Becoming safe again

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence means recognizing warning signs and knowing how to get help
By Brian Soergel | Feb 05, 2015
Domestic Violence Awareness Project

The following article is the sixth in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on domestic violence. Called the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. –Ed.

The timeless issue of domestic violence was in the spotlight during the Super Bowl when the National Football League aired a chilling 30-second commercial of a woman calling 911 to report being abused.

But she had to pretend to order a pizza so her abuser couldn’t hear her.

The Super Bowl and the recent, high-profile domestic violence charges against football players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have helped push that timeless issue back into the national spotlight.

Snohomish County has not escaped the heartbreaking, abusive cycle of domestic violence that can destroy lives and even end them.

There are many local examples of domestic violence, which comes in many forms – physical and verbal are the most common – and affects all age groups and both sexes.

In one chilling incident, a woman suffering at the hands of an abusive husband fled her home and was forced to live in a crammed SUV with her six children. Although she frequently changed parking spots, her husband eventually pinpointed her location and smashed one of the vehicle’s windows.

Luckily, she escaped safely with her kids.

Many don’t. And local law enforcement can attest to the commonplace of domestic violence.

Mukilteo Police Chief Rex Caldwell says his department logs twice as many arrests for domestic violence than for drunken driving.

In Mukilteo, as in Mill Creek, Edmonds and other cities and jurisdictions in Snohomish County, domestic violence remains an ongoing source of frustration for police officers who never know what kind of violence they’ll encounter when knocking on doors.

Police often log initial domestic abuse cases, and both Edmonds and Mill Creek share a domestic violence officer. Mukilteo will soon have its own.

Although law enforcement plays an important role, many other agencies and organizations are just as vital in the attempt to curb or eradicate domestic violence.

One of them is Everett-based Domestic Violence Services (DVS) of Snohomish County, founded in 1976. It provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, legal advocacy, a crisis hot line, children’s programs, community support groups, and advocacy and teen education classes.

All services are free, executive director Vicci Hilty said.

In 2013, DVS opened a new shelter, increasing its number of beds from 15 to 52. The shelter is always full, and DVS turns away an average of about 80 families a month.

DVS also has 20 transitional apartments where families can live for up to two years after leaving the shelter.

“We’ve seen an increase in people looking for shelter, and we’re serving more people with our new facility,” said Karen McKeen, DVS director of programs. “There’s a high demand for our services.”

The shelter logs an average of 5,800 calls a year on its free, 24-hour hotline, or nearly 15 a day.

Of course, providing needed assistance to Snohomish County residents is expensive. In fiscal year 2012-13, DVS received the vast majority of its financial support, $1.07 million, from government grants.

It also received donations, revenue from its thrift store, United Way funds, and money raised from special events.

A recent Systems Innovations Grant came through Seattle-based Building Changes, which partners with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Important among DVS services is education.

Just what defines domestic violence? First, Hilty said, it’s more than simply physical assaults. To fully understand domestic violence, it’s important to recognize warning signs and for victims and family and friends to know what to do when it happens.

“We look at a pattern of coercive behavior from one partner to another,” McKeen said. “And that includes a range of situations. It’s not always physical, and often there’s a slow buildup to physical behavior.”

Warning signs of domestic violence

Jealousy: accusations of cheating, following around or calling during the day, and having no desire to spend time with friends or family.

Controlling behavior: constantly questions who you spend your time with, what you did or said, and where you went; makes you ask permission to do certain things; and degrading by name-calling.

Quick involvement: Pressures for a quick and early commitment, or claims love at first sight.

Isolation: Tries to cut off your resources; refuses to let you use the car or talk on the phone; and makes it difficult for you to go to school or work.

Blames others for problems: If there are problems at school or work, it’s always someone else’s fault; blames you for everything that goes wrong in the relationship.

What domestic violence victims can do

Plan ahead: Develop a safety plan with your children and arrange to have a place to go; make copies of important papers and keep them with a relative or close friend; keep important phone numbers handy; pack and hide an overnight bag; and put aside money and spare keys.

During an incident: Call 911 for help, get out if you can, and access important items that you planned ahead for.

If you can’t leave: Avoid the kitchen and rooms with only one exit. Call for help.

In your home: Change locks and secure doors and windows; arrange to have someone stay with you; change your phone number; obtain a protection order (425-388-3638); and notify trusted friends and family.

At work, school and public places: Inform work, day care and schools; change your daily routine; and plan ahead for unexpected contact with the abuser.

Reach out for help: Call the DVS hot line at 425-252-2873. Collect calls are OK.

At DVS, Hilty says she frequently hears from victims that friends and family members ask the following question: Why don’t you just leave?

“They do,” Hilty said. “Every day, we hear from survivors of abuse who were able to find the support and resources they needed to be safe and self-sufficient.”

But that’s not always the case.

“We know that when a victim leaves, that’s the most volatile point in a relationship,” Hilty said.

“I find that people who do stay for that moment – there’s a reason they’re staying. They know better than you or I if it’s safe to leave at that moment.

“We don’t know all the details, the threats made to them if they do leave.”

“If someone punched you on the street,” McKeen said, “you’d call 911. In this case, we’re working with people who made a lifetime commitment, and sometimes these are not strangers hurting them.

“It’s a person who’s supposed to love them.”

Although the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, men aren’t exempt. That’s one reason Domestic Violence Services changed its name a few years ago from the Center for Battered Women.

“Men face another layer of shame,” Hilty said. “And it’s not just spouses, it’s anyone living in the space you’re living in. With elder abuse, so often it’s the child or grandchild who is doing the abusing.”

Can domestic violence ever be stopped? To some, it may seem like an unbroken cycle.

Hilty disagrees.

“I really do think it can end. I truly do,” she said. “If it will be in my lifetime, I don’t know.

“It comes with society accepting and understanding the societal change that’s necessary. We have to call it what it is.

“We have to let people know it’s unacceptable behavior. We have to be able to stand up and say we’re not going to tolerate it anymore.

“What we do know is domestic violence is a learned behavior. So, if it’s a learned behavior, it can be stopped.

“But it’s a huge task, and have we figured it out? No. But we work on it every day.”

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