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David Briggs

As drama swirls at Ohio State, trip to domestic violence shelter shows real victims

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    Ohio State fans listen to a speaker at a rally in support of coach Urban Meyer outside Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State opened part of practice to the media on Tuesday, Aug 7, for the first time since coach Urban Meyer was put on paid leave, but other coaches and players remained off-limits for interviews.

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Decision Day awaits, and all through the state, the creatures are stirring.

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What will happen to Urban Meyer?

It is the question that consumes college football, from the fanatics who believe the Ohio State coach walks on the Olentangy to the national knife-throwers who hope he drowns and all in between.

We’ve heard from everybody. The screaming heads on TV. The message board defense lawyers. The buddy who heard from a guy who knows a guy.

Everybody ... but the voices that matter most.

For their perspective, I visited the YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter downtown.

In a case filled with scarlet herrings — see: the viral weekend Facebook report that Texas coach and former OSU assistant Tom Herman is Deep Throat — and gray area, with the fate of the most popular man in Ohio riding on its outcome, let us not lose sight of what should be our first question.

What can we do for those who reach out for our help?

Look, this is not to relitigate the repeated accusations of spousal abuse against fired Buckeyes receivers coach Zach Smith and what Meyer should have done about them.

It is to remind — no matter what happens — there will be no winners here. Nowhere is that more clear than at the YWCA, where a saga that predictably has devolved into a referendum on the credibility and motives of the accuser has affirmed the powerful institutional forces that conspire to silence victims of domestic violence.

“Maybe you have a woman whose husband is abusing her, she’s a victim, and she’s thinking about going for some resources, maybe talking to somebody in a place like this,” shelter director Jan Bruggeman said. “But then she sees, ‘Look how famous the woman in this case is, and nobody believes her. Who’s going to believe me? I’m a nobody.’”

Bruggeman oversees a secure floor of 17 dorm-style rooms, which on a recent night housed 25 women and 40 children in need of emergency refuge.

There, I met a woman who told me she spent seven years off and on in the pernicious cycle of an abusive relationship. The terror and beatings eventually came to run together. She pointed to her ear. “Completely blown out because he backhanded me so hard,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many fat lips I’ve had, either.”

The woman wanted to tell the world. But beyond feeling alone — to the extent she said her boyfriend forbade her from having a phone — she worried nobody would believe her, the violence hiding in plain sight of the couple’s Toledo neighborhood.

“I tried to hide it because he was an admirable man for everyone else,” she said. “The great guy of the neighborhood. I didn’t want to be criticized or called a liar.”

She worries the bitter side-taking at Ohio State will further dissuade women like her from having the strength to come forward, which would be a shame and another reminder who the real victims are in this sad story.

Hint: It is not Urban Meyer.

For as much as we want to know what happens to the powerful coach, let us ask first how we can support the voiceless who reach out for our help.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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