July 2009

Looking abuse in the eye – and doing something about it

 

Gloria Pogue remembers a day in the 1980s when she saw a friend on the steps of the condo next to hers. “She had bruises and was crying,” says Pogue. “I went to sit with her.”

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Pogue was about 19, a student at Alabama A&M, working for the United States Forest Service on a co-op program in Milwaukee, Wisc. The girl on the steps was a tall, striking model from a well-to-do Minnesota family.

“She was affluent, educated, beautiful,” says Pogue. “But she had a boyfriend who battered and abused her. He had devastated her with verbal and physical abuse and even forced her into prostitution. It was not about her needing money. It was that he had controlled her and attacked her self-esteem.

“I was so young and naïve, I told her, ‘If you don’t call your parents, I will.’ I did, and they came and got her out of the situation. But it stuck with me. I realized the face of abuse doesn’t have a certain look. It crosses all ethnic and social levels, and you just have to care enough about others and the community to help.”

After college, Pogue was hired in 1984 as a programmer analyst in TVA’s Information Services. Over the years, she’s worked with victims of violence. She has talked with women’s groups, church and community groups.

“When you open your heart and have empathy and compassion, without judgment, women, and sometimes men, would start to share their experiences,” she says. “Or they’d tell me about their sister or their mother, and ask for resources where they could get help. Sometimes the worst scars are the ones we don’t see, the ones that lead to addictions, bulimia, anorexia, depression, self-inflicted fatalities.”

photoIn recent years, Pogue has sparked dialogues on social issues through community theater, directing and acting in plays such as For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, Don’t Suffer in Silence by Charles Patterson and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler.

In the past three years, Pogue has organized, directed, secured sponsorship for and acted in Monologues, raising more than $10,000, volunteering more than 500 community-service hours and donating all proceeds for non-profit organizations in Chattanooga that work to stop violence against women and girls.

This spring, Pogue was honored with an UnBought and UnBossed Award from Girls Inc. of Chattanooga as one of 10 outstanding women “determined, intelligent and audacious in [their] beliefs” and serving as role models and empowering Girl’s Inc. girls to make smart “life” choices and pursue college. (The award is named after U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 Presidential run.)

“The award was such a surprise to me,” says Pogue. “I was humbled by it, and I was inspired by the young ladies who came to see the ceremony, that they felt such a strong sense of pride and empowerment. The problem of violence against women and children is not a pretty thing or a nice thing to talk about. But it is growing, and in the media, abuse centers and shelters, the faces of abuse are getting younger.”