NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Shame, guilt and even sympathy. Those are all the ways Sparkle Johnson says she felt as she endured years of abuse.
But not anymore. The shame has been replaced with strength. The guilt and sympathy, swapped with courage and empowerment.
Standing up to her abuser is one of the bravest things Johnson says she did, and now she’s helping other victims of domestic violence do the same.
“If I look like you and I can tell you I went through it, I stayed in it and I got out, they can do it, too. It can be done,” she told News 2.
Johnson’s passion is a kept promise after pleading with God to save her life.
“I just said, ‘Please, please, God, don’t let my kids find me dead. I do not want my kids to see me die,’” said Johnson.
She says she was on the bathroom floor, numb to the pain, when she made that prayer and decided enough was enough.
“I will prosecute, I will fight back, I will speak up and speak out and I will serve you with my whole heart,” Johnson says she prayed.
She told News 2 she spent too long in a relationship with a man who made it a habit to push her around and demean her.
It escalated 2 years ago on Christmas when she says Tavares Buchanan followed her home, held her against her will and tortured her for days.
“My children were in the room next to my room as I was being beaten, raped, had hand sanitizer poured all over me, cut, pistol whipped, stomped… you name it,” said Johnson. “It was horrific.”
Finally, she says Buchanan left, and she then took her 3 kids and got out. Metro police officers and the YWCA helped her find a safe place.
Assistant District Attorney Ana Escobar was a supervisor in the domestic violence unit when Johnson’s case came across her desk.
“That case was awful because not only did it involve physical harm to this lady, but it was just emotional torture what she went through,” explained Escobar. “To see her now is just unbelievable and it gives advocates and prosecutors like myself a lot of hope that if all our systems intervene in a situation then good things can happen.”
Under the direction of District Attorney Glenn Funk, new policies have been put in place to tackle the domestic violence case load, so large that it requires 10 full time attorneys.
His office added victim-witness coordinators who help survivors navigate the court process. They’ve also started early intervention meetings with the victims.
“What we do is within 48 hours, we make contact with the victim, we invite them to the courthouse so they can meet us and answer any questions they may have about the legal process and at that time, we are able to get the in-depth interview with that person,” explained Escobar.
She added, “After they meet with us, they go over to the Jean Crowe Advocacy Center where they are able to get any resources or get any questions answers so that is a very unique program that he started.”
Last year, Metro police started a new procedure for officers to follow when responding to domestic violence calls. It’s called the Lethality Assessment Protocol Program. and Escobar says it’s an invaluable tool.
“That allows the police officer to take an assessment of that person’s situation to see if it’s lethal. If they believe it is lethal, they are able to hand a phone to the person at the scene so they can speak to the YWCA and get counseling, away from a police officer, away from people that they might perceive as not understanding of the full situation,” said Escobar.
Each week, prosecutors, police officers and members of the Office of Family Justice meet to look over those reports and see what can be done to “provide the victim with the most resources that we need at that time.”
Johnson is now working to start her own organization to help domestic violence survivors and their children. Superwomen, Inc. is “really new,” but Johnson has big plans.
“Within the next 5 years, I am hoping to get at least 5 houses built. These 5 houses are going to house these families individually for 6 months. That gives you 6 months to find a job, and you’re going to be rent-free, utility-free, toiletry-free. I want you to have everything you need for 6 months so you can focus on your healing, mentally, physically,” she told News 2.
She says she’s awaiting approval for the 501c3 status and still raising money. For now, she’s focused on sharing her story as often as she can.
“It starts with talking and it helps when you can relate to somebody,” said Johnson.
She adds, “We’re here to help, definitely here to help.”
If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are resources and ways for you to get to safety.