By Juli Probasco-Sowers
Perry Chief Editor
Domestic abuse doesn’t always present itself with a black eye and bruises. Victims often remain silent for years without any or many outward signs.
Eventually, many people who are suffering abuse find the strength to leave on their own, someone else intervenes, such as friends, family or law enforcement. Worse yet, some of the victims and abusers come to light when a victim dies because of the abuse. In Dallas County 40 percent of reported domestic abuse cases are reported in the city limits of Perry. Since May of 2012, there have been 294 reported cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault and homelessness combined. The numbers are tracked and provided by the Crises Intervention & Advocacy Center (CIAC) in Adel. Of that number, 239 cases were reported as domestic abuse, 35 as sexual abuse and 20 as homeless individuals. CIAC Executive Director Johna Sullivan said the center covers all three situations because they are often related. Sexual abuse is counted separately in part because statistically 70 percent of sexual abuse happened to females between the age of 13 and 17 in their own homes. Homelessness in many cases comes about because of domestic abuse.
There are a number of reasons Perry ranks at the top, including Perry having the largest population of any other town in the county; willingness by the Perry Police Department to make arrests in domestic abuse cases, as well as provide domestic abuse intervention material to victims or suspected victims; and zero tolerance for domestic abuse amongst the police in Perry; and having a community responsive to domestic abuse issues.
Sullivan said local support is crucial. "We have a good relationship with law enforcement officers. We get the largest number of referrals to our services from the Perry police department compared to other law enforcement agencies in the county," she said. "That speaks volumes about their commitment to keeping people safe in their community. They understand domestic violence and the law."
She explained that it wasn’t that other police departments or the Dallas County Sherriff’s Office isn’t good to work with as well, but resources and training opportunities can be limited for smaller departments.
Sullivan and Perry Police Chief Dan Brickner started the CIAC, along with the work of others in the county in 1994. They both do presentations in the school systems and continually take domestic abuse training to keep up their skills and knowledge.
Services provided through CIAC include 24-hour crisis line; safety planning for victims; follow-up counseling, medical accompaniment; individual counseling; legal/medical advocacy; court accompaniment; personal advocacy, information and referral; compensation information; group counseling; emergency financial assistance; interpretation and translation; transitional housing; and emergency housing.
Brickner said he is extremely grateful for the response work done by CIAC employees.
"They come as soon as we call them. They help the victim come up with a safety plan. They remove the victim from the community to a safe haven and much, much more," he said. "That’s not to say we always see things eye-to-eye, but we do work together well."
Perry Police do take a zero-tolerance stand on domestic abuse or potential domestic abuse calls. "Those types of calls have the highest rate of injury to for responding officers because we just don’t know what exactly we are walking into," he said.
Making a difference for domestic abuse victims is one reason Brickner got into law enforcement. "I guess one of the main reasons is that I don’t like people bullying other people around because they are bigger and stronger."
Often in cases of domestic abuse, there may not be outward signs of abuse, Brickner said. Often it is a matter of need to control the victim. The male half (usually perpetrators are male, with some exceptions) wants to control who the woman can talk with, where she can go, makes sure she has no money or means of transportation. "You would not believe what some of the abuser’s I’ve seen have done to their victims."
A personal motivation for him was the death of a childhood friend. They had grown up playing together, the families went camping together, visited each other’s homes and more.
"She became a nurse and got married to a sheriff’s deputy. I never knew she was a victim of domestic violence until her husband killed her," he said.
The most dangerous time for a victim is the point she chooses to leave an abusive relationship, Brickner said.
Often the choice to get away from an abuser is a long-term struggle. Sullivan noted that statistically it takes a victim five to seven tries before they actually leave an abuser for good.
Brickner talked about how important it is to break that cycle of violence, not only for the short-term, but long into the future, particularly when there are children involved.
"There is no way to tell how many people we’ve saved from a live of being an abuser because we helped stop abuse in the home when they were children. But, It can be tough for a victim to take that step to leave," he said.
There is a victim mind-set, there is low self-esteem, lack of money and support. Sometimes a woman gets out of one abusive relationship and into another. "That can be very frustrating for law enforcement," Brickner said.
CIAC doesn’t take part in the investigation, but they provide lots of resources and work as advocates to help the victim through education and assistance.
Not all calls to the Perry Police Department about domestic abuse turn out to be founded (true), but many do and result in charges ranging from simple misdemeanors to domestic abuse assault. The numbers of domestic abuse calls made by the police department and the number of cases handled in Perry reported by CIAC differ for a number of reasons. Police will hand out crisis intervention information if they go to an unrelated call, but suspect someone may be in a domestic abuse situation. Some calls come from rural residents and others straight to crisis intervention.
"One of the most important things we do," Brickner said, "is to educate the public about reporting suspected abuse."
Look for the signs, and if it looks like a person is being abused, call family member, a friend close to that person or law enforcement, he said. "It is better to take that precaution than to feel badly later if something happens," Brickner added.
CIAC does not run a safe house in Dallas County because places designated as safe houses only work in the short-term, Sullivan said. "They are not set up to help get women back on their feet," Sullivan. Because of that, the group owns and runs transitional housing in Perry, particularly geared toward victims with families. People can stay for up to two years under specific criteria which includes working and paying rent that is on a sliding fee scale.
If a resident is going to school he or she does not have to pay rent while in school. Also while they are there, they continue to receive support and assistance from CIAC.
Peggy Coleman of Perry is the Transitional Housing Coordinator for CIAC. "I’ve been doing this for less than two years and I’ve already seen what it can do for the people who stay there. I work with them on things like finances, how to create a routine for the family and more," she said.
"We want them to learn to be successful members of society and reach the point where they can go out on their own," Coleman said.