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High profile domestic violence cases shed light on silent epidemic

Controversies surrounding former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and others have given rise to domestic violence issues among the public consciousness.

But at its heart, domestic violence is a visitor that darkens the doors of both the wealthy and impoverished alike.

“You can be a pauper and be a victim of domestic violence or you can be a millionaire and still have domestic violence in your home,” said Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram.

“Women who are affected by domestic violence tend to get comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Whether it’s the way you were raised or how you saw your mother treated — sometimes, people tend to think unless they’re taught different that that’s the way you deal with these kinds of problems you have in the home, which is certainly not true.”

Ingram said that domestic violence might be on the rise within Butler County, though it’s difficult for him to pinpoint the cause.

According to weekly police reports obtained from the Greenville Police Department, the Camellia City saw 16 counts of domestic violence in the month of August alone.

The trend is similar around the state of Alabama, with 3,186 domestic violence incidents being reported in 2013 according to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center.

Women accounted for the overwhelming majority of victims, with 21 percent of victims being the wife or ex-wife of the offender, and 47 percent being the girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of the offender.

Despite that, 21 percent of domestic violence victims were males.

Ingram added that the fact that victims often refrain from speaking out about the abuse could cause a disparity between pubic awareness and the number of cases.

“So many times, it escalates,” Ingram said.

“It starts with a slap, and then it starts with two or three slaps, and then it starts with a downright beating, and the next thing you know, somebody’s dead.  Either the victim is dead, or the offender because the victim has enough at some point and kills the offender.”

But officers have gotten some help in diffusing tense situations.

Several years ago, the domestic violence law was changed to allow police officers to make an arrest without the victim being involved in situations where domestic violence has occurred with certain evidence present.

Those placed in jail for domestic violence can’t make bond for 24 hours, allowing for a cool-down period for all parties involved.

But oftentimes, that measure alone fails to address the heart of the problem, according to District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer.

“I think statistics will tell you that most victims go back to their abusers six or seven times before they actually leave,” Tesmer said.

“So many times the abuser has the upper hand because — not always but most of the time — the abuser is a male and he is the breadwinner of the family and is controlling in that nature, so the woman feels trapped.”

Tesmer added that the barriers facing victims are just as often psychological in nature as they are physical or economic, leaving the abused convinced that they have no other choice or that no one else would want them but their abuser.

“And of course, after the abuse takes place, they say ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I won’t ever do it again,’ ‘please let me come back home,’ and that sort of thing,” Tesmer said.

“Usually, I tell my victims that if you’ve got children, and you’re allowing someone to beat you, you’re teaching your children that it’s OK.  It’s teaching your girl children that it’s OK if a man beats you, and you’re teaching your male children that it’s OK for you to beat somebody.”

But there are several options available to victims of domestic violence within Butler County.

“If someone needs assistance in getting out of the house, we can put them in touch with the Family Sunshine Center, and we partner with them to try to find single housing for the victims and their children,” Tesmer said.

“The problem with that is that most of our victims want to stay here in Butler County.  They don’t want to be in Montgomery, but Montgomery is our closest resource.”

“There’s a victims services officer at DHR,” Ingram added.

“The main thing is to let people know that there are resources out there that you can turn to for help with that situation.”

The Family Sunshine Center has a 24-hour crisis line that can be reached at 1-800-650-6522.