The drop of the proverbial pin could be heard as Shay Eubanks spoke about her mother, the late Lou Tretter, during the Central Texas Family Violence Task Force Conference held recently in Killeen.
“I remember her laughter the most. She loved to laugh and to make others laugh. When she laughed her cheeks puffed up with joy and her eyes would almost disappear,” a tearful Eubanks recalled.
Lou Tretter was killed by her husband, Donald, the day after the couple visited Shay and her family in Fort Worth. “When I saw my mom again, she was in the emergency room hooked up to several machines — she never woke up.”
Eubanks described her family as “normal and happy,” but it was her mother’s death that caused her to question the relationship between her mother and father.
“In retrospect, my mother never did anything without my father, she was isolated. I had seen bruises on her before, but I never questioned it,” she said.
As I listened, I sensed her pain and sadness and began to think of the victims I have met and will meet in my role as the Healthy Homes Coordinator at the Harker Heights Police Department. As the coordinator, I am keenly aware that I will serve as a direct link for those who are victims of family violence. Unfortunately, some like Lou Tretter won’t admit that there is a problem until it is too late. However, there is a large population of victims who remain with their abuser throughout the violence.
For many, it begs the question: Why not just leave? It’s the logical question many people ask when they learn that a victim is being battered and abused. But for those who are in an abusive relationship, it’s not that simple. Ending an important relationship is never easy. It’s even harder when a victim has been isolated from family and friends, psychologically defeated, financially controlled and physically threatened. For those who have children, the process of leaving is even more complicated.
Jan Lanbien, executive director of the Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas and one of the conference speakers, said that the goal should be to help the victim think through the process of leaving rather than to question why the victim does not leave. It is a five-step process: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.
When one comes in contact with a victim of family violence, the best forms of support are encouragement and providing empowering statements while discussing a plan for their safety. It is a seed of courage planted in preparation for the moment the victim is ready to begin the process of leaving.
If you are in a relationship and you are trying to decide whether to stay or leave, you may be feeling confused, uncertain, frightened and torn. One moment, you may desperately want to get away, and the next, you may want to hang on to the relationship. Maybe you even blame yourself for the abuse or feel weak and embarrassed because you feel helpless in spite of it. Don’t be trapped by confusion, guilt or self-blame. Remember this:
You are not to be blamed for being battered or mistreated.
You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior.
You deserve to be treated with respect.
You deserve a safe and happy life.
Your children deserve a safe and happy life.
You are not alone; there are people waiting to help.
Kerry Barronette is coordinator of the Harker Heights Police Department’s Healthy Homes Project. For direct links to support services, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 953-5439.