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Greene County has one of the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the state. One person who has experienced that firsthand is a woman we’ll call “Carrie,” since she’s afraid to give her own name. She and her teenage daughter are seeking refuge at a shelter in Springfield after suffering through months of physical and emotional abuse.
She says, “When we were out in the abusive situation, we didn’t know what was coming next and we didn’t know what to look for, so we were like on rock’s edge. We didn’t know if we were going to be fallin’ off the rock or if we were still going to be standin’.”
To end the cycle of domestic violence, the Springfield Police Department has created a task force to look into the problem. It’s also working with victim advocate agencies like Harmony House, The Victim Center, and Community Partnership of the Ozarks.
Captain David Millsap of SPD, who leads the task force, says it will take effort from the community to root out domestic violence. He says that most cases the police deal with are repetitive in nature.
“We want to get people that are real stakeholders in the community involved. If you own a business, if you’re an HR manager, if you’re in victim advocacy work, we want to get to you and talk to you about ways to recognize domestic violence and what are the things you can do to help solve this problem,” Millsap explains.
Harmony House is the largest domestic violence shelter in the area, and it’s operating at full capacity. In fact, it’s one of hundreds of shelters across Missouri that have to turn women and children away regularly because there’s no room.
Rodney Dwyer, the executive director there, says a stronger relationship between Harmony House and the police department might mean that perpetrators can be prosecuted more quickly and victims can get help sooner.
Dwyer says that there’s one tool that’s particularly effective in preventing domestic violence in any community: awareness.
“Harmony House specifically is looking at doing a dating abuse awareness campaign; trying to get the message out to younger people…where we’re trying to help people realize what a healthy relationship might look like, how a young person might identify warning signs of an abusive relationship so that they can get out of that situation before it gets to the abusive point,” Dwyer says.
For example, if a partner is very possessive or jealous, that’s a red flag. Also, if your partner insists you dress in a certain way, continually criticizes you, has total control of your finances, and ignores your feelings, those are warning signs, too.
The domestic abuse survivor we spoke to, “Carrie,” says everyone should know the signs.
“I believe that every woman, even in situations where it’s the men being beat down and being abused, I believe that they should know from the get-go, they should be able to know the signs. And they should be able to take some type of class to learn the signs to where they don’t have to take that. And they can be like, ‘Wait a minute. This is not normal. This is something I don’t want to deal with,'" she says.
And Rodney Dwyer over at Harmony House says Springfield needs a culture change.
“Overall in a community, and Springfield is starting to get that way, the number one thing we can do is just have an atmosphere of prevention, of non-acceptance of domestic violence, of getting the message out that it’s not okay, it’s not acceptable,” Dwyer says.
Springfield’s task force will launch a public awareness campaign in July, and host a full day conference in October, which is domestic violence awareness month. The conference will feature a leading expert in the area, Mark Wynn, and it will be free.
For the warning signs of an abusive relationship, you can visit Harmony House’s website: www.myharmonyhouse.org.
For KSMU News, I’m Kaitlyn Schwers.