Helping Others Escape Domestic Violence: Melissa Hoggard
“Helping people is who I am,” says Melissa Hoggard. The Beaufort County Community College human services technology student has worked in home health, and as a certified nurse aide II at Vidant Health. She is now drawing on her experience as a survivor of domestic violence to help others trapped in that setting.
The Martin County native exudes positivity. “I’ve always had love for people,” she says. “Not feeling sorry for them, but empathy. No matter what we have, or the flaws that we have, we cannot judge one another. We are all not perfect.”
While working in healthcare provided an outlet for her compassion, she felt she could reach more people through a human services career. “We have so many people out here who have a need for food, or housing, or may just need a break,” she says.
She chose BCCC because she felt compassion on campus. “When I came here, I felt so much love from different people, classmates and staff; that was it,” she says of her first time visiting the college. “I felt it in my heart.”
Of Ann Barnes, her human services professor, Hoggard says, “She allows us to open up and get what we have inside out. When we speak about it, you can see different angles of that situation. How did that happen? What do I need to see for next time?”
Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, affects a person’s whole life. “Mentally, emotionally, physically,” she says, “it is a way for a man or a woman to brainwash a person, to make that person think how they think. They’re being isolated. They feel like they don’t have anybody or anything to live for.”
“There are always little words that we don’t think mean anything that are always the keys we have to look for.” She details, “Being secluded from family or friends, told what to wear, and who to talk to or not talk to.”
This isolation also makes it hard for a person to leave a situation on their own. “It makes a big impact when someone like me reaches out a hand to them,” she says. It took six years for Hoggard to leave her situation. The abuse can also start gradually, so that increasingly violent and manipulative situations become normal.
Hoggard reflected on how the abuse changed her outlook on life. “It messes up your mind,” she says. “I was a happy-going person. I loved life. I loved people. I loved what God had made, like looking at the flowers. My abuser took that away from me.” She credits the support of her husband Johnny for helping her through the recovery process.
“It’s made me who I am today,” she says. “It’s made me look at myself and say that I’m worth something. I can help somebody make a fresh start in their life.”
Hoggard has taken her new freedom to help other survivors who are trapped in similar situations. “Being a victim means you think you can’t pick yourself up,” she points out. “We can all pick ourselves up. We are all survivors, in one way or another in life. We all made it through something we’ve dealt with in our life.”
After graduating from BCCC, Hoggard plans to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Her hope is to be an advocate and help people navigate courts and social services. She has already lined up an internship with the Center for Family Violence Prevention in Greenville. Her two teenage sons will soon follow in her footsteps to college, with one looking at software development.
Even though social workers and advocates encounter grim stories, they focus on the positive. “We want people to see life for what it is: just a beautiful picture,” she says calmly. “When you get abused, it’s not about what you could have, should have, it’s about how you can change your outlook on your life, and how you can come out of it.”
The holidays are an especially stressful time; often there is a spike in violence. If someone you know seems especially withdrawn, here are some helpful resources:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
Ruth’s House (local services in Beaufort County) 252-940-0007
Center for Family Violence Prevention (local services in Martin, Pitt and Washington Counties) 252-752-3811
REAL Crisis Center (local sexual assault and suicide prevention counseling) 252-758-4357