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Number of domestic violence victims helped by East Texas center nearly doubled in 2012

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal.com
Jan. 27, 2013 at 11 p.m.


The number of domestic violence victims helped by the Women's Center of East Texas nearly doubled in the past year, even as the number of calls to Longview police for such cases remained unchanged. It's an indication, authorities said, that victims of abuse - especially men - are becoming more comfortable seeking help.

While the number of victims in all categories increased 40 percent from 2011 to 2012, the number of men aided by the center doubled.

"More men tend to come forward than used to," said Shannon Trest, the center's executive director. "It's just a sign of the times. Men are not ashamed or embarrassed to come to the women's center."

The Women's Center of East Texas, the area's oldest and largest such facility, serves victims from Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Panola, Rusk and Upshur counties, and even some from other counties and states.

In 2011, the center housed 55 adults and 59 children and served 442 non-residential victims, including 33 men. In 2012, the number jumped to 93 adults and 92 children, while the center served 732 non-residential victims. Sixty-three victims were men.

Longview Police Sgt. David Scott said the numbers reflected the increase in community resources to help victims of domestic abuse.

"More options are available today than, say, a decade ago," he said. "Instead of just calling the police, you have the women's center, the DA's office, child advocacy centers, Hope's Closet, and many other agencies that can help people get out of these situations."

Scott, who teaches sexual assault family violence investigation courses for the Texas Municipal Police Association in Austin, credits those East Texas resources for making it easier for victims to come forward.

"We now have an extra arsenal of services to help victims on a daily basis," he said. "Some of the fear has subsided with the increased awareness."

Such awareness is a goal of the center, Trest said. But simply recognizing abuse is a starting point.

"Abuse remains a huge problem in our society," she said. "We have to give people the tools to be able to know what a healthy relationship looks like."

The center offers children's and parenting programs, support groups and information about prevention and awareness. Regardless of who is being abused, Trest said, the force driving abusers is the same.

"Make no mistake about it. This is all about power and control," she said.

And the need to obtain and maintain that power and control manifests itself in abuse. Trest said potential abusers often start with non-violent attempts at control and work their way up to physical violence.

"If a person is being controlled by verbal abuse, then there is no need for the abuser to do more than verbally abuse the victim," she said. "It's usually when one form of abuse stops working that they resort to a different level of abuse."

That escalation usually ends in physical abuse as a last resort to maintain control, Trest said.

That means there are many forms of abuse that victims fail to recognize.

"Unfortunately most people automatically think about physical abuse," Trest said, but there are many other types, including reproductive and even economic abuse.

"Maybe one person in the relationship has a job. The other person isn't allowed to work, and they are given money as needed or not given money as needed," she said.

And reproductive abuse is becoming more commonly reported.

"It's basically barefoot and pregnant," Trest said. "You keep a woman pregnant by not allowing her to have birth control."

While the numbers of cases reported to Longview police were mostly unchanged from 2011 to 2012, Scott said such calls remain among the most dangerous for officers, who usually are called only after violence has escalated.

"It's a highly emotionally charged atmosphere. We have two parties who for whatever reason are fighting, and the officer is seen as the outsider," he said. "They call us simply to stop the fighting, but when we have to arrest someone that adds another emotional element because we are taking someone's father, husband or wife away."

In 2012, LPD officers were dispatched to 685 such calls for family violence; 238 of those calls were made by men, of which 161 were determined to be the victim. Another 447 calls were made by women, of which 424 were determined to be the victim. Those calls led to the arrests of 49 men and 13 women.

Those numbers were almost identical to 2011, when officers were dispatched to 687 calls for family violence.

Scott said the steady police numbers and increasing shelter numbers indicate more victims are taking advantage of options other than law enforcement.

While more men and same-sex partners are stepping forward to report abuse, Scott said one constant remains - abused people, for some reason, tend to stay in abusive relationships. Data shows a victim will come and go in such a relationship seven times, he said. About 85 percent leave for good after that seventh time.

Scott and Trest agreed awareness is the most important weapon in the battle against abuse.

"Our officers are getting more training, community resources are more accessible, the situations are much more manageable for the victims and the local and national media have highlighted some of the high-profile cases of abuse."

The Women's Center of East Texas is a nonprofit agency that receives funding through grants, the governor's office, the attorney general's office, United Way, businesses, civic groups, churches, individual donors and numerous thrift stores.

Proceeds from Hope's Closet - which has grown to four locations - help finance the center.

"We've come to a place where we figured out how to do more with less, but the bottom line is we're able to significantly serve so many more people because of our thrift stores," Trest said.

In addition to its emergency shelter, the center offers outreach, legal support and advocacy. It also operates a 24-hour-a-day hotline at (800) 441-5555.

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