Domestic violence is more than law enforcement issue ---- Advocates speak out on problems facing the abused

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Survivor Vena Isis Parker sang the praises of those who aid domestic violence victims when speaking at a conference in Berryville Thursday.

"I'm your typical statistic," she told the group. "I repeatedly went back to my abuser."

Parker was one of several speakers at the domestic violence conference scheduled in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

She said it was a doctor who finally convinced her she would be killed if she continued returning. Instead of repeating her mistakes, Parker said she entered a shelter, where she was "welcomed with open arms."

After her abuser found her, Parker said she had to leave the area, her family and friends, and live under an assumed name.

"I was blessed the people at the shelters were willing to help me, hold me, let me scream and cry. They gave me hope," she said. "He had taken my identity away. But, I went back to school and got my master's degree. I had won. I had lived through the fear. I speak to victims and say 'you too can be a survivor.'"

According to statistics, Parker is not alone. Nearly one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

Statistics also point out that Parker's fears were real. Nationally, 30 percent of all female murder victims are slain by husbands or boyfriends, and in Arkansas, that figure rises to 68 percent.

Judith Selle, with the Peace at Home Family Shelter in Fayetteville, said there are safe havens and support systems in place to assist victims, such as three nearby shelters, the domestic violence advocate at St. John's Hospital in Berryville, special court appointed advocates, a children's safety center, a crisis center, and the victim assistance program at the prosecuting attorney's office in Berryville.

Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers said, "I thank Judi. She's made us realize this is not just a law enforcement issue. We need to make people aware, and make use of the resources and services available.

"A lot of times, victims have to make ends meet. We see that over and over again. That's why people go back to abusive relationships.

"I compliment our law enforcement departments," he continued. "They do a good job of responding promptly. And our victim witness coordinator, Robin Arnold. She was doing it all and a fantastic job."

He said Dorothy Crookshank, the domestic violence advocate at St. John's, has provided relief by filing orders of protection and other services.

"Dorothy helps out a lot," he said. "Now, Robin helps me stay in touch with victims.

"The big problem," he added, "is staying after it. Domestic violence is everywhere, everywhere people live together."

Carroll County Sheriff Chuck Medford agreed, saying, "Domestic violence is a problem everywhere. We have more than our share. We're normally the first officials to come on the scene. In the past, we'd fly by the seat of our pants trying to find a place for victims to go. I've very supportive of this program. They give us relief."

Selle introduced others involved in the victim support system and said, "We have no shelter here. For the time being, we have three great shelters nearby, funded in part with federal funds administered the the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. What we really need is volunteers to provide transportation to the shelters."

Selle also noted that additional resources will be sought to fill in the gaps. To this end, both Arnold and Green Forest Police Sgt. Brad Handley will be traveling to Anaheim, Calif., to attend a national conference where a wealth of information on funding opportunities will be available.

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