Domestic violence prevalent in Miss-Lou, especially during tough economic times

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 31, 2009

A myriad of reasons keep women from leaving abusive relationships and in today’s economic climate, the reasons are ever more present.

Typically a lack of resources — money, transportation, a job — keeps a woman trapped and too afraid to leave.

Despite there being many reasons, Guardian Shelter Donna Miller still urges: Get out.

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“It’ll only get worse,” she said of abusive relationships.

And Miller would know, having counseled and sheltered domestic violence victims at the Guardian Shelter for Battered Women for 14 years.

Domestic violence doesn’t have clear-cut demographics and can effect nearly anyone.

However, low income and an age range between 25 and 40 are the major outliers, Miller said.

But one thing rings the most clear — domestic violence is a problem.

Mississippi is ranked second in the nation for domestic violence cases and Louisiana sees thousands of cases each year, as well.

Additionally, during economic crises, in which jobs and stability waver, domestic violence cases tend to get worse, Miller said.

“In our economy and state of affairs, we’re not lowering numbers at all,” she said. “Numbers are increasing because of present factors in our society directly related to economics.”

While Miller estimates that 70 percent of domestic violence cases actually go unreported, law enforcement still sees many cases.

In Louisiana, the law makes a distinction between “domestic abuse” and “dating violence,” though both are defined as “physical or sexual abuse and any offense against the person.”

The difference is domestic abuse is perpetrated by any family — or household — member of the victim, and the perpetrator of dating violence does not have to live with the victim but “who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.”

The law requires that an officer notify the victim of their right to press charges and the availability of protective orders and community assistance for victims.

To determine which party should be considered the aggressor, the law requires officers to consider evidence from witnesses, determine if a person acted in self-defense and if any of the parties are in immediate danger of future injury.

They are likewise required to find out of there are any prior complaints of abuse, and to determine the future welfare of any juveniles present.

“Any time we have repeat offenders, we make a note of it when we go to the judge or district attorney’s office,” Ferriday Police Chief Kenneth Hedrick said.

In order to build a solid domestic violence case, Vidalia Police Chief Ronnie G. “Tapper” Hendricks said he tells officers to take note of everything on the scene — from smashed house wares to the location of bruises on the victim.

“I told them to use every word the victim said — don’t hold back,” Hendricks said.

Likewise, in Adams County, Sheriff Angie Brown said evidence of abuse is enough to lead to arrest, which is oftentimes common.

The police definition for domestic violence is a lot looser in Mississippi — the term can be applied to those involved in any kind of relationship.

For the sheriff’s office alone, in 2006, 173 domestic violence reports were made. In 2007, there were 99 reports, and in 2008 there were 102 reports.

For the Natchez Police Department, 88 domestic violence arrests were made in 2006, 132 in 2007 and 81 in 2008.

Though deaths caused through domestic violence aren’t altogether common, they have happened in the not-too-distant past.

Brown said in 2006, a man named Donald Berry was arrested for the murder of his wife, Donna, and her mother, Etta White.

Last year, the sheriff’s office worked a case in which Jessie Mae Tolbert, 25, allegedly stabbed to death 24-year-old Akeem Firley.

Mary McQuarters was arrested and indicted by a grand jury for the 2007 murder of her live-in boyfriend Pete Jackson.

Last August, Yvette Williams allegedly stabbed to death her husband Douglas Fleming a mere week after they were married.

Although the end result typically is not death, Miller said there are several long-lasting effects that stem from an abusive relationship.

She said she typically sees these effects in the children of the victim.

“Home life in a domestic violence household is very chaotic,” she said. “There’s usually no boundaries, no schedule for sleeping or eating, poor school attendance. Very often there are medical, dental and psychological needs that have not been met.”

Those issues can then turn into behavioral problems that exhibit themselves in school and children of abusers often become abusers themselves.

The victim of an abusive relationship will also share the same psychological problems from long-term abuse.

But Miller has seen her fair share of success stories at the Guardian Shelter.

Once sheltered, women are offered domestic violence education and parenting groups, and once they leave the shelter, a six-month program is offered.

“The women who are most successful do want to participate in the six-month program,” she said.

And those who succeed are the ones who find an independence they never knew before — getting a job, finding a home, meeting the needs of their children.

Some women never give themselves a chance, though, Miller said.

“Sometimes the fear of the unknown is greater than the known.”