SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — KOLR10 News begins another Courageous Conversation about a critical issue facing families in the Ozarks – domestic abuse.
Springfield and southwest Missouri often see more cases of domestic abuse than some larger metro areas in our state.
What causes it? How can we stop or prevent it? Where can victims get help?
These are some of the many questions we hope to answer in the next several weeks.
Tonight, we begin by hearing from a survivor, and those who face the problem first-hand, every day.
“The first time he hit me I had gone out with some friends, and he was in my home once I got there. And as soon as I walked in the door he punched me in the face for not clearing it with him,” says abuse survivor Debora Holt.
Deborah Holt’s story sounds like far too many others. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Holt was involved with a man who physically and verbally abused her.
“He bit my hand one time to make me let go of my phone when I was trying to call someone to come and help me move out of the house. I was depressed. I felt ashamed. I felt stupid. Abusers are masters at psychological warfare. They will make you honestly start feeling that you deserve it,” says Holt.
Deborah’s turning point came when her abuser hit her in front of her children.
She fled Philly and didn’t look back, choosing to come to Springfield. She had family here, but her ultimate goal was to put as much distance as possible between her and her abuser.
She sought safety at Harmony House, the only domestic abuse shelter in Springfield and Greene County.
‘It was very different from coming from living in your own home to living with about 60 other women and children. But we all shared that common denominator, we’re all here to heal,” says Holt.
“The number one phrase we hear when victims arrive here at Harmony House. They say almost every time, ‘I slept last night for the first time in a long time,'” says Harmony House Executive Director, Lisa Farmer.
Farmer heads up Harmony House.
A non-profit that was started 40 years ago by women who housed victims in their own homes, the shelter now has 110 beds. Staggering numbers prove the need is great.
“In 2015 we turned away 1905 adults and children. People who came here saying I need help and we did not have a bed” says Farmer.
Farmer says domestic violence is violence that occurs repeatedly in a pattern over time, by the same person, to an intimate partner or someone they share a household with.
The question is, how do we stop the violence and what makes it such an alarming problem in the Ozarks?
“You know, David, that is the million dollar question and I wish I had an answer for you. I think it’s the drugs we have in Springfield. That exacerbates it. Poverty exacerbates it. It doesn’t start it but it makes it worse,” says Farmer.
“It’s much more than what people realize. When you think of over half of our aggravated assaults, serious assaults, involve somebody in some type of relationship, that’s significant,” says Springfield Police Chief, Paul Williams.
Williams says about four years ago his department noticed the uptick in domestic assaults and decided to do something to proactively approach the problem.
After months of analysis, the department pulled together several community groups to help form a family violence task force, hoping that education might lead to a reduction in domestic abuse.
“This is one of those things I think we as a community can have an impact on is a) getting people to realize the extent of the problem [and] b) that people need help to get out of situations that they are in,” says Williams.
Williams also says the department now uses a lethality assessment when responding to domestic abuse calls.
“So, now every officer in the department has been trained when they go on a domestic violence call, it’s a series of questions that the officers ask the victim and through that series of questions you calculate and you can turn to the victim and say based on what you just told me, you are more than likely, based on research, to be the victim of a serious violent crime unless you get out of this relationship,” says Williams.
Thankfully, Deborah Holt was able to get out of such a relationship and found a fresh start.
“My home is peaceful. My sons are happy and healthy. They both play sports. We really enjoy living in Springfield now,” says Holt.
Deborah now works at Harmony House as a donation coordinator, giving back to the program which gave her hope.
But not all domestic abuse victims are as lucky as Deborah, and she has a message for those who may be suffering in silence.
“You’re not stupid. It’s not your fault. You deserve to be happy. And there is life after abuse,” says Holt.
Both Lisa Farmer and Chief Paul Williams told us that even if you think domestic abuse doesn’t affect your life, it affects all of us because so much of it happens in secrecy.
Our goal through this courageous conversation is to bring the issue to light, find possible solutions, and point victims to places where they can get help.