Domestic violence: the hidden epidemic

Illustration by Chris Perez

Last year, the Amarillo Police officers investigated 2,702 incidents of domestic violence. In 2012, the number was 2,814. In 2011, it was slightly less at 2,723.

Though the number has dropped slightly from previous years, Cpl. Jerry Neufeld said the problem persists in the area.

“The summer months are the higher reports of incidents that occur,” Neufeld said.

From May to August, incidents top out near 300 before dropping down as fall begins. February sees the least amount of incidents, followed closely by January, Neufeld said.

Domestic violence is not unique to Amarillo. Heather Duby, a sexual assault advocate and volunteer coordinator at Safe Place, Inc. in Dumas said so far this month, they’ve provided services to or sheltered 75 people.

In Dumas, fall is when incidents increase, said Duby.

“October is the craziest,” she adds.

Though she’s not sure, she said she thinks this is because of the added stress of kids returning to school and having additional expenses. Additionally, children at school and out of the house can give an offender the opportunity to abuse in private.

Illustration by Chris Perez
Illustration by Chris Perez

Privacy is one of the tools of the trade for abusers, advocates said. Jackie Bolden, a legal advocate with Family Support Services in Amarillo said most cases of domestic violence occur inside an abusers’ or victims’ house. The bedroom and the backyard are hotspots for attacks, as well as the front yard, she said.

“It’s a big problem in our community,” said Bolden. “There are women that lose their lives every day because of family violence, something that is right here in our front door, right across the street.”

According to statistics from the Texas Council on Family Violence, 114 women were killed in 2012 as a result of family violence. The victims ranged in ages, with the youngest being a 15-year-old strangled by her boyfriend in a hotel room to an 84-year-old woman shot and killed by her husband, Bolden said.

While national statistics show one in three women will experience violence from their partner in their lifetime, men also are abused. One in four men will also experience this type of violence in their lifetime, statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show.

Bolden and Duby said their organizations provide services and shelter to anyone who feels they are in danger, regardless of sex.

“We are a crisis center and we do also have a shelter,” said Duby. “To be in our shelter, you have to be in imminent danger. If they have a spouse that’s made a threat or they are scared of them, we take them into the shelter at that point.”

FSS also offers shelter for any individual suffering domestic abuse, and though males may be placed in a separate location, the locations of the shelters are not disclosed to the public.

Both organizations also offer other services, like help creating a safety plan, legal aid to help with protective orders and divorces and counseling for victims and their families.

While FSS offers counseling to abusive partners, Bolden said the difference it will make depends on the offender.

“You get out of it what you invest in it,” she said.

Safe Place, Inc. does not offer counseling or any other aid to offenders. One reason is that grantors of the organization do not pay for those types of services.

The other reason is simple, said Duby.

“We do not condone couples counseling because you just need to get out,” she said.

Bolden agrees, advising against starting a relationship with a person with a history of abuse.

“If they’ve done it once, it’s more likely that they’ll do it again,” she said.

She adds that most victims do not report abuse or ask for help until at least the seventh instance of violence.

“They’re trying to handle it and trying to work through it,” said Bolden. “They don’t forsee what could happen.”

Duby said many times, a victim thinks their abuser won’t commit an act of violence or manipulation again, making the dangerous choice to stay silent.

“When people manipulate by controlling funds, controlling phones (and isolating them), those are the early signs that generally turn into abuse,” Duby said.

Once the physical violence begins, outsiders begin to question why a victim would stay, she said, not seeing that an abuser has made it extremely difficult to get away. With no vehicle, no phone, no finances and no outside support, the victim is effectively trapped in the situation.

Duby said sometimes, a victim stays because of the children involved. But many times, their children are the catalyst that cause them to leave.

Once a child also becomes a victim of abuse, the abused parent will then take steps to leave the situation.

Bolden and Duby encourage people to be proactive in noticing when someone may be in an unsafe situation and possibly suffering from domestic abuse.

Many times, the signs are obvious but people are oblivious, inattentive or are hesitant to get involved in what they consider to be “someone else’s business.”

Sometimes, thought an act of violence happens right in front of them, the disbelief that it is actually occurring keeps people from reacting.

“It would be frightful if you were in the room with someone (with a weapon),” said Bolden. “You’d say, ‘Is this really happening? I can’t believe this is happening.’ It’s hard to process.”

Duby said before she began working at Safe Place, Inc., she probably wouldn’t have said anything if she saw abuse happening. Nobody wants to talk about it, she said.

But it’s important that people do if they want to stop the cycle of violence, she said.

“We must always choose sides, because silence is an abuser’s greatest weapon,” Duby said.

“They’re not going to stop.”

Where to find help:

Family Support Services
1001 S. Polk Street
Amarillo, TX

Janet Byars

Hotline: (806) 374-5433

Phone: (806) 342-2500

Potter, Randall and Deaf Smith counties

Safe Place, Inc.
306 W. 7th Street
Dumas, TX 79029

Kelli Cummings-Danford

Hotline: (806) 935-2828

Phone: (806) 935-7585

Moore and Dallam counties

Deaf Smith County Crisis Center
P.O. BOX 126
Hereford, TX 79045

Caryn Elliott

Hotline: (806) 363-6727

Phone: (806) 364-4435

Deaf Smith County

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