Christy Sims wears her battle scars on her sleeves. As the first person who has survived an acid attack in Georgia, Sims was badly burned when an ex-boyfriend threw sulfuric acid on her shortly after the pair broke up in 2013. In the past five years, she has worked towards recovering both physically and emotionally. She spends her time speaking to others about domestic violence and her unique situation, and Wednesday she spoke in Gainesville at Gateway Domestic Violence Center's annual Breakfast and Briefing to a crowd of students, local legal counsel, law enforcement and community members.
"I am the evidence that evil exists. But I am also the evidence that love and goodness overpowers it. I'm going to tell you a story because I want you to understand that this happens to the best of us, the most intelligent of us, the kindest of us."
Sims, a mother, and a counselor turned public speaker and author, walked the audience through her relationship, the red flags and the attack itself.
"There was no disagreement that day. Even when I told him I didn't want to marry him, it was done amicably, I thought. We were still friends," said Sims. She said her abuser was in the bathroom of her house when he threw the acid - a drain cleaner - in her eyes and on her face. "He set this entire thing up to look like an accident. He had planned it for days, I didn't realize that. I didn't know I had someone in my house who had wanted to hurt me. Domestic violence does not always look like domestic violence. It's as diverse as the people in this room."
Sims was in a coma for two months after the attack, and when she woke up she was blind for four months, and suffered serious third and fourth degree burns on over 20 percent of her body. She has had 13 reconstructive surgeries.
While Sims felt like the system failed her due to lack of understanding, as she was the first acid attack victim in the state, she said there are others out there, like the Domestic Violence Officer of the Year, Hall County Sheriff's Deputy Stuart Dailey, who grasped these situations better.
"We can't get better if we don't talk about the negativity sometimes. Stuart Dailey deserves that award. Sometimes one officer can change us, they can make us better, they can renew our faith. Initially in [my] case, after waking up from a coma, disfigured, blind, having to fight just to get this guy questioned. He's just walking around, hadn't been charged with anything, while I was in a coma for two months," said Sims. "The officer I dealt with initially, I truly believe he's not a bad person, he had just never seen this before."
Sims said she didn't fit a profile - no one had been to her home previously for a domestic violence dispute, she did not fit a statistical profile and her abuser was controlling but not physically violent.
"It's not just about me, he could have been free to hurt someone else. He could have been free to hurt your child or your sister or somebody else."
After some further turmoil with the legal system, Sims' case was put back in motion after she spoke with Henry County ADA Sandy Rivers, who pushed her case to completion. Sims said her abuser is now serving 20 years in prison.
"My case is the evidence that we have a flawed system, but my case is also evidence that we have a flawed system that works when we work together. When you have people who are in the system that actually care about people, like Stuart Dailey and Stephanie Woodard and Julie Battle and all of you, the fact that you're sitting in this room tells me that you care about people," said Sims. "That you're listening to my story and I can see your faces. You care about people. And it takes all of us in the community. One person can destroy our faith in the system and one person can renew our faith in the system, but all of us can make the system work."
At the end of her story, Sims opened the conversation to the audience for questions. She talked about her two children and how they responded to the attack, the healing process, and what resources to look for if people know someone in an abusive situation. She also revealed how much writing helped in her recovery, including writing her book, "Yellow Tulips on a Cloudy Day: A Survivors Journal." One man asked about the protective male response, and how they should handle when someone they love is in a domestic violence situation.
"I have a big brother who has protected me my entire life. I have a big brother who still holds my hand while I cross the street...it doesn't just happen to us, it happens to them -" said Sims, emotionally. She paused for a moment to collect herself before continuing.
"What I told my big brother was, 'there are some people who don't deserve your hate.' My brother has four children. 'We need you on the outside, not the inside.' And this guy is walking around on the outside for two years, imagine what it took for my brother not to kill him. And I don't just have a brother, I have six-foot tall cousins. I come from a family where I am just loved. I am like the core of my family. And my father, and my ex-husband, my ex-husband is one of my best friends. But what I tell them is that there are some people who don't even deserve your hate. You fight back by surviving, you fight back by thriving. I'm beyond survival now. Survival was not enough for me. I was burned alive and I have been through holy hell. Surviving is not enough for me. I am thriving now."
Sims concluded that she has forgiven her abuser, for herself. She told the audience she wanted to be the one in control of her life, not him.
According to Gateway's most recent annual report, in 2017, 225 women and children received emergency shelter and spent an average of 36 days with the shelter; 144 temporary protective orders (TPO) were secured and 1,273 crisis calls were received. Gateway has two shelters in secret locations in Gainesville and South Hall County.
Deputy Daily was recognized as the Domestic Violence Officer of the Year for his work on a case involving a victim who did not speak English, so Daily used a translation app on his phone to communicate with her to take her statements. Chief Assistant Solicitor General Amber Sowers presented Daily with a plaque recognizing his service on the case.