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Group helps victims of domestic violence

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Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:17 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Rose Luna

Killeen Daily Herald

One can only imagine the courage it takes for a person to leave every material possession, every priceless belonging behind, because their safety – and sometimes their children's safety – has been breached by a person who was thought to be their protector.

It's the same grim situation the staff and volunteers see every day at the Families In Crisis Inc. shelter in Central Texas.

Last year, the Families In Crisis shelter helped 273 adults and 406 children. Through its outreach program, 344 clients were assisted on an outpatient basis, while 3,419 calls were received on its local hotline.

This nonprofit organization supports and empowers victims of family violence and sexual assault by providing safe shelter and outreach services and the community with awareness education.

In 2001, women accounted for 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence, and men accounted for about 15 percent of the victims, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief.

Families In Crisis shelter staffers typically see injuries such as bruises on victims' faces, and scratches and cuts on victims' throats. Staffers always recommend medical treatment if the victim has been battered and will provide transportation to and from the hospital, but they allow the victim to make that choice.

"Our role is to be here to listen and to talk through all the possibilities," said Ann Brazee, shelter coordinator. "For some people, reporting is an option. But for most, the fear about what will happen is too much. The person doesn't not love the other person. They want the abuse to stop but don't want the person to go to jail.

"No one knows what's best for the person. We help you with your decision and give you the resources to make it happen."

Brazee emphasizes that domestic violence is not just about the physical damage, but also about the psychological and emotional damage, which doesn't leave scars and bruises.

"People are leaving because of emotional abuse, sexual abuse in a relationship or marital rape," Brazee said. "Even though some of our clients don't come in with physical abuse, the emotional harm is even worse."

Signs of emotional abuse are name-calling, bullying, telling someone they're worthless, threatening to harm them, their children or family members, or ignoring someone, Brazee said.

"People who are depressed think they are worthless, or people who have just shut down are sometimes victims to emotional abuse," she said. "Sometimes they can't put a finger on it. They would never think to be identified as that."

Many times, victims of emotional abuse will think their abusers' actions are common and have a "it happens to everyone" mentality.

"Everyone is influenced by what they've seen in families," Brazee said. "If they saw their father talk to their mother this way, it's considered acceptable. And the mother might say, don't worry about that, it's not a big deal.'

"That's the stigma of society. It's hard to define emotional abuse, where physical abuse has a bruise."

In 2005, victims stayed at the shelter for an average of 18 days; the range of the length of a stay can be from a few hours to a few months.

"Probably a little less than half are repeat clients," Brazee said. "A person leaves about seven times before they decide to go for good."

While victims and their children stay at the shelter, Families In Crisis provides child/adolescent case managers to serve as liaisons with school districts and to work out safety plans should the parents ever go back into the same situation.

The shelter also provides two adult case managers to ensure the victim's goals are reached and also to monitor their progress through the outreach program.

"A lot of times, victims will stay here during the transition into their own housing, finding a job and getting money saved up," said Suzanne Armour, community relations and marketing director for Families In Crisis.

As soon as the victim begins her stay at the shelter, a goal is set in place to create a safer environment.

"We recommend places that hire all the time and help get day care for children," Brazee said. "Meals are provided and the victim has a safe place to stay."

After the victim saves enough money, Families In Crisis will help with utility deposits and the first month of rent and deposits.

"The only thing they have to worry about is making rent the second month they are there," Brazee said.

Although the Families In Crisis shelter strives to make the best effort to keep its location anonymous and maintain a safe perimeter, occasionally the boundaries get breached.

A victim had stayed one month at the shelter with her three sons before her abuser found out where she was. Within one hour of suspicion, Families In Crisis moved the victim and her children to another shelter.

"We take safety very seriously here," Armour said. "A person just cannot walk in. You have to obtain clearance and we verify who you are."

Anyone can call the Families In Crisis hotline to get more information on safety planning or how to approach a person who is suffering abuse.

"If the person isn't ready to leave, there are ways to protect themselves and get everything in order to get them ready to go," Brazee said.

The main goal of Families In Crisis is to make every victim of domestic violence understand that they are not alone.

"To be in an abusive relationship, it takes a strong person," Brazee said. "We tell a lot of victims, you are a strong woman, look what you've been through.' If you think about how many times they've sustained abuse, they are a strong person.

"You can move on from this and there are resources out there. And be a good role model for the kids. Kids are the number one reason why they stay and why they leave."

Contact Rose Luna at rluna@kdhnews.com

Families In Crisis Inc. 24-hour hotline:

Killeen: 634-1184

Toll Free: 888-799-SAFE (7233)

National Domestic Violence Web site:

www.ndvh.org

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