Domestic violence is real. A woman will be battered every 15 seconds in the United States. Battering is the number one cause of injury to women, and eight million children are affected by domestic violence.
Nancy Barton is executive director of Sistercare, Inc. She will bring a testimony of over 20 years of experiences to this interview. Barton states she holds no illusions about the all-consuming nature of her profession and the grim statistics that bolster it.
Sistercare is a nonprofit assistance and shelter program for women and children who are victims of domestic crimes. Legal assistance, medical crisis intervention at area hospitals, and support groups inside three women’s hospitals are provided victims.
Barton explains that Sistercare, one of 13 shelter programs in the state, also provides counseling support groups in five Midlands counties, including Newberry, and works with local liaisons to provide education on domestic violence prevention.
“We serve more women in our clinical settings than in shelters. There is such an extreme choice to run from your home unless you absolutely have to. If women do run, Sistercare operates three shelters that can provide a safe haven to plan for the future. The locations are kept confidential,” she said.
Despite the danger, victims are willing to take the risks to leave the abuse. The three Sistercare shelters fielded nearly 3,346 hot line calls last year. We admit approximately 500 battered women and their children annually, but the demand is outpacing our supply. Last year Sistercare turned away 142 victims due to unavailable space. Families that were served in community-based programs—8,013. Volunteer hours contributed—7,199.
“South Carolina has one of the worst records in the nation when it comes to deaths from domestic violence.
According to “When Men Murder Women, an analysis of 2010 homicide data” released by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., South Carolina ranks number two in the nation for the number of women killed by men. This announcement coincides with the beginning of domestic violence Awareness Month in the United States, which was in October.
This report is based on information obtained from the most recent Supplementary Homicide Report data submitted to the FBI. The numbers for 2010 are the most recent statistics available, and the ranking is calculated according to the homicide rate per 100,000 people in the state.
For homicides in which the age of the victim was reported (45 homicides), five victims were 65 years or older. The average was 41 years old. Out of 46 female homicide victims, 17 were black, 1 was American Indian, and 28 were white.
For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 100 percent of female victims (44 out of 44) were murdered by someone they knew. No female victims were killed by a stranger. Of the victims who knew their offenders, 70 percent (31) victims were wives, common-wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends of the offenders.
Statistics reveal only a sliver of the story. Underlying the numbers are the somber stories of people whose homes are no longer havens. The women, who know isolation, fear and the fear of physical harm, children who “walk on eggshells” and witness debilitating acts of violence in their homes.
A goal of Sistercare is to keep those people—real people in the community who may be your neighbors, relatives or fellow churchgoers—at the forefront. “Daily our staff assess the situations, provide counseling, help the victim maneuver the legal system, work with children and, ultimately, search for a way to end the cycle of family violence.
The Sistercare staff of seasoned professionals bears the brunt of the emotional roller coaster domestic violence represents. Counselors who have survived battering often provide the most powerful example to those in crisis.
“I recall once overhearing a worker relate her own story to a caller on the crisis line. She said, ‘I have six children, and I can tell you with every pregnancy the domestic violence got worse.’ She said it so whole -heart felt because she lived it,” said Barton.
Among the most wrenching cases was the 1994 murder of Vickie Lander Beckham from Newberry County, who was killed in a murder-for-hire by her husband, Steve Beckham.
Jane Doe, a survivor of domestic violence from Newberry County, says the worst part about the abuse by her husband of 20 years was seeing the terror on her child’s face when the yelling began Her daughter was an outgoing, happy child before the violence. She now clings to her mom, afraid to leave her side. There are cries heard in homes throughout our community; the sounds of women and children pursuing safety in the sanctity of their own homes.
In the worst case scenario, women stay and endure the abuse because the chances of her being killed are 75 percent if she leaves. Children are killed too, or forced to see their mother murdered. It is for the protection of their children that many women stay in abusive relationships. These battered women think they can manage abusive behavior, or at least confine the focus solely on themselves by staying in the relationship.
In her 21 years as executive director of Sistercare, Inc., those stories and the women who peopled them, have kept Barton going all of her professional life. Her prize is making a difference in the lives of women and children, some of whom arrive at Sistercare shelters desperate to begin the uncertain journey toward lives without violence.
For me, it’s a life’s work. I offer the following advice to readers of this piece of writing:
If in an abusive relationship, reach out and talk with someone who is safe, to break the silence. Seek services from professional victim’s advocate or domestic violence program. Remember, no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship; you cannot change the abusive controlling person. Only that person is responsible and able to change; you did not cause the abuse or controlling behavior; and everyone has a right to live free of domestic and dating violence and stalking.
Some people think their children don’t know about the abuse in the home. That is rarely the case. The primary risk factor for becoming a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence is growing up in a home with domestic violence. Society needs to hold abusers accountable for abusive behavior rather than expecting victims to keep themselves safe.
October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Help us help victims of domestic violence by sharing information about Sistercare services in Newberry County with women and children who may be in danger.
If you or someone needs crisis counseling or an emergency medical crisis, call 24- hour service line 803-765-9328 or the crisis line in Columbia at 1-800-637-7606, 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
The local Newberry number is 321-2155, extension 191.