FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — After work, two Northern Virginia women spend their time stuffing dozens of backpacks with what they call, “the necessities to survive.”
Samantha Lawson and Misty Turner founded the “Pak’D Project” in early 2021 after getting multiple requests for help during the pandemic.
“Our mission is to arm victims with a backpack of tangible resources to expedite their leaving process from an abuser,” Lawson said.
The backpacks include every item imaginable, from a cell phone and toiletries to funding for food and a hotel room.
"We want to make it to where they can actually run out of the house if they have to and they'll know where that backpack is to be able to go and pick it up,” Turner said.
For Turner and Lawson, this journey and mission are personal. It’s one that also evokes a lot of pain.
"If I smell something, it may trigger it. If I hear a song, it may trigger it and it'll take me to that dark place,” Lawson recalled.
"It kind of opens it up and brings it back to life on what you went through to get out yourself,” Turner said.
They’re both survivors of domestic violence and recall relentless abuse at the hands of an ex-boyfriend several years ago. Abuse, they said occurred even while pregnant and to their children.
Despite the horror, Turner and Lawson said fear and isolation made it tough to figure out how to get out.
"I was scared that he would kill me and my daughter would be left alone,” Lawson said.
"A family member actually said, if you made him happy, he would not have to do this," Turner added. "He would not have to hit you. He would not have to choke you."
While different situations, they detail similar circumstances, including the moment they decided to leave their abuser. Turner and Lawson said it became a matter of life and death. At that breaking point, they ran away with practically nothing.
Some police departments in the Washington area are logging thousands of domestic violence calls this year, but the Fairfax County Police Department is extremely concerned, especially this holiday season.
“We're getting into what's traditionally the busy season of domestic violence,” Major Ed O’Carroll said with the Fairfax County Police Department.
Major O'Carroll said it's already been a bad year. At least 6 of the county's 19 murders have been domestic.
"Something is different in 2021,” Major O’Carroll continued. "What I'm seeing these days is brutal violence. Some of our victims are not shot once. It's dozens of times. They're not stabbed five times. We have cases where people are stabbed 50."
Major O'Carroll said they're not just seeing violence tied to romantic relationships, but friends and family.
For instance, a 33-year-old is accused of murdering his mother and sister in Burke. A 19-year old is charged with murdering his 78-year-old father and burying his body in the back yard and a 75-year old woman was killed, according to police, by someone who once lived in her home.
"The verdict is still out on why. I think we can guess some of the reasons. COVID, the pandemic, the isolation and some of the things happening in the country and world might have a certain amount of stress that is driving people to do these things,” Major O’Carroll said. "Statistically, we might have another one. Now's a perfect time to check on a neighbor, check on a relative. Do a pulse check on how we as a community deal with anger."
At the “Pak'd Project,” still in its infancy, they're dropping off at least 5 bags a week throughout Northern Virginia.
One survivor they helped, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she'll never forget the moment she escaped.
"He ended up beating me that night. He beat and hit and pulled and kicked every part of my body over the next four to five hours except for my stomach because I was pregnant with his child."
Lawson and Turner said if any relationship feels dangerously off, heed the warning now and get help.
"That saved my life,” Lawson said.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800.799.SAFE (7233)
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