Women in the ‘Bible Belt’ face barriers leaving abusive relationships, victim says


Kate Zerndt’s life was far from the level of liberation she now feels, six years after leaving the man she said made her life a living hell

They married after she graduated high school and they had five children.

“There was physical abuse, verbal abuse, every kind that you can imagine,” Zerndt said.

When she turned to her church for guidance, she said they guilted her into staying.

“They did threaten to side with him and take my children from me,” Zerndt said. “Pretty much told me that I was going against God by leaving, that I was breaking my vows to God, that I had to honor them no matter what, that I needed to be more submissive.”

Zerndt said she stayed in the relationship until her ex-husband hurt their son.

Advocates at Safe Harbor said that for some, leaving can be nearly impossible.

Safe Harbor community program manager Kristie Cohens explained that abusers aren’t abusive all the time.

“Because of the cycle, when that calm phase or that honeymoon phase comes back around, it reminds you of the person you fell in love with,” Cohens said.

Money, children, fear, lack of support and even religious guilt are among the top barriers.

“It’s not our belief that somebody should be harmed in order to maintain a marriage,” Cohens said.

Safe Harbor works to educate everyone including religious leaders. Before leaving, they recommend survivors devise a plan.

Zerndt saved money for an entire year before she left with her kids. She started studying the bible on her own and found a new church and a job at Fellowship Greenville.

Her non-profit organization Steadfast Love is working to provide homes for women and children escaping abusive situations.

“I’m not going to say it’s not hard, but it’s totally worth it,” Zerndt said.

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