October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Five years later, sister remembers Olivia McDuffee and warns others from the same fate
by Tilly Dillehay Editor
Olivia Laine McDuffee didn't know that June 11, 2008 would be her last. Few victims of domestic violence do.
Her sister Andrea Harmon was only one of those left behind in Macon County when McDuffee's estranged husband took her life and his own. McDuffee was only 23 at the time, and had one year left to complete her nursing degree and become a certified RN.
Now Harmon, who watched her little sister become the slow victim of domestic violence, does what she can each October to speak out in memory of Olivia and bring local attention to Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM).
Olivia's picture is set up on little display tables at Citizen's Bank and Macon County General Hospital, with a memorial plaque and a bowl of purple pin-on ribbons (purple is the DVAM color). As importantly, there is information on each table about Genesis House, a nonprofit that provides help, counseling, a safe house, and crisis intervention for victims of domestic abuse. Genesis House is based out of Cookeville, but provides help to surrounding counties, including Macon. Their 24-hour hotline number is 800-707-5197.
Harmon said the signs started showing up between Olivia and her husband very early:
“Olivia was 18 when she married him,” said Harmon. “My parents didn't approve of it really, but she was 18 and they couldn't do anything about it. They dated, and they got married when she was a senior in high school.
“It started just a little while after they were married. Not physical at first, just the verbal. You know, degrading her, calling her names, 'nobody would want you,' 'you're lucking I have you.' But as the months went by, he started with pushing or shoving. She talked about him squeezing her arm, or pushing her into a wall, slapping, that kind of thing.
“And then finally it got into the hitting, the all out fights, that kind of violence. It took a while—the violence wasn't every day. It was enough where she didn't like it, none of us liked it, and we would tell her she needed to leave. But 'till they want to leave, they're not going to leave.
“She left several times and always went back. She might be gone a few days, she might be gone a week—she always had a place to go; my parents always let her come and stay there. And she had lots of support from other friends and family. She had the support she needed, but she didn’t decide to really go until the March before she died.
“When she finally did leave him, he had beat her up pretty bad. She had to go to the hospital because he hit her in the head so hard she was sick to her stomach. She ended up having a concussion. After that she decided—she said 'I'm not going back. I saw something in his eyes I've never seen before.' She said it was just a blank; it was like she didn't know who he was. She said, 'he could really hurt me.' And she finally believed that.
“So she left him, she filed for divorce and moved back in with my parents. The divorce was going through, she was happy, she was in school, she was out for summer break. She would have had one year left. Everything seemed to be going well, and the divorce should have been final, but he wouldn't sign the papers. He just kept prolonging it, putting it off and putting it off.
“We don't really know what happened that morning. She didn't come home; her car was found at the park; she was found shot at the apartment where they once lived together. Why she went there—if he made her go or she went willingly, we really don't know. We just know how he killed her.”
Harmon said that she and Olivia's other sister are both happily married, but she hopes the story of Olivia will be a sober warning for her own daughters.
“I'm hoping that because of this, they'll be more aware, and more conscientious, so they won't get a husband or even a boyfriend who is like that,” she said. Harmon's youngest daughter was born just a few weeks before Olivia's death. A few months later, Harmon had the baby's name legally changed from Tessa Kate to Tessa Olivia.
“Anybody who is going through this, I just want to let them know that I'm available, if they don't know who to talk to” said Harmon, “I know a lot of the time you don't want to talk to your family about abuse. I'd be happy to just talk to you, offer advice or help. I'm in the phone book.”
Olivia, she said, was the kind of person who would hope that her story could be used to save even one other life.
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