A Toledo woman who endured years of domestic violence before finally escaping wants other victims of abuse to know that there is a way out.
“I was brave enough to finally speak up and my abuser is now in prison,” she told The Blade. “I survived! I would not have been able to do this if it would not have been for the [suburban] police, my family, the victim advocates of Lucas County, the court system, and my wonderful attorney who stood by me through my divorce and personal protective order case... “These individuals saved my children’s and my life. [That] said, I want to give back to the community. I want to make people aware of domestic violence. I hope that I can share my story and someday save other victims from their abusers.”
With some variations, her story could be almost any domestic abuse victim’s account, as others like it have been repeated in news stories, police and court records, and in TV and movie dramas.
“Linda’s” identity is being withheld to protect her. Women are the most frequent victims of domestic abuse in intimate relationships and they represent every demographic. They live in urban, suburban, and rural communities; they are young, middle aged, and elderly; their education ranges across the spectrum; they are jobless, they are housewives, they volunteer, and those who are employed have jobs ranging from executives to what some may consider menial work.
Cindy Pisano, CEO of the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, said that between July, 2011, and June, 2012, a total of 1,946 domestic violence cases were filed in Toledo Municipal Court, and there were 942 requests for civil protection orders in Domestic Relations Court. Ms. Pisano reported in her Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Plan for Lucas County that the Lucas County emergency call system received an average of 47 domestic violence-related calls daily in 2007, a year with about 2,500 domestic violence cases in Toledo, Sylvania, Maumee, and Oregon municipal courts. There were 49 domestic violence related deaths between 2003 and 2006.
Furthermore, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation said that in 2007 in Lucas County there were more than 3,800 arrests, a figure that could be higher, as only 10 of 16 law enforcement agencies returned arrest numbers. In Lucas County, officials said intervention services cost $13 million a year.
As soon as police arrive to investigate domestic violence, a local victim can receive a visit from a representative of the Violence Against Women Crisis Response Team. “We come to the scene and let them vent and we validate how they feel. Support is the main thing,” said Debbie Rowland, the team’s program coordinator. “We get them to safety if they are not in a safe environment, and depending on the situation, we try to prepare them for the next 48 hours by painting a picture of the court system, court advocates, how to get protection orders, and we link them up with immediate referrals and any available free services.”
Linda, a middle-aged white woman, said her ex-husband was abusive for all of their decade-plus marriage. She was not beaten. However, she said she was pushed, grabbed, threatened, and verbally abused.
“I want to tell women that they can be safe, there is a way out. There is hope,” she said. “No one should ever have to live in fear; if you are, there is a problem.”
Linda’s courage is necessary. For example, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that combats domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking is at risk. Congress has yet to come to terms on differences between the House and Senate versions to reauthorize the law. Since its passage, domestic violence rates have dropped by at least 60 percent a year.
The abuse against Linda went from being sporadic to daily yelling, menacing, and stalking. There were threats of poisoning, to take their children, and to set fire to their house, which underscores that abusers want to control and instill fear in their victims.
“There was always control, disrespect, name calling,” she said. “I did a good job of keeping it from my family. When I opened up to them, they were surprised. From the outside, we were that typical [suburban] family.”
Neither she nor her family saw potential for him to be abusive before their wedding, reception, and honeymoon. Before the abuse in her home worsened, she had a different perspective on the problem.
“I was judgmental about women who were hit and I asked why they stayed. Well, I know now why they stay,” she said. She stayed “out of fear about what would happen if I left, and what would happen with my children. He became the almighty power and I was answering to him. I thought I was protecting my children. But the only way you can protect them is to leave.”
Once police are called and an abuser is arrested and charged, victims don’t always follow through by going to court. That’s because they may be afraid of their abusers and are financially dependent on them. Linda said it would have been easier to go back to her abusive home than go to court. She was embarrassed to have to repeatedly tell the court about the violence and to explain her absence to her boss. She also said that at first she didn’t get a fair response from the suburban police department. But she didn’t let that stop her and urges other women to not let casual police response keep them from seeking protection.
“The police need to take women’s and men’s abuse stories seriously and investigate,” she said. She feared getting a protective order, “because you have to prove to a magistrate or judge why you need a protective order.”
Victims’ fear and their tendency not to follow through in court is among the reasons local agencies and law enforcement — such as the YWCA, Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, Toledo Police and Lucas County Sheriff’s departments, and the Cocoon Shelter in Bowling Green — developed programs to make sure victims do not fall through cracks, Ms. Rowland said. Considerable effort was put toward trying to understand why women who are victims of abuse don’t prosecute their abusers.
“It’s because they don’t understand the court system, because they are frightened of them,” Ms. Rowland said. “We try to make sure a victim has all the information she needs to make the next step. We help them get into shelters. We go to hospitals and tell them about the next day in court. We tell them who the detective is if it’s a felony [charge against the alleged abuser].”
Lynn Carder, director of the victim assistance division of the Lucas County prosecutor’s office, said victims receive advocacy and support throughout the court process. Like any crime, a case could go from Toledo Municipal Court to a Lucas County grand jury and Common Pleas Court. “If they are physically able, if they attend grand jury proceedings, we start contact with them at that point. We accompany them to court for each proceeding. We notify them every time the defendant appears in court,” Ms. Carder said. “Part of going to court is to provide that support network. We don’t want them to go upstairs by themselves if the defendant is there and not in custody. So [victims] wait in a room we provide in our offices.”
Victims who lack medical coverage and qualify can get help with those expenses from the Ohio Victims of Crime Compensation Program administered by the state Attorney General’s office. Victims also are enrolled in VINE: Victim Information and Notification Everyday, which notifies them if the defendant is released from custody, files a motion, is up for parole, or is transferred within the penal system.
‘I wanted to live’
Linda said she was embarrassed about her ordeal and knows that others have said she should have left years before she finally made the break. “But the timing has to be right for each person. You have become a victim and it’s all you know. If I left, I thought he would kill me. If I stayed, I thought he would get help and that things would get better,” she said.
“There is a fear of being in the relationship and there is a fear of what he would do if I actually leave,” she said, adding that her fear grew after she finally called police and he was arrested. “I was afraid about what price I would have to pay for doing that. Now, I want to help [women] to know that you can get out and that [abuse] is not something to be embarrassed about.”
She is glad she acted. “I got to the point that I wanted to live. I didn’t want something to happen to me and for [my children] to have to live with an abuser,” she said. “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and no one should live in fear and you deserve to be safe.”
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.