The number of women killed from domestic violence has increased across the state and in the East Texas area last year, more than 50% of those killed were killed by a firearm.
Shannon Trest, executive director of Women’s Center of East Texas, said even if gun laws are changed, if someone intends to kill their partner, they will find a way.
Trest also said anyone can help prevent domestic violence by becoming more aware, and she urged men to step up and hold each other more accountable.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the center has had events to raise awareness such as Work Out to Wipe Out Domestic Violence, reading proclamations on the Gregg County Courthouse steps, a color run and social media pushes, Trest said.
A report by the Texas Council on Family Violence shows that 136 women were killed in Texas in 2017 by their husband, ex-husband, intimate partner, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. In 2018, that number rose to 174.
According to data from the Women’s Center, four women were murdered in the counties it serves — Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Panola, Rusk and Upshur — in 2018, up from three in 2017:
■ Sarah Maines, 65, of Gladewater was found by Gladewater police on June 29 dead in her home. Police believe her husband, William Maines, 66, shot and killed her and himself.
■ Felisha Pearson, 28, of Longview was found dead in a wooded area July 24 after her family reported her missing. Her boyfriend, Joseph Burnette, 41, confessed to her death and also that of Dana Lynn Dodd in 2006.
■ Elaina Johnson, 44, of Holland’s Quarters was shot and killed by her boyfriend, Jeffrey Mickens, 47, on Feb. 23. Mickens was sentenced to 80 years in prison after pleading guilty.
■ Lisa Moore, 49, of Union Grove was killed by her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Adkins, 53, on March 6. Adkins also shot and killed Moore’s son Dylan, 19, and injured her son, Kyle. Adkins was sentenced to two life sentences and 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty.
Trest said Texas has laws in place related to firearms in domestic violence.
“If a survivor has been issued a protective order, then the perpetrator is supposed to surrender their firearm if they have one,” she said. “It’s just that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a hard conversation to have, anytime people talk about firearms.”
According to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Gregg County had 1,085 reported family violence offenses in 2017.
Trest said domestic violence does not discriminate demographic-wise.
According to the Texas Council on Family Violence report, 32 men were killed by their female partners in 2018, and one woman and four men were killed by same-sex partners in 2018.
In all, 211 Texans were killed by intimate partners in 2018, the report says.
It says gay men and lesbian women experience domestic violence at equal to higher rates than heterosexual couples.
“That’s the whole thing about family violence. It doesn’t discriminate in terms of color or gender or ethnicity or socioeconomic status,” she said. “The only difference is, a lot of times the women that come into our shelter may not have the financial means or may not have the family support to go someplace else, or they’ve not been working and their abuser was the one that paid the bills.”
The center treats same-sex relationships no differently than other relationships, Trest said. The only time a difference occurs has to do with shelter, she said.
“It would be really easy for, like, a girlfriend or a wife of someone to call and say, ‘I need to come into shelter,’ and then their partner would be in there, as well,” she said. “That’s the only time it gets a little different. Even though men or women could come into our shelter, we kind of err on the side of caution when it comes to safety.”
Though the center has been in Longview for more 40 years, Trest said it is not uncommon for a homicide to happen and the center has no record of that person because they did not seek help at the center.
Victims have plenty of reasons they do not just leave their situation and go to the shelter, Trest said.
“No. 1 is, they’re usually in love with the person,” she said. “But my response to why don’t they just leave is, why doesn’t the other person just quit abusing?”
Another reason victims do not leave or call the police is because they are financially tied to their abuser and might not have any money, Trest said, or because of threats to them or their family or because they are undocumented.
“If you’re undocumented, you’re certainly not going to call the police,” she said. “Although, that doesn’t matter when a crime is being committed against you.”
Trest said the center sees a lot of undocumented people, and they typically do not know legal remedies are in place for them, especially if the crime committed against them is by a citizen.
“If a citizen commits a crime against an undocumented person, that person has extra legal protections in terms of the Violence Against Women Act,” she said. “Or they can get other legal remedies, too, such as a path towards citizenship.”
Loved ones can help with identifying if someone is in an abusive relationship, Trest said. She said isolation is one of the first signs of domestic violence.
“That’s by design, because if you’re trying to keep complete control of someone, then you’re not going to want them out, because what if someone finds out? Then you lose your control,” she said. “A lot of times you won’t see physical things on people. Because a lot of times the bruises, they can’t be seen. It’s going to be covered up. An emotional bruise is not visible.”
More work needs to be done to prevent domestic violence, she said. While a lot of women work in the field of prevention and care of domestic violence victims, men can step up in numerous ways, she said.
“There’s a lot of things that men can do,” Trest said. “Men can hold other men accountable.”
Specifically, men can correct other men’s language about women when it becomes “off-putting,” she said.
Trest said she wants the conversation of violence to change so it is not just about “men shouldn’t hit women,” but instead “nobody should hit anybody.”
“Until men can hold other men accountable, if they can stand up and say, ‘That’s not OK. You don’t get to talk like that. What if your son spoke about his mother that way? Or what if a boyfriend spoke about your daughter that way?’ ... I think that’s the only way that people can go, ‘Oh, hold on,’” she said. “Because I think people oftentimes forget what they’re doing and what they’re saying.”
The center’s 24-hour hotline can be reached at (800) 441-5555.