. 
    • Judge or blame – no one knows what they would do in any situation until they are faced with it. 
    • Make excuses for the abuser. 
    • Compare your situation to theirs. 
    • Be silent when others need your voice. 

    We all have the responsibility to shift social norms as they apply to responses to interpersonal violence. If you would like to know more about how to become an ambassador for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and help implement dramatic, positive change, please contact The Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence at (228) 436-3809. 

    Stacey Riley is the chief executive officer of the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. Reach her at (228) 436-3809. 

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    The ‘you’ journey

    By Myia Lane

    To some, the recovery process of healing from domestic violence simply may involve walking away and moving forward. However, the process requires much more. Many survivors do not identify their strengths, nor are they ready to process the grief associated with ending certain relationships. Abusers come in the form of spouses, relatives and friends, and survivors oftentimes feel “trapped,” “incompetent,” or “helpless and hopeless” due to the significance of the relationship. 

    “How did I allow myself to get/stay in a situation like this?” they may ask themselves. “Why did I stay so long?” 

    In recovery, we work with survivors on their domestic abuse healing journey to help them forgive themselves. They are not to blame. They trusted someone who disrespected and abused that trust. So, the recovery looks like them choosing to take a moment to let it hurt, giving themselves grace to embrace their emotions and not feeling guilty or objectified by them. Then, it involves self-empowerment in our forward progression, which is a continuous process. 

    At this stage, survivors often are asked, “What does choosing you without your titles look like?” It is hard to be forward-focused when they still have strong attachments or feelings; however, choosing safety is the goal. So, what strengths can they identify within themselves? For some, the only strength they have is, “I took a shower and brushed my teeth.” That is enough.” 

    The recovery process is a “you” journey. It should be centered in self-preservation and self-awareness. Learn who you are as a person. Utilize coping skills, such as 4-7- 8 breathing (a technique where you take a deep breath in for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds then breathe out slowly for eight seconds), and make them a daily routine. Incorporate journaling in your schedule, and make these actions habits. 

    For many survivors, the war within themselves is the toughest one to fight. Yet, for recovery, it is worth it. Connect with resources for therapy, social enjoyment and self-care. Your recovery needs you to be balanced. So, yes, you want to take care of your obligations while planning and securing safety; however, take time to restore your trust and enjoyment in yourself as well. 

    Myia Lane, LMSW, is an adult counselor with the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. Reach her at (228) 436-3809. 

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    Victims face issues in legal system as well

    By Gracey Freeman

    When we think about domestic violence, we often envision physical or emotional abuse. What is rarely considered is how offenders use the justice system as an extension of abuse. One of the biggest challenges advocates and victims face is the lack of accountability placed on offenders and the transfer of blame to victims, creating an environment in which victims do not feel comfortable participating in or appearing for court. 

    There are many reasons why victims do not appear or participate in court. Attending court for victims can be retraumatizing, knowing they will have to face their abuser. There are also financial considerations when victims must take multiple days off from work when defendants or their counsel request continuances that reset the case. Sometimes cases can be pushed months down the road until victims eventually give up, lose hope and stop appearing for court. Often, victims are gaslit into believing the abuse is their fault and may fear reprisal from the abuser for speaking up. Victims also fear that the abuser will not suffer substantial repercussions and the abuse will persist or worsen. 

    When victims do appear in court, they face additional obstacles. Victims can be met with threats of retaliatory charges, or abusers may use court cases as an opportunity to make false claims or shift blame to the victim. Abusers have labeled my clients as drug addicts, alcoholics, adulterers or mentally ill to excuse the abuser’s actions, discredit victim testimony or dissuade the victim from continuing. Additionally, the court’s interactions with victims can make them question the utility of moving forward, especially when the risk can outweigh the benefit. 

    I have witnessed prosecutors ask victims, “Why don’t you just block him?” after the abuser violated a domestic abuse protection order instead of placing accountability on the perpetrator. When abusers violate court orders with no consequences, it sends a message to victims that courts have no authority and will not be able to protect them. When prosecutors take the side of perpetrators, it sends the same message. 

    Victims who reach out and come forward must be met with understanding, professionalism and support. Fortunately, the courts I serve allow me to provide safety planning, information and access to resources that assist victims to alleviate some of the stresses of court participation. However, there is still more to do, and as a community, we must stand collectively to promote offender accountability and victim safety in cases of domestic violence.

    Gracey Freeman is Community Advocate with the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. Reach her at (228) 436-3809.

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    My story: Shattered reality

    By Mavis Creagh

    What is love? One scripture passage explains, “Love is patient. Love is kind.” Another verse references laying down one’s life for a friend. Nowhere is it said that love should tear you down or torture your soul. However, domestic violence can do that and much more. 

    In the book compilation, “My Walk Past Hell,” my chapter is titled “Hailraizer: Pain to Praise.” I compare domestic violence to bottling up Satan, and then the bottle explodes in flames. That’s how my life felt. My soul endured agony and despair daily. I felt trapped, isolated and alone. I had other people to turn to, but after being broken, embarrassed and ashamed, how could I be a great mother, career woman and community advocate while allowing someone to berate and belittle my spirit daily? 

    My desire for affection caused me to forsake myself for an attempt at true love. I wish I would have listened to wise friends who asked, “Are you sure?” and been led by prayer when things didn’t seem right. But like many, I didn’t, and I landed in one of the most horrible mistakes of my life. 

    Yes, I learned from this and other hellish situations, and I want to protect others from the mental, emotional and physical horror. I pray that those who abused me get help and don’t harm again. I have forgiven them. I used to think I was only involved in one toxic relationship until I learned that verbal, emotional and sexual assault were considered domestic violence. I became aware of the horrible cycle of allowing others to take from me what did not belong to them. Now I speak up boldly to be a voice for the voiceless and others experiencing what I have been through. 

    I don’t cower when others try to make me feel ashamed or stupid for allowing myself to stay in situations. In my previous relationship, I believed we would be together forever and almost lost everything seeking love. For anyone who is reading this and believe you cannot make it without someone else in your life, that is a lie. You can survive and thrive without someone negating your worth and value. Some things are nonnegotiable, such as self-respect, self-love and dignity. You never should allow anyone to have that much power and control over you. 

    Abuse can even be financial, such as withholding finances from the house and taking money to make you dependent. If you feel you are in imminent danger, physical or otherwise, please leave. I believe if I would have continued in my last abusive relationship, I would be dead, either by suicide or from my life being taken. That’s a sobering, but real, account of what domestic violence can do. 

    Economic or marital status, education, gender and sexual orientation do not preclude someone from being in an abusive relationship; anyone can be affected. After leaving my abuser, I didn’t sever all ties because I was used to being connected. This caused me to experience more trauma even after leaving. I survived these experiences, but others have not after giving their abusers access to them and their homes after separation. 

    It may be hard at first, but don’t look back. It’s been over three years for me, and I am grateful for everything the Most High has allowed me to witness on the other side of abuse. I’m a new homebuyer, business owner, author and grad student with fresh happiness, joy and peace. This did not happen overnight, and I still have my personal struggles. I would highly recommend therapy or counseling for anyone who has experienced abuse. It helped me tremendously and supports ongoing recovery. 

    My peace, joy and happiness are worth more than a promise of love and marriage that was a lie. Love does not kick you at your lowest, beat you down and make you feel less-than. If anything I said sounds familiar to you or anyone you know, I encourage you to get out and get help. Your life could depend on it, and you deserve the love you have been desperately giving to everyone else. 

    Mavis A. Creagh is an executive director, six-time best-selling author, speaker, consultant, mental health proponent, community champion, women’s advocate, entrepreneurial strategist, columnist and online show host. A prolific writer, she will release her first solo project later this year. Connect and learn more at

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    Teach teens that love is respect

    By Alicia Tarant

    Most people would agree that teen dating violence is a problem. According to, studies have shown that up to 76 percent of teens have experienced emotional and psychological abuse within their dating relationships. However, many well-meaning parents either fail to recognize the signs or don’t know what to do when their child enters an unhealthy relationship. 

    Like most adults, teens are good at showing their family and friends what they want them to see. They crave more independence and will do whatever is necessary to show they deserve it. The last thing most teens want to do is intentionally disappoint their parents. 

    Age aside, it’s hard for anyone to admit to being in an unhealthy relationship. It can be easy to convince yourself you are in love and things will change. Teens may simply think that this is what love looks like or believe that this is as good as it gets. 

    Everyone in an unhealthy relationship has their “why.” Even the teens who know the signs of dating abuse may not yet have the life experience or skills to effectively address the issue. 

    So, what can parents do? 

    First and foremost, just be there for your child. Refrain from judgment and giving unsolicited advice; just be there to listen. Even then, your child still may not feel comfortable or safe enough to confide in you at that moment. However, knowing you are there when he or she is ready to talk can make a huge difference. 

    Also, show your child what a healthy relationship looks like. It’s OK to talk about past mistakes you’ve made or situations you or your friends have experienced. When watching TV or movies, ask your child questions and discuss what you see. Again, listening to your child’s perspective is far more important than making your opinion known. Showing empathy for those experiencing tough situations shows your teen that he or she can come to you with any type of problem. 

    In addition, talk to your child about safety planning and worst-case-scenario situations that may arise. Ideally, these types of conversations have been ongoing, but it is never too late to start. 

    Finally, learn what resources are available, and share that information. Knowledge is power, and the more you and your child have, the better. If you are friends with your child on social media, share posts and support organizations that promote healthy relationships. This reinforces your values and can help your teen and others reach out for assistance when needed. 

    National initiatives such as, a National Domestic Violence Hotline project focused on teen relationships, can provide a wealth of information. Locally, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence provides free counseling services for teens who have experienced interpersonal violence. Free educational programs also are available for parents and children of all ages that promote and teach about healthy relationships.

    Alicia Tarrant is the Youth outreach educator for the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. For more information or to schedule a presentation, please call (228) 435-3809 or email

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    The numbers tell the real story

    • Over 43 million women and 38 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

    • 10 percent of women and 2 percent of men report having been stalked by an intimate partner. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

    • 1 in 10 women in the United States will be raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

    17.9 percent of children of all ages have been exposed to physical intimate partner violence in their lifetime, or about 13.6 million children. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) 

    1 in 10 high school students has experienced physical violence from a partner in the last year alone. ( 

    • On a typical day, more than 20,000 phone calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) 

    • 19 percent of domestic violence involves a weapon. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) 

    Since the pandemic, violence against women has increased to unprecedented levels, according to the Harvard Gazette. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that domestic violence cases increased by 25 to 33 percent globally. The National Commission on COVID-19 and criminal justice shows an increase in the U.S. by a little over 8 percent following the imposition of lockdown orders during 2020. 


    Over the past year, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence has served: 

    3,544 total domestic violence survivors 

    163 people via housing programs 

    395 adults via shelter 

    218 children via shelter 

    In addition: 

    1439 calls for services have been received in 2022 

    753 Interventions have been provided in area courts


    National Domestic Violence Hotline
    Hours: 24/7. Languages: English, Spanish and 200+ through interpretation service. CALL 800- 799-7233
    Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence
    24/7 Crisis Line: 800-800-1396

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    1 in 3 women experience domestic violence

    By Stacey Riley

    According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. 

    How does that look compared to the 2020 census data for the lower six counties of Mississippi? The adult population (over age 18) of Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, Pearl River, Stone and George counties is 499,347. Of that number, 193,932 are women and 190,994 are men. If we apply the DOJ statistic, 64,644 women and 47,748 men will be or have been abused by an intimate partner. This is an astonishing number. 

    The statistical information from the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence can be alarming, but it pales in comparison to the total number of individuals from our community who need our help. What can we do to ensure we can fully support the 112,000-plus individuals who have been abused in our community? 


    Since last October, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence has made leaps and bounds toward simplifying services for survivors of interpersonal violence (domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking) and ensuring they are as accessible as possible. This month, the Center opened a community-based resource center that will act as a one-stop shop for anyone needing immediate assistance to address the overall impact of any trauma experienced. This program is located at 213 Porter Ave., Biloxi, and is open for walk-ins anytime Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. As always, the Center’s shelter program in Biloxi and Pascagoula is available for help 24-7. 

    We recognize that victims face great barriers, and any efforts that we and our community can make to remove such obstacles are valuable and necessary to respond to survivors’ needs fully and comprehensively. Anyone in our community who requires immediate assistance can visit our community-based service center and immediately meet with a counselor and/or advocate who is equipped with the resources necessary to respond in a holistic manner. The Center has counselors, case managers, advocates, legal advocates and attorneys who are on standby to offer wraparound services to anyone needing assistance. Additionally, this facility will provide access to local law enforcement and court officials to assist in legal matters. 

    Additionally, this service center will offer a resource library that provides access to self-help materials, computer access, access to offerings by other community resources, training opportunities and a safe space to share experiences with other survivors. 

    All services provided by the Center are trauma informed and survivor lead. We are always open to any feedback available by anyone who has been impacted by interpersonal violence.

    Stacey Riley is the chief executive officer of the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence. Reach her at (228) 436-3809. 

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    A no-fuss guide to a magical October

    By Jenni Murray

    “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Truly. It’s a quote from “Anne of Green Gables,” and you’ll see it adorning every farmhouse sign at Hobby Lobby, but I think it resonates with people because it’s just so true. 

    While nature starts the beautiful process of dying away, people around us seem to bustle with life and activity. School is in full swing. Sporting events and festivals abound. Parties are planned. Everything feels abuzz with excitement.

    Somehow when the calendar starts moving towards Oct. 1, I become 7 years old again. I cannot get pumpkins on my porch fast enough. I break out all the spooky decorations. I let the kids run wild with Halloween costume ideas because there is something so pure and so fleeting about the delight of wearing a costume around the neighborhood for a night.

    So, if you find yourself a little short on enthusiasm for the year’s greatest month, here are some ideas for making it the best one yet from a bona-fide October enthusiast. You don’t have to overcomplicate it to make some beautiful family memories. 

    1. Have a spooky movie night. If scary isn’t your thing, turn on a classic like “Spookly the Square Pumpkin.” Buy the cheap, fall-themed pjs, pop the popcorn, serve up some fall cookies and get those highly coveted snuggles. 
    2. Decorate. Take the kids to Dollar Tree and let them buy all the things — window clings, fake spider webs, etc., and then let them unleash their imaginations on some designated spot in your home. Maybe it’s a playroom or their bedroom. Maybe you’re really brave, and it’s your front porch. 
    3. Do family costumes. Come on, you can do it! Let them add you to the costume plans, and see their joy explode through the roof. 
    4. Go to a fall festival or pumpkin patch. We have lots of fun fall activities around the Gulf Coast. I can be hesitant to go because we’re already so busy, but go anyway. You won’t regret it! 
    5. Go see the Halloween drive-through lights. We love going to the Thriller Night of Lights at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile each year. It’s a super fun and easy way to make a great memory. Throw the kids in the car, get something quick to eat on the drive over and enjoy a fun, not-that-scary light show for kids of all ages. 
    6. Boo your neighbors or friends. If you weren’t into the idea of letting the kids buy decorations, let them buy all the cheap fall goodies and toss them in a treat bag. Dress them in all black so they feel extra stealth, and then let them ring the doorbell of a neighbor or friend, leave a Halloween bag and run away like they’ve pulled off the greatest heist in history. Our kids beg to do this every year, and my husband and I usually spend most of the time laughing until we cry watching them trip and fall all the way back to the car. 
    7. Create a fall bucket list: Carve a pumpkin, make a pie, drink an apple cider, bob for apples, go on a hayride, read fall books, make s’mores. If you’re a fellow fall enthusiast, you’re with me here. Do. It. All. And if you’re not, pick one or two off the list and enjoy. 

    I don’t usually accomplish my entire fall bucket list, and that’s ok. The point is not to overwhelm your family. There is just something so innocent about the joy of our children around holidays. They will grow up, and life will get more and more complicated. But for a few glorious years, a pair of skeleton pjs and a bowl of popcorn is enough to make them over the moon with excitement. Cherish and celebrate it.

    Jenni Murray is a social worker turned stay-at-home mom who lives in Pascagoula with her husband and their four sons, ages 11, 8, 6, and 2. When she’s not doing laundry or refereeing little boys, she hides away to write for therapy and is a Gulf Coast Mom contributor. Reach her at 

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