Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about domestic violence and what is being done in the community to address the problem.
Domestic violence is one of the most common, but overlooked, crimes in the country, and it leaves survivors to pick up the pieces and start their lives again, often without a support system to guide them through.
“One in three women will have experienced intimate partner violence at some point in their life, and even though domestic violence is one of the most frequent reasons that law enforcement is called, it’s still a small percentage [of the crimes],” said Meg Rogers, executive director of the Cherokee Family Violence Center.
The Cherokee Family Violence Center is a county resource for those affected by intimate partner violence and abuse of any kind. The center now houses 68 families with 150 children in transitional housing, where survivors of intimate partner violence can stay for three years. The center also has an emergency facility with 12 beds for more immediate assistance.
Intimate partner violence cases can often fly under the radar, appearing as “just two people not getting along,” to onlookers, Rogers said. Many cases, both nationally and locally, may have been stopped earlier had community members only spoken up, she said.
“When you have concerns, try to make them known,” Rogers said. “Many times, people who knew the people who committed these [violent crimes] said, ‘Yeah, they were mean, they would shoot at the pets and they got into fights with neighbors.’ That’s spilling out of violence in the home. Those are warning signs, so we need to take them seriously.”
The connection between domestic violence and many other kinds of violent offenses has been displayed time and time again on larger stages.
The United States’ two most recent mass shootings happened in cities nearly 2,000 miles apart, but they shared a common link.
In Southerland Springs, Texas, Devin Patrick Kelley took the lives of 26 when, dressed in all black and donning a ballistic vest, he indiscriminately shot at parishioners at the city’s First Baptist Church. The tragic shooting rampage has been connected to domestic violence incidents that prompted Kelley to attack the church where his mother-in-law worshipped.
In Rancho Tehama, California, Kevin Neal had a known history of threats and violence toward his neighbors and his own family. After killing his wife and attempting to conceal her body under the floor of his home, Neal went out into the rural community and continued his shooting rampage, killing four more people, at one point targeting a school that a neighbor’s child attended.
But juxtaposed against these extreme cases are the cases that are more subtle, more frequent and often more complex, Rogers said.
“As the population of the county increases, the absolute number of domestic violence cases increases,” Cherokee County Chief Assistant Solicitor General Todd Hayes said. “And it’s absolutely one of the two big ticket items that we deal with in the solicitor’s office, the other one being DUI.”
In 2016, the solicitor’s office closed more than 400 domestic violence cases, representing about a fifth of the non-traffic misdemeanors in the county, he said.
“That cycle of domestic violence is very, very hard to break,” Hayes said. “And the problem is that if it’s not broken before something happens, somebody can get very badly hurt.”
Recognizing the abuse is the first step in beginning to solve systemic issues like this, Rogers said.
“You can be abusive and not have committed a crime,” she said. “You can withhold money. You can withhold affection. You can do many different things that gain emotional and psychological control and terrorize your family.”
That control and psychological trauma is often what keeps survivors of abuse in the relationship.
“I was in denial a lot—of the domestic violence,” a local survivor of domestic violence, who asked that her real name not be published, told the Tribune in an interview. “I didn’t even want to use that word. In fact, I did not see myself a victim at the time, or a survivor. I didn’t classify myself as part of that group.”
The survivor said that through her own experience, and the education and resources available at the Cherokee Family Violence Center, she began to see what she could not during the abuse.
“When physical or verbal abuse happens, you can lose yourself no matter how successful you were before, what your title was, how happy your family was prior—things can change on a dime,” she said. “You can lose your identity, lose yourself and second-guess yourself. That was one of the hardest things: being told that things weren’t said, that things didn’t happen, and I started to believe him and actually lost a part of me.”
Still, she said, when you love someone, you’ll do anything to try to make it work, and that thought is particularly difficult to overcome.
“I started over and landed on my feet in many ways,” the survivor said. “But I can’t tell you how many times I think, ‘Why couldn’t we make it work?’ The way they were, there’s no way it could work.”
After her own experiences, she went back to school to become a social worker.
Citation Tribune Ledger News November 26 2017