Taking Steps to Curb the Domestic Violence Epidemic

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

YWCA CEO Yolanda Sullivan expresses her frustration and anger with the domestic violence-related killings that have happened in Birmingham throughout the year. (Ariel Worthy/Birmingham Times)
YWCA CEO Yolanda Sullivan expresses her frustration and anger with the domestic violence-related killings that have happened in Birmingham throughout the year. (Ariel Worthy/Birmingham Times)

 

Coral Wilson’s son couldn’t believe he had been shot by his father.

Wilson’s angry ex-husband had gone on a rampage after she filed a restraining order against him. Wilson and four of her children were shot after he became enraged because he couldn’t see his kids.

Wilson’s death, the 13th domestic violence–related murder in Jefferson County this year, sparked rallies and caused organizations like the One Place Family Justice Center (FJC) to spring into action.

“Enough is enough!” said Yolanda Sullivan, YWCA Central Alabama chief executive officer, during a May 10 rally at Kelly Ingram Park.

Just this week, according to the Shelby County sheriff ‘s office, a 36-year-old Calera man was arrested in the murder of his 31-year-old wife. At the time of his wife’s death, the man, who is in jail on a $1 million bond, was the subject of a protection from abuse order pending in Montgomery County, according to published reports.

A number of steps are underway to help curb the epidemic.

The FJC—a collaboration among the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office, the YWCA Central Alabama, the Birmingham Police Department, and the Crisis Center Inc.—is now open four days a week (Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to help victims escape violent relationships.

“It really is about escaping,” said FJC Executive Director Allison Dearing. “It takes a lot to get out of a domestic violence situation.”

Takes a Toll

LaShondra Dansby, who lost two family members to domestic violence, said witnessing the cruelty while growing up affected her as an adult.

“I had posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and I had problems showing love to my own children,” said Dansby, who has two daughters. “It takes a toll on everybody involved. I think it’s awesome that the Y provides counseling for children.”

For the longest, Dansby said she would not let her children hug her around her neck.

“I would instantly go into fight mode if anyone got near my neck,” she said.

Dansby’s mother, Frances Dansby, and her brother, Allen Dansby, were killed by her father. (See “Witness to Abuse … Beginning at Age 2.”)

Dansby recalled always being in and out of the YWCA shelter with her mother and brother as a kid. Even when they would move out, her father would always find them.

One time after they went through transitional housing, their father showed up.

“We were happy, enjoying our life, finally, and he showed up,” Dansby said. “He snatched the screen door open and cursed saying, ‘Get your bags! Let’s go!’”

When it comes to escaping domestic violence, people often give advice on what a victim should do, but they never consider all possible causes.

“You always get different people who say what victims should have and could have done, and what they would have done,” Dansby said. “‘Why didn’t she leave?’ is what they always ask. What do you tell the people who do leave and their abuser finds them every time?”

According to Dearing, people who are close to and care for the victims oftentimes do not react correctly in the situation, even though they mean well.

“Sometimes abusers will sabotage the relationships a victim has so that they are disconnected from any support system,” Dearing said. “When family members get frustrated and say things like, ‘Don’t call me again in the middle of the night’ or ‘I’m not going through this with you again,’ it plays into the what the abuser wants.”

“There is so much more to escaping and staying safe and being self-sufficient when you’ve been a victim of domestic violence,” Dearing said. “It’s not a quick-leave situation. You have to make sure you have somewhere safe to go.”

Awareness

Brandon Falls, district attorney for Jefferson County and president of the FJC’s board of directors, is familiar with domestic violence cases. One, in particular, stood out to him.

“A case I prosecuted when I was in the office for less than two years,” Falls recalled. “It was before the passage of domestic violence laws [in 2000]. The victim’s boyfriend got her into the passenger seat of her minivan. He drove her around all day and wouldn’t let her go. He would periodically take her head and bash it into the dashboard of the vehicle. She suffered really serious injuries. Had that man been charged under the current domestic violence laws, he would have faced a much longer prison sentence.”

There are so many resources available now, and Dearing believes more domestic violence incidents are being heard.

Falls said he does not think the number of domestic violence cases have increased, but that the number of homicides have drawn attention to the issue.

“We do hope the awareness we have tried to bring will encourage more victims to reach out for services that can help them get out of a domestic violence situation,” Falls said.

Help Is Available

The FJC is a one-stop service for domestic violence victims. The organization provides shelter, counseling, medical assistance, and transportation, as well as help with legal services—including filing police reports and working with counsel.

Falls said there has to be a higher level of support for domestic violence victims because they are not like other victims.

“If it’s a robbery, the victim probably will never see the person again,” Falls said. “A domestic violence victim sees their offender first thing in the morning and last thing at night.”

The FJC tries to protect victims as much as possible—even online. Their website, oneplacefjc.org, features a Quick Exit button that diverts the victim to YouTube and erases the site’s browsing history.

The FJC also helps victims of sexual violence.

“Often, when you think about tools a person uses to control a partner, sexual violence is very often part of that,” Dearing said.

Dansby recalls the last time she saw her mother.

“She left the house, and I kept hearing a car running outside,” Dansby said. “After about 15 minutes, I looked out the window and saw my mom sitting in the car. When I looked out the window, she looked up at me and smiled. She backed the car out, pulled off, and drove over the hill. That was the last time I saw my mom.”

When it comes to relationships, Dansby said she always remembers her mother’s advice.

“She would always tell me, ‘If they look, act, or play like they want to put their hands on you, run. Don’t look back. You can’t change them, they mean it. Don’t look back.’”