Domestic violence experts speak

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Jane Taylor, coordinator of the United Family Services Battered Women's Shelter in Charlotte, and Marie Brodie, domestic violence training consultant from Raleigh, answer questions about domestic violence.

1. Do we see an increase in domestic violence incidents in an economic downturn?

"We have been at capacity all year with a huge demand on our services. It did not just start. Economic stability is and has always been the key to a victim's ability to get out and stay out. Money is an abuser's weapon that he knows is the key and we always deal with the economics of relationships." (Taylor)

"We can expect to see an increase in DV as the economy worsens. Adding the stress of economic hard times on an already stressful situation will make it worse — like throwing gasoline on a fire. Also, as people lose jobs, they are often at home together, and there is more contact between spouses/partners and this gives the abuser more opportunities to be violent. This is part of the reason that you see an increase in violence during a plant shutdown or high unemployment. Another element is when you have a male abuser who adheres to strong gender stereotypes, then the expectation is that he is the primary breadwinner. If that shifts or changes, it can contribute to his desire to exert more authority over the family as he feels that his power and masculinity are being threatened." (Brodie)

2. Over the past few weeks there have been a number of homicides in Charlotte that are attributed to domestic violence; what more should and needs to be done to save victims?

"We have been having this many murders every year. It is just startling when they come this close together. We deal with women and children every day that are in situations that could be deadly at any time. This is the reality for all the families we work with. It has put us a little more on alert when we consider a situation for shelter. "(Taylor)

"By-stander behavior is so important. Victims usually turn to a friend or family member long before they turn to professionals for help. How an individual responds to a victim can make an important difference between hiding in secrecy/shame and reaching out for more help and services. Key statements that you can make to a loved one who is being harmed by an intimate partner: 'I believe you. I will go with you to get help. I will listen. What do you need? How can I help out?' " (Brodie)

3. Are services in Mecklenburg County suffering because of the poor economy? If so, what can citizens do to help and what services are suffering?

"I think everyone is suffering with the economic situation. We are only seeing the start of budget cuts and people pulling back from giving. There are a lot of issues that impact domestic violence, and unemployment is certainly one of them. All the shelters are full and putting hardships on services." (Taylor)

"How's this for a visual?

The shelters can always use help and support. A donation as simple as books for children or toilet paper can help. The amount of toilet paper our 29-bed shelter goes through in one week would stretch along Highway 49 from Concord to the Buster Boyd Bridge." (Mike Sexton, Mecklenburg County Public Services & Information representing CSS Women's Commission)

4. Do you think changes made to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department's Domestic Violence unit has hurt?

"We have worked for many years developing a DV unit and had become the example to the state. Richmond, Va., (previous home to our present police chief) sent members of their DV unit here to learn from our unit. Our new police chief felt it was important to have a unit there. We were looking forward to building ours up more when he got here, not dismantled. I agree we need more police on the streets but DV does not happen on the streets; it happens in the homes. This was a unit that understood the issues, was going after the repeat callers, working with the shelter and other players. Now when a woman calls the CMPD she could get any sort of response. Just this week in our support group the ladies were talking about this. One woman said she was told if she called CMPD again there were going to arrest her. Another one said when she called CMPD they walked right past her and went directly to her husband to talk to him. We could always count on the DV unit to help us in certain situations of need for our residents. We don’t have that now. We lost the feeling of understanding and non-judgmental working relationship." (Taylor)

"Absolutely. Those trained, skilled officers were making a difference in people's lives. Domestic violence is a difficult crime to understand and can be a dangerous call for officers to respond to. For the safety of Charlotte citizens and the safety of our law enforcement, we need trained officers responding to domestic violence calls as often as possible. Also, by having a designated unit for domestic violence, we are making a statement to victims, abusers, and the community that Charlotte does not tolerate domestic violence. We need that statement to be loud and clear, now more than ever." (Brodie)

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