AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — October is domestic violence awareness and prevention month, and local law enforcement and Family Support Services are working to stop it from happening in our community.

Amarillo Police Department Sgt. Carla Burr said their officers go out on multiple family violence calls every day. She said they have two full-time domestic violence squads working to protect vulnerable people in the community.

“It’s one of those crimes that so many people, even in 2023, still say, ‘It’s a family issue, and we should not get involved in family issues,'” Sgt. Burr said. “Consistently, you see people under reporting it.”

She said in many cases, people are yelling or screaming at each other and cannot resolve the issue themselves, so they call the police.

“But then there’s also the ones where one of them ends up assaulting the other one, or they both end up assaulting each other, or, you know, guns are threatened, violence is threatened, the house is destroyed, the property is destroyed.”

According to Burr, domestic violence deaths in Amarillo are relatively low. However, in 2019, six people died from domestic violence. In 2020, there were two deaths. She said there were five deaths each in 2021 and 2022. So far in 2023, there have been three deaths from domestic violence.

“I don’t know the individual circumstances, but it’s still people that lost their lives, because they didn’t get what they needed,” she continued.

When asked about the signs of domestic violence, Burr said they could include emotional abuse, repeated vandalism of someone’s property during or after fights, intimidation, and physically restraining someone from leaving a place.

“It doesn’t always mean it’s going to go to abuse, but it is a sign to look for, that there’s something going on that you need to seek, at least, ‘Let’s step back, let’s talk about this, maybe we get a third party involved, a family counselor,’ and they talk about it and see what the root cause of that is,” Burr added.

Azelin Roberts, the volunteer advocate coordinator at Family Support Services, said isolation is another important sign to watch for. She said when a domestic violence survivor is isolated, it removes that person’s support system.

“Then you can move into that physical abuse, and no one’s around to see it, and so then it kind of moves from something that’s really hidden to something that you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing, and so it progressively becomes more violent,” Roberts said.

She also said isolation can look like a number of different behaviors from an abuser.

“So maybe it’s slowly, ‘Oh, you know, your family doesn’t get me,’ or, ‘Why do we always spend so much time with them?'” she continued. ‘Slowly isolating that person from their support system. ‘I don’t like when you go out with your friends, I want you to stay home. Honey, you don’t need to work. You can quit your job. You can stay home.’ That does two things. That isolates the person. That also makes them financially dependent.”

Roberts said when police officers are sent on domestic violence calls, they perform danger assessments. If they are considered “high lethality,” she said that the client is eligible for an emergency safe house.

“Statistics show that leaving is the most dangerous part when leaving an abusive relationship, and that actually goes for law enforcement as well,” Roberts said. “That abuser is losing control of this situation and so at that point, then they’ll go to extremes to keep that control.”

She said it is important for survivors to have a safety plan in place, including a safe person and everything they might physically need to stay independent of their abuser.

“If they’re in a place where they’re able to reach out to us or call our hotline number, we can safety plan with them over the phone if they can’t come in,” Roberts said, noting safety plans are made on a case-by-case basis. “So, just really thinking through all of the things that those of us not in these situations take for granted. I get my wallet, I get my keys every morning, I walk out the door. I don’t think twice about it. In these situations, they’re really having to plan for, ‘What if he takes my car keys? What if they have all my documents?'”

According to Sgt. Burr, it can take some survivors years to finally leave their abusers.

“Counseling helps that and a lot of people are afraid of that, and in some cases, some people are afraid, ‘I can’t afford it,'” Burr said. “But I think you really can’t afford not to.”

Roberts said FSS also provides support groups for survivors. They can also help fill out legal forms and are there to provide emotional support if their clients’ cases go to court.

“We refer out to Legal Aid, you know, if they need support further than our legal expertise here,” Roberts said. “We do have a counseling department at Family Support Services, and so we can get them referred upstairs to our counseling department as well, for more formal counseling.”

Call 806-374-5433 to reach Family Support Services’ 24-hour bilingual hotline.

Health and Help: Resources on the High Plains