Editor's note: If you or someone you know experiences domestic violence, The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers services, including counseling and crisis services. The 24 hour Crisis Hotline number is (580) 226-6424.
Three out of four people know someone who has been affected by domestic violence.
Encountering someone — male or female — who has dealt with domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking is unfortunately common, said Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma Director Kathy Manning.
Last month, Carter County processed a trial that exposed some of the intimate details of the violence that goes on in these situations every day.
The jury found Elizabeth Hart, of Dickson, guilty of two counts of child abuse and one count of child neglect after two days of testimony from various witnesses, including three of Hart’s own children, who recalled the constant abuse of two other children within the home by Hart’s husband, Douglas Hart Jr.
One of the eight children living in the residence said he witnessed Douglas Hart Jr. repeatedly beat one of the children, pausing in-between swings to ask “does that hurt?”
In her testimony during the trial, Hart said she was a victim of abuse herself and although she allegedly made one report to the Department of Human Services, the jury agreed that she could have done more to protect the two children, who are still recovering in foster homes from the trauma.
As a domestic violence agency, the local Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers several free services for victims of domestic abuse when there is no where else to turn, Manning said. These include a 30-day shelter with a non-disclosed location, counseling, clothing, food and transportation.
The shelter also helps individuals find employment and housing once they are ready.
“If you have somebody who comes in with nothing, by the time that they leave, the hope is that they will be provided not only with their basic essentials, but also with the tools they need to move forward — to recognize unhealthy relationships,” Manning said.
While the physical scars of abuse typically heal rather quickly, Manning said the shelter seeks to provide a space for victims to healthily process the psychological trauma of abuse.
Many times victims have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety and other fears of their abuser stalking them after leaving an abusive situation, said Family Shelter victim advocate Stacey Rose.
“I had a client tell me that the scars and bruises heal, but the emotions that he put in her head — it took like years — it’s constantly there,” said victim advocate Lena Mosely. “He could be gone years, but if she hears that word, if she hears someone belittle her, it’s going to just trigger her back. That mental aspect really took a toll on her.”
Counseling is a major part of healing and while it’s not required, it’s strongly encouraged, Manning said. “Not everyone is ready though, and that’s okay, too. It’s all in their own time.”
Many of the individuals who receive help from the Family Shelter stay connected with the organization after they leave, Manning said. And the majority of them succeed at rebuilding their life.
“There is nothing better than to see someone come in with nothing and then to leave here with a job and a house, all of the things that they’ve gathered along the way and to be healthy, to feel like they’re in a good place,” Manning said.
Domestic abuse has many origins, Manning said. However, abusers usually pick their victims, Rose said.
“They’re really good at it — either the victim has resources to offer them, whether it be financial, a place to live, you know, low self-esteem, a history of trauma,” Rose said.
Other times, a bond is formed over past traumas, she said. “A lot of abusers come in and they end up trauma bonding— ‘Oh me, too, we understand each other’.”
Once in an abusive situation, there are just as many reasons that people stay. Some stay for the kids and for others it could be because of finances, isolation, threats made by the abuser or the lack of a support system, Manning said.
“It’s not just cut and dry,” Manning said. “There’s that misconception of ‘Why didn’t they just leave?’”
Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for the victim, Manning said. Seventy-five% of homicides related to domestic abuse reportedly occur after the victim has decided to leave or has already left, Rose said. “Not just killing the victim, but the children as well,” she said.
One of the commonalities between all homicide victims related to domestic violence is that they did not reach out to a domestic violence agency for support or assistance, Manning said.
“They may have reached out to law enforcement, they may have reached out to DHS or to other systems, but they did not reach out to an agency such as ours,” Manning said.
When victims reach out to the Family Shelter’s 24-hour crisis line or any of the victim advocates, the advocates help them make a safe plan for leaving. Communication between victims and staff remains 100 percent confidential, said victim advocate Dee Dee Hunter.
“We have people that have called for months and months before they even tell us their name,” Hunter said. “Just to get their toes wet, and that’s okay. Your name is not required to talk to us.”
Safety plans are individualized and based on the person’s risk, Rose said. Generally, however, the victim should not tell the abuser that they’re leaving.
“If you can, wait until they are out of the house and start planning ahead of time, have stuff packed here and there, important documents,” Rose said. “If you can’t get all of that, that can be replaced. It’s different in every case.”
It typically takes an individual seven to nine times before they actually leave for good, Manning said. And if the victim doesn’t receive the help they need the first time, it is vital that they keep reaching out.
“You’re going to get to that person who is going to be able to assist you,” Manning said. “Someone that may have not known their correct resources before, but if you continue to talk to people, you will have somebody that will direct you to the right place.”
While taking that first step to leave an abusive situation is vital, the victim has to be allowed to do so in their own time, Manning said. Family members and friends often want to push the victim to find help or confront the abuser, but the best thing they can do is support the victim.
“It doesn’t matter if they’ve gone through this seven to nine times, support them,” Manning said. “At the end of the day, they know that they can fall back on you, that is so important.”
The community and friends and family can also assist those facing domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking simply by providing them with resources for the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma, Manning said.
“You can’t make someone do something that they’re not ready for,” Manning said. “It’s all about empowering and encouraging them to make the decision on their own if they need to do that.”
Victim advocates can be reached 24 hours, 7 days a week through the crisis line at 580-226-6424 or by messaging the shelter’s Facebook page. For more information, visit www.familyshelterofsouthernok.net.