The first signs of domestic violence often involve jealousy, name-calling and excuses, signs most victims chose to ignore. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US alone, 20 people per minute are victims of sexual violence, most being women.
For some, this topic is easily overlooked. But for Joan Prittie, the executive director of Project Safe, domestic violence is a passion and interest that has surrounded her life for the past 15 years.
Prittie has taken her desire and willingness to help men and women affected by domestic violence and channeled it into Project Safe, an Athens area nonprofit, that works to eliminate domestic violence through prevention and education in the community.
Prittie graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1993 and has lived in Athens ever since. During her time as a lawyer, she represented 78 incarcerated women who were in prison for killing their abusive partners.
“Like most people, I fell in love with Athens and never wanted to leave,” Prittie said.
Though it is her current passion, Prittie said getting involved in domestic violence wasn’t exactly her idea.
“I got involved with domestic violence because my boss asked me to.” Prittie said. “The Prisoner Legal Counseling Project, which was the organization I worked for, actually closed down.”
When this job working in the prison legal system abruptly ended, Prittie had to ask herself what she really wanted to do.
“I realized that part of what I liked best about my work was not utilizing the legal system all the time,” Prittie said. “For example, a male client’s former wife found a new husband. The husband wanted to adopt the children . . . and my client wanted to fight it. So I would talk about what it really means to be a father, so how much fathering could he really do over the next 10 or 15 years?”
Through her job, Prittie was exposed to various takes on domestic violence and could begin to see the problems it exposed for the victims and abusers. One story that stuck with Prittie was of a father who was arrested for having an incestuous relationship with his daughter. According to Prittie, he was illiterate and poor and was denied legal representation.
“There was no doubt that he was guilty. But we all deserve to have the rules followed” Prittie said.
These experiences lead her to Project Safe where she was elected executive director and has remained for 15 years.
“I met Joan Prittie in early 2000 when I was asked to join the Project Safe Board,” said Jenny Coleman, a long time friend of Prittie and Project Safe board member. “Joan's work as Project Safe executive director has stimulated the nonprofit's grow from a small board of directors with a limited outreach, to an impressive group of Athens professionals from the corporate, non-professional, academic and health care fields.”
Prittie was born in Louisville, Kentucky where she lived until she moved to Illinois to attend college at Bradley University. After law school, Prittie began working in prisons around the state.
In her time with Project Safe, Prittie has seen it expand and grow in the Athens community and on the UGA campus. The effect of Project Safe is being felt in all age groups, from the middle school students who are youth ambassadors through Project Safe, to the women and men the program aims to help.
“Joan came to talk to our chapter a few weeks ago and in the 30 minutes that she talked, her passion and inspiration was heard,” said Ansley Maughon, a member of Delta Delta Delta Fraternity. “Domestic violence is something everyone needs to hear about, and hearing her speak opened the eyes of many girls to the dangers of violent relationships.”
In the coming years, expect to see big things from Project Safe, Joan Prittie, and the other advocates of domestic violence.
“Over time domestic violence becomes aggregated, and it turns into numbers and it turns into stats and all of that, but at it’s core, it’s people’s pain and we at Project Safe know we have the awful blessing of being present with people in their pain and to support and help them and learn at the same time.” Prittie said.