If a thief stole someone’s purse on the train, would we implore the victim never to take this mode of transportation again and shake our heads when they did?
Then why, Kelley Rainey of Family and Children’s Services asked, do victims of domestic violence have to answer questions like why aren’t they leaving their abusive relationships, when we should be asking why doesn’t their partner stop abusing them?
Rainey is the director of case management services for Family and Children’s Services (FCS) in Carroll County. Part of FCS’s responsibilities include helping victims out of abusive relationships and molding abusers to change their behavior. FCS is there for people “from cradle to grave,” Rainey said, helping children and adults who have been affected by domestic violence.
The number of domestic violence cases in Carroll has risen in recent years, but Rainey said increased awareness — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month — has also led to increased reporting. It’s difficult to tell whether more people are abusing or more victims are coming forward, she said.
From July 2018 to June 2019, FCS served 1,986 primary and secondary victims of domestic violence in Carroll, compared with 1,434 the year before, according to Rainey. Secondary victims are children and primary victims are the partners of abusers.
“We know this is a systemic issue,” she said.
One of the other agencies that assists victims of domestic violence is the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, specifically the Special Victims Unit (SVU). Ashley Pamer, senior assistant state’s attorney for the SVU, said domestic violence cases consume her entire misdemeanor caseload and about half of her felony caseload.
Domestic violence can be emotional, physical, financial, psychological or sexual, according to Pamer.
In 2018, the SVU helped 398 domestic violence victims by taking their cases to court, according to Pamer. As of Sept. 30, the SVU had assisted 355 victims in 2019, so it appears they are on track to reach 400 by the end of the year, she said.
“It’s hard to tell if the number of instances goes up or the people are just reporting it more," Pamer said. "I think probably a combination of both; as Carroll County gets a lot bigger we’re going to have a larger problem with domestic violence because it really does reach across all races, religions, genders, incomes, all of that.”
There were 46 domestic violence-related deaths in Maryland between July 2017 and June 2018, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV). In 2016, there were 15,301 domestic violence-related crimes in the state, according to MNADV.
Nationally, about one in three women and one in four men are affected by domestic violence, according to Rainey. She suspects the reality is more like one in two women and one in three men, as a result of under-reporting.
“A lot of these victims believe that the courts and the law won’t be on their side," Rainey said.
Pamer said she wants victims to know her office is not there to pressure them into prosecuting.
“The victims should know that we are very open, and we are not there to judge them," Pamer said.
There are a number of reasons why a victim might not seek help.
An abuser sometimes makes their victim feel stupid or that they won’t be believed, according to Rainey. She said victims might not report because they have children with their abuser and don’t want to break up the family, or if they lack the financial means to leave. The abuser might threaten the victim with violence to prevent reporting or the victim might not have family to turn to for shelter. Sometimes, the abuser holds a victim’s immigration status over their head, threatening to have them deported.
In many cases, the victim still loves their abuser.
“Most people don’t want to leave their abusive partners. They’re in love, they’re scared," Rainey said.
Just as Pamer’s office sees repeat offenders, they also see “repeat survivors,” or people who go back to their abusers.
“It’s not as simple as me wanting to get the bad guy taken care of. There are lives involved and emotions involved," Pamer said.
Curbing the problem
Victims of domestic violence can call or text the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 443-865-8031 any time of the year.
Carroll County got its own hotline in 2015 and, prior to then, shared a hotline with Baltimore County because of lack of staffing, according to Rainey.
When someone calls or texts the line they will be connected with a trained advocate who can give them information and provide support, Rainey said. The text option became available in March, she said. Typically, they get one to two calls a day, Rainey said.
FCS helps victims plan how to stay safe when their partner returns and offers a safe house for people in immediate danger, according to Rainey. If someone chooses to press charges, FCS can provide court accompaniment for the victim, Rainey said. FCS also has a partnership with Maryland Legal Aid, through which victims can get assistance in custody and divorce cases at no cost, according to Rainey.
Justice for domestic violence takes shape in many forms. Most times, a judge will put the abuser on probation if it’s their first offense, according to Pamer.
“But if they violate that probation, more likely than not they’re going to go to jail," Pamer said.
“It’s about teaching people to have healthy communication while there’s conflict in the home," Rainey said of the FCS program.
The maximum penalty for second-degree assault is 10 years incarceration or 25 years for first-degree assault, according to Pamer. It’s “fairly unusual” to see the maximum sentence imposed, but Pamer has seen it handed down to repeat offenders or for particularly “horrific” crimes, she said.
If someone wants to press charges against their abuser and protect themselves until the abuser is put behind bars, Pamer suggests filing a protective (restraining) order that bars the person from contacting them and carries a criminal penalty for violation, she said.
“Most of the people we prosecute are very manipulative, very controlling," Pamer said.
Despite this, there are moments of success when therapy gets through to the abuser and stops the cycle of violence, according to Pamer.
“Every once in a while, we have that success story where either therapy or substance abuse treatment has finally kicked in and that person goes on to live a life that’s not violent and where they respect women," Pamer said.
That’s not to say that men can’t be victims, too, Pamer said.
“I think it’s very under-reported in the male population just because there’s a stigma attached to it," Pamer said, the stigma that “a man should be able to handle himself.”
Pamer said she has also started to see more people in same-sex relationships come to domestic violence court.
Compared to the past, Pamer said the state’s attorney’s office is taking a much more collaborative approach to prosecuting domestic violence cases, working closely with agencies such as FCS to help victims. In addition to the state’s attorney’s office, FCS works with the public defender’s office, parole and probation, and judges to try to prevent victims and abusers coming back to them, Rainey said.
“We’re certainly not stopping the problem, but we’re I think coming at it from a different perspective and I think that is helping with curbing the problem for a little bit," Pamer said. “I don’t foresee it ending any time soon, but we’re trying our best.”
Resources for survivors of domestic violence or people looking to find out more are available at nnedv.org, the National Network to End Domestic Violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Those in immediate danger should call 911.
By the numbers
The problem of domestic violence in Maryland can be illustrated in one way through the data. The source of each data point below is in parenthesis, with “KR” standing for Kelley Rainey and “AP” standing for Ashley Pamer.
- July 2018 to June 2019, Family and Children’s Services served 1,986 primary and secondary victims (majority are primary) of domestic violence in Carroll County and 1,434 in 2017 to 2018 (KR)
- One in three women and one in four men are impacted by domestic violence. (KR)
- The Carroll County hotline receives 1 to 2 calls per day. (KR)
- The national hotline receives about 20,000 calls per day. (KR)
- In 2018 the SVU helped 398 victims by taking their cases to court and as of Sept. 30 it has helped 355 victims (AP)
- The majority of victims the SVU sees are between 23 and 50 years old. (AP)
- There were 46 domestic violence-related deaths in Maryland in July 2017 to June 2018 (MNADV)
- There were 15,301 domestic violence-related crimes in Maryland in 2016. (MNADV)
- There were 1,784 temporary protective orders and 1,308 final protective orders granted in Maryland in 2017 (MNADV)
- One in four women and one in nine men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes (No More, citing a 2017 source) https://nomore.org/know-the-facts-citations/
- One in three teens experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year (No More, citing 2009 source)