When the Family Safety Center officially opened in 2012 as one location with multiple partner agencies providing civil, criminal, health and social services for victims of domestic violence, we knew the journey to an ultimate goal of significantly reducing incidents of domestic violence would be long and arduous.
To start, domestic violence is not an easy subject to talk about, and it’s very much a “behind closed doors” issue that affects people no matter their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic class. Its very nature makes domestic violence more difficult to address and reduce. And, the intimate relationship between the abuser and victim makes addressing the problem a greater challenge.
From Jan. 1 to July 15 of this year, Memphis Police Department domestic violence statistics show 1,047 cases of aggravated assault, 1,390 cases of intimidation, 275 cases of obscene or harassing phone calls, 7,022 cases of simple assault, 157 cases of stalking and 49 cases of threatening phone calls, as well as 442 memos, which are reported when an officer arrives on the scene but not enough information is available to warrant a report being taken. During the same time frame, the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office reported 86 cases of intimidation, 67 cases of aggravated assault, 46 cases of threatening or harassing phone calls, 495 cases of simple assault and 598 memos.
Other domestic violence offenses oftentimes include child abuse, kidnapping, violation of bond conditions, violations of orders of protection, theft and verbal abuse and elder abuse.
There’s been a recent influx of local incidents, including the high-profile trial of Sedrick Clayton, the Memphis man who murdered the mother of his children, Pashea Fisher, and both her mother and father, as well as the recent horrible murder of Lupita and the younger Gustavo Gomez by their father, Gustavo Gomez. Additionally, we’ve heard the heart-wrenching accounts of the murder of Tasha Thomas by her husband, who then killed himself, and the public, deadly shooting of Torhonda Cathey by ex-boyfriend Ronald Ellis outside of Target’s East Memphis store as well as the murder of Alejandra Leos, the transgender woman who was killed by her boyfriend. When you place these tragic homicides against the backdrop of an overall decrease of about 1,000 incidents in our state, as reported by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, it certainly shines a light on the complexities and issues facing those who are trying to make bigger strides in reducing domestic violence. We hope that the reduction truly reflects a decrease in domestic violence incidents and not victims whose abuse still remains behind closed doors, but it is difficult to tell.
Another recent step in the right direction comes in the form of a proposed bill that would make it mandatory for people arrested on domestic violence charges to be held in jail for a 12-hour “cooling off” period. The Family Safety Center is in favor of this bill because it gives time for the victim to develop a plan of action before the abuser has time to return. While we hope that one day the holding period will be even longer, 12 hours is a start.
While these terrible crimes − and the headlines they create – damper our spirits even deeper, it’s important to recognize that things are changing. Although it may not be immediately visible to the public, Memphis and Shelby County together have made strides to provide more comprehensive and accessible help to victims, and it’s without a doubt due to the collaborative efforts of passionate community partners and government leaders working together toward this common goal. We are thankful to have 30 partner agencies working with us to serve victims, and that number continues to grow. With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we are proud to announce a partnership with RegionalOne Health, where we’ll be working with the hospital’s nursing staff to help better identify domestic violence victims and assist them with getting help. Through ongoing awareness and education, our hope is that the cycle of domestic violence will cease to continue through prevention.
Our vision is for a vibrant, vital community free from the pain and price of domestic violence and sexual assault. When domestic violence and sexual assault occur, we want to collectively provide comprehensive and cohesive services that integrate hope with a continuum of healing for those impacted. Utilizing a team approach by working with an array of organizations, services like protective orders, safety planning, emergency housing, legal services, court advocacy, individual and family counseling, and medical and mental health services are provided. Every victim is paired with a navigator whose purpose is to guide him or her through the process and help that person safely leave an abusive situation.
There is still more to do. Memphis and Shelby County needs more housing for DV victims fleeing for safety and rebuilding their lives. We also need more civil legal assistance, supportive services for children exposed to violence in the home, greater accountability of offenders in the criminal justice system and greater understanding of domestic violence, just to name a few.
Like so many organizations, we do everything we can to bring awareness and support to grow services and our reach. If you’re a victim of domestic violence, we encourage you to take the first step by visiting FSC. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help, please visit our website at www.familysafetycenter.org or call us 901-222-4400. We’ve formed a fantastic group of survivors, called VOICES, who are eager to speak to groups interested in learning about domestic violence. To learn more about how to get involved during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, follow our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FamilySafetyCenter.
A portion of this guest column appeared in The Commercial Appeal on Oct. 29, 2014.