Talking about domestic violence
Darnitha Gaskin poses with photos of herself from when she was a victim of domestic violence from her ex-husband in 2005, at Tuscawilla Park in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Once a victim of domestic violence from the hands of her ex-husband for numerous years, Gaskin now helps other with their domestic violence issues. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
Darnitha Gaskin remembers sitting on the floor in her grandmother’s home as a 7-year-old eating Captain Crunch cereal and watching cartoons when her mother called in a panic.
The woman said she was going to kill her abusive boyfriend.
Her grandmother, with Gaskin in tow, rushed to the scene. As they approached the house, two gunshots rang out.
The man in the dispute was shot in the chest. He survived, but still carries the bullet in his chest.
That was one of Gaskin’s first memories of domestic violence. And it wasn’t her last.
Gaskin said her first two boyfriends abused her.
It was verbal at first, but eventually turned physical.Her second abusive boyfriend also grew up in an abusive household. Coupled with a drug problem, the abuse escalated.
One night, when Gaskin refused to have sex with him, he choked her until she blacked out.
“People always say that you don’t see the light,” Gaskin said. “That’s a lie. You see the light.”
Gaskin left, fearing for her life.
At 21, she met Dorian Gaskin. Shortly after the two started dating, she learned she was pregnant by her former boyfriend. The one who choked her.
But her new suitor promised he’d stay. Together they could have a family, he told her.
“That’s where it started,” Gaskin said. “He was nice and everything but when I had my daughter at the age of 22, that’s when everything went haywire. He became aggressive.”
Dorian Gaskin’s abusive episodes intensified.
One evening when Darnitha Gaskin confronted him about her suspicions of his infidelity, Dorian Gaskin dragged her out of her car and down the driveway.
Darnitha Gaskin told the nurses at the emergency room that she fell.
“Having a baby and not wanting to be a single mother, I stayed,” she said.
Dorian Gaskin promised to never lay a hand on her again. It didn’t last.
One evening, Dorian forced himself on Darnitha Gaskin.
She yelled for help, but he clasped a hand over her face and with the other delivered blows to her ribs and face.
“I felt like a rape victim,” Darnitha Gaskin said. “So, I just started taking a shower and I knew I couldn’t leave with the kids because he always told me, ‘If you leave me, I’m going to kill you and then I’m going to kill them.’”
The next day, her boss and coworkers noticed her bruised face and took her to the Ocala Police Department. There, she met the woman who she said saved her life.
“That’s how I met Donna Guinn,” Gaskin said. “Donna Guinn is my guardian angel.”
Guinn joined OPD in 1994 and is the victim-witness advocate supervisor.
That day in 2005, Guinn helped issue a warrant for Dorian Gaskin’s arrest. She also helped Darnitha Gaskin find a safe place to stay.
Despite restraining orders, it wasn’t until Dorian Gaskin was shot to death in 2009 that she felt truly safe.
The man was shot by Dexter Newson on Jan. 7, 2009, after Dorian Gaskin angrily confronted Newson for speeding through a residential street. Newson was convicted of second-degree murder in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.
Darnitha Gaskin now shares her story to try and help those in similar situations.“If Donna Guinn has somebody she wants me to talk to, she’ll give me a call and say, ‘Hey, can you talk to this person and tell them how you survived… how did you get out this situation.’”
Unfortunately, there are no shortage of domestic violence victims.
OPD recorded 914 domestic violence cases and 200 dating violence cases in 2020. Marion County also saw four domestic violence-related deaths in 2020, including one in the city.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an uptick in domestic violence reports, Guinn said.
“If you’re already having a difficult, unhealthy, unsafe relationship and then they are home more or you’re experiencing economic disparity along with that, then everything intensifies,” she said.
Guinn said when women like Darnitha Gaskin share their stories it proves invaluable.
“Our domestic violence survivors are an integral part of supporting victims in breaking the cycle and increasing community awareness,” she said.
Darnitha Gaskin also established Royal Queens Women Empowerment to advocate for domestic violence awareness. Gaskin collects donations for women’s shelters and speaks often to other organizations.
“That’s my healing,” Gaskin said. “Me getting it out to help somebody. That’s the greatest reward to me. If I can save one person, or two or even more… that’s what helps me heal more.”