Local woman tells story of domestic violence survival

MACOMB — Local woman Corie Cole has come forward as a survivor of domestic violence and shares her story as both a cautionary tale and a message of hope and encouragement for other men and women who may find themselves in a situation of domestic abuse.
Cole was inspired to come forward with her personal story of surviving domestic violence after learning that February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Cole was able to formulate a plan of escape and provide testimony to convict her former husband, Rocky Williams, of domestic battery.
She also has divorced him with the final court date of Valentine’s Day.
Williams was sentenced in February in McDonough County District Court to serve three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for enhanced domestic battery, obstructing a police officer and interfering with a domestic violence report.
He received 153 days credit for being previously held in the McDonough County Jail.
According to IDOC records, Williams entered the state penitentiary system on Feb. 23. He may be paroled March 22, 2019. According to online records with IDOC, Williams had  prior felony convictions for aggravated DUI and driving on a suspended or revoked license in 2013, burglary in 1997, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm in 1996 and residential burglary in 1993.

Editor’s Note: According to national statistics provided by the National Coalitions against Domestic Violence, 20 people will have been physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States as of the reading of this sentence. In the following scenarios, Cole stressed to the Voice that the story should not be taken as solely about her, but as the message that there is a way out of the abuse. Nobody has to resign themselves to it. Some of the situations Cole shared may sound familiar to some readers in reflection of their own experiences.

Gaslighting is defined as: “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.”
In her victim impact statement read aloud in court at Williams’ recent sentencing, Cole wrote: “Rocky, you tried your hardest to break me, making me powerless, trying to convince me that I was crazy and that no one cared for me. Telling me if I call the cops, my kids will get taken away from me. You were always telling me how fat and stupid I was. That no one would ever want me. You (were) always trying to convince me that everything was in my head.”
She elaborated to the Voice that her ex-husband would “remove her from her life” and try to turn people against her by how he would present information. Although there were attempts to manipulate her contacts in everyday life, Cole said having friends on Facebook helped keep her from buying into his notions. The same way Williams had become involved in her life was now the same way Cole was able to reach out to others for support.
“He couldn’t take that away from me,” she said. “I would ask them, ‘Am I crazy?’. I actually got help from social media. A lot of people say social media is bad, but for me it was everything.”

Emotional Abuse & Manipulation
Although Williams worked as a carpenter, Cole noted she was responsible for paying the bills, as much of his income was going toward alcohol. Often, she would spend large amounts of time driving him to different places to buy alcohol and tobacco and often end up paying for it. Getting a better paying job at her current employer ployer helped allow her to save money in spite of having to pay household expenses and contribute to buying alcohol and tobacco.
“He was excited at first (about the new job) until he realized I was doing good…then he was bringing me down again.” Cole noted Williams was a different person when the two first started dating. She had known him previously in the community and had been aware of a prior drinking problem. But, through social media, the two connected, and Williams had presented himself as a now-sober individual.
Cole was a single parent when she started dating Williams. Although Williams had not hit the children or dished direct abuse toward them, Cole said he would at times berate them to her — as if they were somehow defective.
“He called them ‘Can’t-Do-Right’ kids.”

Physical Abuse
Numerous domestic violence organizations cite the number 4,000. That is the number of women who die each year on average from domestic violence. Cole cites that figure as well.
“I could’ve been one of them,” she said. According to Cole, Williams would hit her almost every day with some sort of object. Some days it could be as mundane as a soft loaf of bread. She recalled one instance where he threw a pair of hedge clippers at here with the blades narrowly missing her foot. On another occasion it was a toaster that he whipped around by the cord, causing the toaster itself to slam into her abdomen and leave a heavy mark.
On another occasion, Cole said Williams had held a high-powered pellet gun to her head. She had seen a video online of the same type of pellet gun used to kill a wild boar.
It took her about a year to gain the confidence and determination to find her way out of the abuse and get her daughters into a consistently peaceful environment.

12 Broken Phones
Cole said she has a drawer containing 12 broken phones. They have been broken during violent encounters with Williams over the past few years.
“They’d have recordings, and he’d delete them,” she said. Living with Williams became a matter of walking on proverbial eggshells.
“I had to be my best,” she recalled. Except it got to the point where even her best wasn’t satisfactory and the violence would erupt.
The event that put things to a head for Cole was when she had prepared a nice meal for Williams, and her effort was met with more ridicule and name-calling. The following day, Cole texted Williams and asked if he was going to apologize to her for calling her names. Instead of being met with an apology, she was hit with a pair of jeans Williams picked up after he got home. She recalled wrestling with Williams on the bed before wrapping her arms tightly around him and calmly said into his ear, “This is the last time you’re going to hit me.”
That’s when Williams broke free, picked up a lamp and broke it over her head. When Cole woke up some time later, she remembers seeing Williams standing over her saying, “Look what you made me do.”
By then, Williams had taken her phone. Instead, she grabbed one of the other phones from her drawer collection and told her daughters to run to the truck. She plugged the phone into a charger in the truck and was able to dial 911.
“That’s one thing I knew about old cell phones is you can still use one to call 911,” she said. Fully functional cell phones, even if deactivated from regular carrier service, can be used for making emergency calls to 911.
Williams fled into a nearby corn field where he hid out until the following day when he was taken into custody on Sept. 22, 2017. Cole received treatment at the hospital for cuts and heavy bruising she sustained to the side of her head from being hit with the lamp.

Finding A Way Out
Cole said she utilized the services provided through Western Illinois Regional Council’s Victim Services. “They’d find a place for you to stay and stand next to you through the process,” Cole said. She also praised the McDonough County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the criminal case against Williams. “They were absolutely amazing,” Cole said. “It’s nice to know I had back-up in the long run.”
Cole also gives much credit to her employer, Kunes Country of Macomb for working with her during the domestic violence case and her divorce suit. It is also with her higher paying job that she was able to save additional money for her break from Williams and continue to care for her children.
Cole delivered her victim impact statement to the court on Feb. 21. In the statement, which she read aloud for the court record, Cole said: “In the beginning, I thought that maybe if I showed you so much love that you just might understand what love truly is. I felt sorry for you, Rocky. When I looked at you, I saw a poor helpless boy that needed to be shown how to love. Of course, you were sober or at least I though you were. But I came to find out that too was a lie…Rocky, you came into me and my girls’ home, we invited you in with open arms, and we trusted you with our hearts. You then stomped on our dreams. Kicking us when we were down by feeding on our weaknesses, only using it to your advantage.”

Cole in hindsight is able to connect the dots of Williams’ behavior. Part of her story and her caution to other women and men who may see such behaviors is not to ignore things that seem unusual or alarming. The timeline from when she and Williams started dating to when he moved into Cole’s residence was relatively short. Their first date was going mushroom hunting. Their second date involved fishing.
From early on in their dating, Cole said Williams would say he was going to marry her.
“In a week he told me he loved me,” she recalled. She also recalled an occasion when they were dating early on that they were in a boat fishing. During that date, Cole had been experiencing difficulty in operating a fishing reel. She tossed the pole down in frustration, and Williams became angry; shoving her to the side with such force she was afraid she could’ve been knocked overboard.
Cole said she and Williams dated for about three years; then were married for about a year before he was finally arrested in September 2017 for domestic battery.
When asked why she stayed with Williams for as long as she did and then went on to marry him, Cole said the level of manipulation was high, coupled with elements of fear.
“Maybe the person he showed me when we first started seeing each other…maybe he’d become that person again,” Cole elaborated. “He promised me the world. He told me I’m his forever. He also said they’d take my kids away if I ever told the cops and they found out it had been going on.”
As the violence within the residence escalated, Cole said she would shield her two young daughters from it by having early bed times or having sleep-overs with the girls’ grandparents.
There was  even a game she taught the girls to play where they would hide in the barn from Williams. The “game” was actually a training exercise in disguise in case Cole and the girls had to flee.
“They were my strength,” Cole said. “Who knows where I’d be if I didn’t have them.”
Although Williams was sentenced to three years in prison for the domestic battery and other crimes, Cole said she had been hoping for longer.
“I prayed he’d take it to jury trial,” she said. “He’d have gotten six years…”
Cole is moving on, taking pride in her employment and continuing to be the best mother she can for her daughters. Now that she doesn’t have to spend large amounts of time driving Williams around town for tobacco and liquor, as well as buying those items for him, Cole has those resources and extra time to get her girls involved in activities. They are now involved in youth wrestling and swimming.
Cole quoted lyrics from the song “Praying” by the singer Kesha, in her victim statement at Williams’ sentencing.
“Rocky, you brought the flames, and you put me through Hell; I had to learn to fight for myself…so I will just say this: I wish you farewell. And I hope you’re somewhere praying, and I hope your soul is changing, and I hope someday you find your peace falling on your knees praying. And honestly, sometimes I pray for you at night…and maybe you will see the light. And some say in life you’re going to get what you give. But some things only God can forgive. But I will let this be known, am I a victim? No! I’m a survivor…”

Victim Resources
Anyone experiencing an emergency situation can call McDonough County Dispatch Center via 911. Those who are experiencing domestic abuse or violence and wish to get help removing themselves from the situation can contact Victim Services at Western Illinois Regional Council. The office can be reached at 309-837-6622. A 24-hour crisis line can be called at 309-837-5555.
All services are free and confidential to victims. Services are also available to men who may find themselves a victim of abuse.

Reach Jared DuBach by email at jdubach@mcdonoughvoice.com.