Vicki Craig recalled a poem she wrote when she was 10 years old and dealing with abuse at home.
“I am the one who sneaks out the back door,” Craig read. “Running fast to get help — he has her pinned on the floor.”
Craig and others shared their stories this month with a local community domestic violence task force, a group that includes representatives from local law enforcement, child protection and judicial agencies, to raise awareness of domestic violence issues in local communities.
“I think the critical thing we need to focus on is the fact that these crimes have escalated. We have a percentage of people who have lost their lives because of some form of family violence,” advocate Angie Stovall said. “In the last 12 months, there have been about eight homicides (in Amarillo) somehow related to family violence.”
Stovall works as crisis services coordinator for Family Support Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault and family violence in Amarillo.
At a meeting April 9 in Santa Fe Building, Craig told the group her father physically abused her and her mother. She recalled one time when he physically abused her when she was in second grade for coming home late from school.
Her situation was so bad, she said, she started working at age 12 just to stay away from home.
“There’s only so much you can take,” Craig said. “Without hope, we’re lost and so are the (other) victims.”
Amarillo police responded to more than 2,600 domestic violence incidents in 2014, according to information provided by the department. That’s an average of 217 calls per month.
“And the big picture is this crime is underreported,” Stovall said.
Many factors can make victims reluctant or afraid to report their situations, Stovall said. For one, an abusive relationship can progress so slowly that victims sometimes do not realize they are being victimized. An abusive relationship starts out like most relationships, she said. It can appear loving, supportive and affectionate until the abusive behaviors begin.
“Then they wake up one day and say, ‘I’m not this type of person. I’m not a victim. I don’t let people do this to me. How did I wake up today without any money? My house is gone. I don’t have transportation. I don’t have a job. My self-esteem is bottomed-out and I don’t feel like I can do the things I need to do.’”
That pattern of thinking can keep a victim tethered to an unhealthy partner. A person who sees no alternative may opt to stay in dangerous circumstances.
“And the number one reason is they are afraid they’re not going to be believed,” she said. “Regardless of anyone’s upbringing, their status, their ability to make money — it can happen to anyone, male or female.”
Laura Cook said her ex-husband abused her physically, emotionally, sexually and financially. Cook said her turning point was when she discovered he sexually assaulted two of her stepdaughters.
Cook recounted she was in her bedroom when her stepdaughter said, “I need to tell you something,” but was silenced when her father opened the door. Years later, Cook’s stepdaughter told her, “I was going to tell you what he was doing to me and my younger sister.”
“(That’s) when momma bear turns into momma bear,” Cook said.
Child Protective Services became involved and later he was forced to leave and Cook divorced him, she said.
“I would not have survived if it weren’t for my heavenly father,” Cook said. “The guilt was unbearable. God released that guilt for me.”
Once a relationship becomes violent, Stovall said, the victim can become desensitized as abuse escalates and the victim’s attention turns to survival.
“It becomes, ‘How do I get through the day without getting killed, without my kids getting hurt?’” she said. “Our culture can help by making sure this is a crime that is not tolerated and victims will be believed.”
Craig and Cook said they work to help other victims in domestic violence situations.
“(The term) victim has turned into victory,” Cook said.
Family Support Services operates a safe house emergency shelter and runs a 24-hour crisis hotline for family violence victims at 806-374-5433.