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1 in 4: Domestic violence more common than most people assume

The death of a 32-year-old mother who was allegedly killed by her live-in boyfriend this week was a brutal reminder of the pervasive nature of domestic violence.

It is an issue that permeates all communities, regardless of age, sexual orientation, economic status, gender, race, religion or nationality. While many understand this, it is difficult to apply the facts to one’s own community, town, social circle or even family — yet it is of the utmost importance.

“Just this week, I’ve gotten three calls from women saying their husbands are trying to kill them,” Stephanie Turner said.

Turner and her husband founded the Darlene Slater Rehabilitation Center for Women, or Doll’s House, and deal with victims of domestic violence every day. This week has been on the intense side, Turner said, but she receives calls two or three times a week from women struggling with some degree of abuse. Turner said unfortunately she sees an increase in these kinds of incidents and reports around the holidays.

“So many are just in a situation they don’t know how to get out of, they don’t have the resources to get out,” Turner said. “Most of them, the family has just sort of backed off. Most families have told them it’s time to get out and they’ve stayed, so they’ve burnt bridges.”

Domestic violence is a complex issue. Its signs are often overlooked and so many fail to understand the dynamics of these types of relationships. So, despite its frequency — studies show one in four women will experience some sort of domestic violence — it far too often results in tragedy.

“It’s a cycle of dysfunction and the cycle just repeats itself. Sometimes it’s a generational cycle, and they think that that’s the way life is,” said Turner. “Some will say they stay for the children, or they stay because they can’t afford legally to do anything about it. A lot of these women are afraid the person will follow them if they leave, and a lot of the time he will.”

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used to establish control and power over another person in a relationship, whether a family member or an intimate partner. According to safehorizon.org, other terms for domestic violence include intimate partner violence, battering, relationship abuse, spousal abuse or family violence.

According to the Department of Justice and the CDC, perhaps the most obvious sign is physical abuse — hitting, slapping, pushing, punching, hair-pulling, etc. — but there are other more easily concealed forms of domestic abuse. Sexual abuse can include forcing sex after violence has occurred or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner. Emotional abuse often comes along with other forms, and can include damaging one’s relationship with his or her family or children, or undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem. Making or trying to make someone financially dependent by taking control over financial resources, withholding one’s access to money or preventing one’s attendance at work or school is also considered abuse.

Psychological abuse can be just as bad or worse than physical violence. It includes causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends or school and/or work. These are all common manifestations of domestic violence and abuse, but certainly not all.

Though being on the outside of an abusive relationship can be daunting, frustrating or difficult, it is imperative that those close to a victim reach out to them. Outreach and advocacy organizations suggest pursuing conversations to discuss safety plans, plans for leaving, that one is there for him or her and stressing that this isn’t his or her fault. Try to be discrete but communicate the danger of the situation and let the victim know there are resources and that you are there to help, advocates say.

“You can see the signs and a lot of times we just don’t want to get involved,” Turner said. “But just reach out — at least try, before it’s too late. It gets too late very often.”

Turner said women often attempt to leave and change their minds, sometimes several times over a long period of time. Unless the person is determined and ready to leave the situation, oftentimes the situation persists.

“Unless she’s really ready, there’s nothing they’re going to be able to do but excite the situation,” Turner said. “Unless she’s totally sold out and ready there’s absolutely nothing family and friends can do.”

Turner said when victims are ready to escape their circumstances, they often need help making plans for the future, being independent, understanding what was going on and taking care of themselves. Turner said places like the Doll’s House allow women to find help in an environment where other burdens are eased. Whatever degree of assistance the situation requires, the Doll’s House is a conduit for resources.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the violence often intensifies over time. Abusers may often seem wonderful and perfect initially, but gradually become more aggressive and controlling as the relationship continues. Abuse may begin with behaviors that may easily be dismissed or downplayed such as name-calling, threats, possessiveness or distrust. Abusers may apologize profusely for their actions or try to convince the person they are abusing that they do these things out of love or care. But it escalates. And more often than not, Turner said, the result is tragic.

“One young lady she was preparing to come to the Doll’s House and she stayed one weekend too long. She came up missing as a Jane Doe that Tuesday. She told me she had to go back to take care of some bills — she was a working lady. Said if she didn’t pay the bills over the weekend that he was going to be following her,” she said.

It is important to listen to a victim, not to judge them and to be vigilant in being a safe resource for this person because, Turner said, there are some happy endings.

“I deal with this all the time — you can get out. You can,” Turner said. “Really, places have been provided, are being provided, and take advantage of that. You can break the cycle, and you can make it. Get out, just get out. Find help. It’s out there. All kind of hotlines you can call and for the ones in Lincoln and surrounding counties, you call the Doll’s House.”

For more information, call the Doll’s House at 601-291-8757 or 601-519-3546, or call the police or sheriff’s office. Domesticshelters.org and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) are other immediate resources.