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Domestic Violence Awareness

Domestic violence occurs in a relationship when one partner uses coercive and manipulative behaviors to exert control over their partner. A 2017 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly half of domestic violence incidents went unreported, allowing a cycle of violence to perpetuate over time. Domestic violence can also take many forms and includes any behavior that causes physical harm or fear, prevents someone from doing what they want to do, or forces them to do things they don’t want to do.

The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence uses the visual aid of a Power and Control Wheel to clarify the pattern of abusive behavior commonly seen in domestic violence situations. The wheel focuses on the eight ways patterns of power and control are established in relationships, including:

  • Privilege
  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying, and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse

While the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, domestic violence victims include all genders in all types of relationships.

“Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence,” said Shelly Caskey, an emergency room nurse at Memorial Hospital of Converse County. “Domestic violence doesn’t always present with a stereotypical victim/abuser dynamic. Our staff has undergone extensive training to identify, protect and support victims of domestic violence while maintaining victim confidentiality.”

Amy Needham, interim executive director and victim witness coordinator at our local victims of crime support agency Converse Hope Center, emphasized that increased awareness around domestic violence has empowered victims experiencing difficult circumstances.

“We help victims who have been suffering for years and we help victims who come to us the first time something goes wrong,” she said. “Both situations are difficult to get out of and take tremendous strength on the victims part. Everyone who reaches out to us for help have the most respect from myself and the team.”

Needham continued, “With today’s awareness of the prevalence of domestic violence, it’s becoming more acceptable to speak out. People are starting to realize that being a victim is not shameful, despite that being a popular belief in the past. People are becoming increasingly more confident in asking for help from friends, family, and other support without fear of judgement, and that is amazing. While the stigma is lessening, it is still prevalent in our society as a whole. That’s why awareness and education, such as this article, are paramount in fostering knowledge and compassionate supports.”

The likelihood that domestic violence affects someone you know is high and it’s important to be aware that unusual behavior in close friends and family may indicate something to be concerned about. Domestic violence victims may exhibit some of the following behaviors.

  • Having explanations for physical injuries that don’t seem right
  • Not dressing in their usual style and only how the ir partner wants them to dress
  • Uncharacteristic lying due to fear or their partner’s judgement to maintain appearances
  • Changes in personality, including a loss of self-esteem
  • The need to constantly check in with their partner or not going out without said partner
  • Not having money or credit/debit cards with them
  • An inappropriate level of concern about making sure their partner is happy
  • Missing social, work, or family functions for no reason; isolation
  • Wearing clothes that aren’t appropriate for the weather, ostensibly to cover physical injuries
  • Falling out of touch with those close to them for no apparent reason
  • A decreased willingness to discuss their personal life with those close to them

If you think someone close to you is being abused, it’s time to say something. Their life may be in danger. Be supportive and nonjudgmental and let them know you are there for them if they want to talk. Stay away from saying things like, “you should” and “you need to”; it may push the victim away from seeking help if they feel those words perpetuate the control they’re experiencing at home.

“Domestic violence happens in every community,” said Needham. “There’s been a large increase in the number of cases reported in every demographic in Converse County this year as many more people are reaching out for help. Converse Hope Center offers free services to victims of crime including people trying to get out of domestic violence situations,” said Needham. “We have an emergency shelter, safety and exit planning assistance to help with housing searches and relocation needs. We accompany clients to court when needed, and if there’s no law enforcement involvement we can still help.”

While victims of domestic violence are often hesitant to contact authorities for help, law enforcement in Converse County has undergone extensive training to handle difficult situations with dignity.

Douglas Police Lieutenant Todd Matthews emphasized the role his department can play in supporting domestic violence victims. “We want to support those victimized by domestic violence,” Matthews said. “Every officer has undergone domestic violence training in the academy and again on the streets. Report it to us and we can be part of the solution.”

“When we respond to a domestic violence call, our first priority is to protect everyone's safety, and if anyone is injured to get them to the medical services,” said Matthews. “Then after that we want to calm down that emergency response, start the criminal process, and begin the process of getting the victim connected with the Hope Center and maybe Solutions for Life or one of our other local counselors to help them through the process. The county attorney's office has the victims witness advocate at the County attorney's office, which also plays a role.

“As soon as possible, we want to get victims connected with an advocate and find out what they need as far as shelter, assistance with the kids, or help filling out a protection order. This happens at the same time we're handling the criminal aspect and filing the paperwork, talking with the County attorney's office, and making sure that if there are criminal charges that our leads are followed up on or working with the hospital if there was an injury.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, it’s important to understand the situation is not your fault and that no one deserves to be hurt or controlled. If it’s an emergency situation, call 911. If you’re not sure where to start, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233) is confidential and can point you in the right direction.

You can also find support with friends, family, clergy members, or local organizations such as Converse Hope Center (307-358-4800). An escape plan including a set of car keys, a bag with clothes and other necessities including important documents and cash, and an idea of where you’ll go in an emergency can be helpful.

Domestic violence is a crime with an emotional component, which can make the decision to reach out for help or involve authorities a difficult one. While the thought of losing a relationship or getting someone you care about into trouble with the law, it’s important to remember that those victimized by domestic violence deserve better. There’s never been a better time to speak out than now.