Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help available for you in our community and beyond. Call 911 or Family Support Services Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24 hours a day, 806-374-5433. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.
If you think you are being stalked, call 911. This safety plan is also available from the Stalking Prevention Awareness Resource Center.
AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) —Because of how domestic violence crimes are reported, the most recent data are from several years ago and show that the number of domestic violence homicides is low.
But local law enforcement and victim advocates who respond to domestic violence calls, right now, say they are seeing those cases more and more, and are implementing new tools to track those cases and get victims help.
In Texas, according to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 228 people were killed by their intimate partner in 2020.
In Amarillo the number of domestic violence incidents that end in homicide fluctuates.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our homicides here in Amarillo are domestic violence-related,” said Sgt. Carla Burr with the Amarillo Police Department.
Family Support Services Advocacy Director, Michelle Shields agrees, “Amarillo has kind of had an ebb and flow with domestic violence,” she said. “Probably six, seven years ago, we were leading the state and domestic violence homicides. And then we started to take some action as a community. And we saw that decrease, but we have seen the lethality starting to kind of creep up again, on the homicides.”
On April 1, 2022, law enforcement agencies adopted a new lethality assessment tool connecting high-risk victims with FSS advocates, within minutes.
“They have the victim answer questions, and then it determines whether that victim is in like immediate danger of further violence. And if so, then they make sure that victim knows, here are all the resources out there, like a shelter, counseling, all the different agencies in our community, all of this for you. So that you can prevent or so we can all do our best to keep you from being abused again, because it’s an immediate, you know, issue that could happen,” Sgt. Burr said.
Shields says this hands-on engagement with victims, has proven to save lives, “The thing that is really different is that we know that the greatest protective factor is a survivor having access to services immediately. And so that officer explaining to them that they need to be getting safety and services is another way of linking them to us. And there’s a trusting communication that’s happening that’s telling them that law enforcement believes we’re going to be able to help them.”
Shields says this tool may help identify other illegal behaviors, as well,
“With stalking, I think even victim services may have always been like on the back seat burner, to the person experiencing physical violence. But I think this information that we’re having we received and I think the screening tool that we have available, validates it in a really different way.”
Shields hopes the new lethality assessment will work to give law enforcement and prosecutors more information about the domestic violence calls so that stalking can be prosecuted more often.
Stalking crimes are even more difficult to quantify than domestic violence because often, that crime is combined with other domestic violence charges so it isn’t reported on its own, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. This new assessment tool takes note of those stalking behaviors, specifically.
“It’s able to compile like all of these acts of stalking, you know, the driving by the house multiple times like all the text messaging, we see that in intimate partner violence, we see it in sexual violence all the time. I mean, that’s a tactic that really wears down our victims. And so I do think that there’s room for us to do better as a community, when it comes to stalking and to see the fear and the damage it can cause,” Shields said.
Sgt. Burr said stalking and domestic violence incidents can happen to anyone–Any race, gender, and socioeconomic standing.
“A lot of really intelligent, smart, successful people get into relationships with people in their life, then they’re in an abusive relationship. And they’re like, I can’t tell anybody this is happening to me, because they’re gonna go, what the heck? What were you thinking?” Sgt. Burr said.
Shields says being ashamed of the circumstance is often a barrier that keeps victims from reaching out for help.
“I have worked with incredibly strong, powerful women who are helping build programs to empower women and to have safe lives, that are experiencing abuse in their own home and being dragged down the hallway by their hair at night,” Shields said.
Both Shields and Sgt. Burr said while law enforcement, perpetrators, and victims have roles in lowering the domestic violence rate, our community has to step up, too.
“That’s the other thing is people aren’t well, it’s not in my business until it happens to me. But you know, that’s not true. I mean, as a community, we should be looking out for each other” Sgt. Burr said.
If not speaking up to law enforcement, saying something about inappropriate behavior you may have seen can help the victim, too.
“One of the greatest things you can do is sometimes just sit with someone in their hurt and their pain, and validate that,” Shields said, “When someone expresses something to that you, just sitting with them, and hearing that, and validating it can really give somebody strength to maybe make a change in their life and create some safety.”
Sgt. Burr said a major indicator of future violence is threatening violence by hitting walls or throwing furniture, and if your intimate partner is doing that… It is time to get help.
If you’re concerned that you might be in an abusive relationship, there is help for you here in our community.