By Beth Lawrence
Domestic violence is not only beatings; it takes many forms and occurs in all socioeconomic classes, at all educational ranks and can happen to anyone.
“We’ve seen it at different levels; it’s not just your poor communities,” said Lt. Detective Aimee Watson of Sylva Police Department. “I don’t think domestic violence cares what your income is or what race you are or any of that; men can be victims just as well as women. It can happen in all circumstances. It doesn’t discriminate.”
According to chapter 50 B of state statutes, domestic violence can consist of causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, threats, placing a victim or their family in fear of “imminent or serious bodily injury”, or causing or attempting to cause “serious” emotional distress.
“Abusers do not always show signs of abusive or controlling behaviors early on, many times controlling or abusive behaviors appear as the relationship advances ... In every instance of intimate partner violence, the abuser acts to maintain ‘power and control over their partner,’” Crystal Justice, chief marketing officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline said.
Abuse can manifest as beatings, shoving, and other acts of physical aggression or emotional manipulation. It can take on other forms such as control of the victim’s daily life and or finances.
Cases of physical violence can often be exacerbated by drug or alcohol abuse, Watson said.
When officers respond to a call where spousal abuse is alleged they, treat it much like any other crime examining the scene – including physical signs on the victim and taking statements from witnesses and involved parties, Watson said.
“Domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous calls any officer can go on,” Watson said.
Not only is the victim at risk, any officer seen as interfering could be at risk as well.
“You have two officers respond,” Watson said. “When they arrive on scene, they assess the situation and make sure there is no immediate danger to anyone, separate the parties and talk to both and any eyewitnesses.”
Officers are required to document any physical marks or lack of marks on the victim during the investigation.
Legally, law enforcement is required to make an arrest if there is evidence to show some form of abuse has occurred whether or not the victim wants to press charges, Watson said.
The alleged abuser will be placed on a 48-hour hold.
When a child is present, law enforcement is compelled, by law, to call the Department of Social Services even if the child was not injured in the incident.
People in relationships can protect themselves by paying attention to warning signs, Watson said.
“If you’re in a dating relationship, even one act of violence toward you, that is a sign,” she said. “Most offenders say, ‘I’m sorry; it won’t happen again.’ It usually does happen again; over time it will progress.”
Watson recommends paying close attention to the behaviors of a significant other. Pay attention to how they react to stressful situations or manage their anger. Those behaviors could be indicators of a problem.
Friends, family and acquaintances can help by paying attention to warning signs such as frequent bruises or other injuries, isolation from friends and family, wearing excessive makeup or wearing scarves or long sleeves in hot weather, Watson said.
If someone sees an incident they believe to be domestic violence occurring, they should call law enforcement.
“Officers can get there, assess the situation and take necessary action,” Watson said. “We would rather there was a report and find out things are not exactly as (the callers) say they are than for them not to report it and have something happen.”
In Watson’s time as a Sylva police officer, there were three deaths as a result of domestic violence.
From July 2015 to June 2016, there were 101,940 domestic violence related calls for service across North Carolina, and Jackson County received 526 calls in that time, according to a report from the North Carolina Council for Women.
Jackson County served 155 clients between those dates, while statewide domestic violence services assisted 48,601 families in need.
In 2017, Resources, Education, Assistance, Counseling, Housing of Macon County served 169 Jackson County residents, and in 2018, REACH served 228 clients from Jackson County, Heather Baker board president for the Center for Domestic Peace said.
When a spouse or partner is ready to leave an abusive situation, police can help by providing information about services available to aid victims of abuse or information on where to obtain counseling, Watson said.
REACH of Macon provides coverage for victims in Jackson County and has worked in conjunction with Center for Domestic Peace since 2013. CDP is making steps to take over coordinating services for Jackson residents.
REACH and CDP help victims and their families by providing assistance with emergency provisions such as food, infant supplies, job and life skills training and emergency shelter services.
REACH coordinated emergency shelter for 56 Jackson County residents in 2017 and 31 in 2018.
“REACH has a wonderful facility that provides emergency shelter to victims of domestic violence in Jackson County,” Baker said. “The shelter is located in Macon County, so if it would be a hardship due to work or school for a victim to be sheltered in Macon County, REACH provides emergency shelter by way of ... Jackson County.”
After the immediate danger has passed, REACH supports victims through the legal process from obtaining a domestic violence protective order to advocacy during court appearances.
CDP/REACH is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Offices are located at 26 Ridgeway St. The phone number and 24 hour safe line is 586-8969.
Those in need can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
With a database of more than 5,000 vetted national, state and local agencies across America, the hotline works to coordinate services at the local level for women who reach out to them. For information, call 800-799-7233. The hotline also offers services for speech and hearing impaired, call the TTY line at 800-787-3224.