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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Domestic violence up locally

Job losses, economic hardship may be reason for increase in cases

By Margie Wuebker
Editor's note: The name of this domestic violence survivor has been changed to protect her identity. The alleged perpetrator also has a fictitious name.
Heather is no stranger to physical, emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of someone she loves. It began during childhood and continued into adulthood like a stubborn shadow she could not shake.
The attractive woman, who once feared for her safety at the hands of the man she vowed to love in good times and bad, is recovering. The telltale bruises are gone and she no longer feels adrift in a sea of uncertainty and loneliness.
She credits the Family Crisis Network in Celina as her lifeline, while fellow survivors at Mercer County's domestic violence shelter boosted her courage to pick up the pieces and get on with life.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates one in every four women will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background, statistics show.
Heather is one of 225 clients served in Mercer County so far this year, according to statistics provided by the local crisis network headed by Director Christy Triplet. Officials expect the numbers to exceed the 239 clients served by the agency during 2008 with the economy, loss of jobs or reduced hours and the approaching holiday season as likely triggers.
The numbers are only the tip of the iceberg because many victims never come forward, according to agency representatives.
Heather moved in with Hank a few years ago and he treated her like a queen. The abuse began shortly after they exchanged wedding vows. The harsh and degrading words hurt as much as being dragged across the floor by her hair, she said.
Heather knew better than to eat the food or drink the beer he brought home. Hank kept tabs on the quantities and doled out blows when something turned up missing. She couldn't get food stamps because he had a full-time job and that income was reflected on the application form. A loyal friend provided occasional meals and put her in touch with a local food bank. She hid the groceries lest he find her treasure of peanut butter and other sundries.
"In hindsight, the abuse escalated slowly but surely," Heather says quietly clutching her hands to maintain composure. "He always apologized later and told me how much he loved me. I felt trapped; I did not know where to go and I had no money to get there."
Sometimes he threw her to the floor like a rag doll; other times he punched her repeatedly in the head knowing her long hair would hide the bruises. He even attempted to choke her.
"The straw that broke the camel's back came this summer as he and his buddies sat around a campfire drinking beer," Heather says looking at her clenched hands. "I overhead Hank telling them how he planned to kill me and make it look like an accident. That way there would be nothing to share in divorce court."
Heather confided in a friend in another county who encouraged her to get out before anything happened and then sought information from a local agency as well as law enforcement authorities. Someone provided the telephone number for the crisis network - her life preserver in turbulent times.
"I moved out and two weeks later the friend from another county moved in," she says. "I found real friends here - friends who really care. They got me into the shelter and put me in touch with other survivors. I began to feel better about myself. I did not deserve the abuse I got."
Various agencies responded in a collaborate effort that ultimately led to a small apartment, a part-time job, food stamps and the offer of legal assistance.
"I thought I was the only person going through something like this," Heather says. "The truth is there are a lot of survivors because domestic violence is a growing problem right here in little, old Mercer County. Some of them are neighbors; others are folks you run into in the course of everyday life and would never suspect they, too, are victims of a vicious cycle. Not all of them are women."
Heather is saving money as best she can in order to file for divorce. After being victimized in prior relationships dating back to childhood, she no longer trusts men.  
Anyone who is a victim of domestic violence should contact authorities or call the crisis network at 419-586-1133. The network has a hotline service for those who call after hours as well as links to collaborating agencies.
"I would like to give other victims - women as well as men - some encouragement," she says. "There is help available and you are not alone. Domestic violence is not an illness that gets better; it only gets worse and death is always a possibility. Get help, get counseling and then get out if all else fails. Don't wait around to become a statistic."

Domestic violence stats show abuse can happen to anyone:
Here are some details regarding the problem of domestic violence:
• One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. It is estimated a domestic violence incident occurs every 15 seconds somewhere in the U.S.
• Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma and even death.
• Men can be victims of domestic violence although 85 percent of victims are female.
• Abuse is not normal; it's against the law and it can happen to anyone - rich or poor and young or old. It is not the fault of the person being abused.
• Abuse can be emotional (destructive criticism/verbal abuse, disrespect, broken promises, denial, blame, making it difficult to see friends and relatives and monitoring calls); economic (interfering with work, refusing to give money and taking money or car keys); sexual (using force or coercion to obtain sex or perform sex acts); or violent (slapping, punching, choking, burning, stabbing, etc. to you, your children or household pets.)
• Domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes - only one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes and one-half of all stalkings perpetrated against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
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