When you think of terrorists, you may think of someone in another country plotting attacks against civilians, but domestic violence here at home is terrorism too, according to a local mental health professional.
The aggressor in a domestic violence situation commonly uses fear to manipulate and control the victim or victims, which is what a terrorist does, said Tim Perry, division director for children and youth for Frontier Health.
“You know, domestic violence is a form of terrorism,” Perry said.
Women are the most common victims of domestic violence, though anyone can be abused. Often children are the victims.
“There is a good bit of children who are traumatized by domestic violence,” Perry said.
Perry cited statistics that indicate 15.5 million children in the United States have been in a domestic violence situation. That number does not reflect unreported instances, only those where intervention has occurred.
According to the Domestic Violence National Statistics website, a woman is battered in this country every 15 seconds by her husband, boyfriend or live-in-partner; domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, and these injuries are more common than those caused by vehicle crashes, muggings and rapes combined; and research has indicated that half of all women will experience some form of violence from their partners during marriage, and that one-third are repeatedly battered each year.
These statistics and more information can be found at www.ncadv.org.
Tennessee in particular has high numbers of domestic violence instances, according to statistics gathered by Tina Johnson, program director for SAFE House, a program funded by a state and federal grant as well as United Way funding. SAFE House operates under the umbrella of Frontier Health to provide assistance for victims of domestic abuse.
Johnson cited a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report that indicated more women are reportedly killed by men in this state than in the majority of the country.
Additionally, according to the TBI study, around 85,000 domestic violence instances happen each year in the state; out of every 100,000 women, 1.91 were killed by men in Tennessee.
Last year SAFE House provided shelter to or assisted via a hotline 300 victims of domestic violence in this region. Shelter was given to 72 women and 51 children, according to numbers from Johnson.
Domestic violence can occur at any socioeconomic level and among any demographic of the population, but there are some contributing factors that Perry said are common. Poverty is an aggravating factor, as is substance abuse, parents or guardians who were abused as children and mental illness.
Victims of domestic violence who become involved with Frontier Health are provided a safe location through the SAFE House program as the first order of business. After safety has been established, family and individual therapy is offered, because domestic violence is traumatic, Perry said.
Perry said the counseling and therapy helps instill self confidence, self reliance and coping skills while victims re-establish themselves and develop plans for the future.
Children are particularly affected by domestic violence in that it can alter their development. Traumatic experiences from an abusive situation can be carried over into the teen years and adulthood. Perry said the good news is that research has shown that the earlier someone intervenes in a domestic violence situation, the more likely children are to not experience long term effects.
Domestic violence victims, especially children, have high anxiety, depression, a tendency to act out and have poor coping skills.
“They often live in a state of constant fear,” Perry said. “Many children blame themselves because they feel that it’s their fault their parents are fighting and all this violence.”
But leaving an abusive situation is very hard, Perry noted.
Perry said it is easy for people from the outside to make assumptions about what to do in a domestic violence situation, but it is a lot more difficult to free yourself from that kind of environment because the victim has often been controlled into a state of perceived helplessness.
“So breaking that cycle is a very difficult thing and it’s hard for a woman or child to break free from that,” Perry said. “It’s a very difficult place for a woman to be in and without support, encouragement and people out there to help them, it can become very difficult to get out of that situation.”
Still, leaving a violent home life begins with that first phone call, Perry said. Besides Frontier Health, there are other options for victims of domestic violence.
“Amidst the despair of it there is hope for families that are in a domestic violence situation,” Perry said.
Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said when officers of his department respond to domestic violence situations, they advise victims of their right to be safe and will transport victims to a safe location. He also said officers will serve orders of protection against offenders. Victims may also receive bond release notifications, which will alert victims if an offender is released from custody and allow them to get to a safe location.
Tilson also said local law enforcement turns to the CHIPS Family Violence Shelter organization when confronted with domestic violence situations. CHIPS — an acronym for Change is Possible — is located in Erwin and serves Unicoi, Carter and Greene counties.
CHIPS Community Educator Elaine King said the organization’s mission is to provide services and shelter to victims of and children involved in domestic violence situations that will “enable them to begin a life free of violence.”
King said CHIPS offers 24-hour crisis counseling, a safe, confidential shelter for victims, a court advocate to help guide victims through the legal process, case planning and referral to the appropriate support services. King also said education about domestic violence is crucial, and she often visits organizations, such as schools, to provide this education.
“A lot of people are not aware of the effects and, for a lot of people, if it’s not right in their families, they kind of dismiss it or ignore it,” she said. “I just try to bring awareness to the fact that it does exist and the effects it has, not only on families, the victims, but also on the community.”
King said CHIPS also provides workshops for victims to educate them on what to look for with healthy relationships and warning signs of a possibly abusive person.
While King said CHIPS has a good working relationship with both the Erwin Police Department and Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department, she said victims not wishing to involve the police can still turn to CHIPS for assistance. She said CHIPS does not contact the authorities unless child abuse is suspected.
King also said a victim of domestic violence who leaves may return to the situation five to seven times, but added that CHIPS is always there for victims whenever needed.
“A lot of times we’ll have victims who just want to talk, they just want information,” she said. “Anyone who calls us or comes to our office, everything is strictly confidential. We share information with no one.”
CHIPS can be reached at its Erwin office at 743-0022 or via its 24-hour hotline at 388-8281.
An information box with resources for victims accompanies this article.
The best way for a victim to reach SAFE House is to call Contact Concern 211 or 246-2273. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can locate and direct the caller to a shelter anywhere in the United States. That number is 800-799-SAFE (7233).