Violence and abuse between domestic partners often takes place behind a curtain of silence, the shouting kept muffled behind heavy doors and the bruises concealed beneath foundation and sunglasses.

"There is a stigma," said Kelley Rainey, domestic violence service coordinator for Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland. "Our community doesn't really acknowledge terror in the home. We don't talk about this outside the home."

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Right now, however, everyone is talking about domestic violence. On Monday, video footage from February surfaced showing Baltimore Raven Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee — now wife — Janay Rice in the face and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Ray Rice was subsequently let go from the team, prompting media and social media discussions of domestic violence policies in the NFL, the culture of abuse, criminal law and, with Janay Rice's public statement that she believed her husband's firing to have been unjustified, questions about victimhood itself.

If there is a silver lining to the situation, it is the opportunity to discuss the realities of domestic violence while the topic has been forced from the silent shadows. According to Rainey, the terror in the home that goes unspoken is very real, and very present in Carroll County.

Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland operates a safe house for victims of domestic violence and according to Rainey, there were 1,700 overnight stays in the 2013 to 2014 fiscal year, counting beds filled on any given night.

Nationally, one in four women has experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and one in seven men has experienced such violence as well.

One reason such abuse takes place is that not every victim readily identifies abuse when it first takes place, according to Rainey, and such abuse may not manifest as physical violence immediately or even ever.

"Domestic violence can take on so many different forms," she said. "I think that abusers of an intimate partner control their partners though fear. There are a number of ways they can do that: physically, sexually, psychologically, verbally and economically."

A partner might simply lash out verbally in private, or humiliate the other partner in public, or they might control the household finances or sabotage their partner in order to coerce him or her into acting a certain way, Rainey said. There might be violence, clear-cut and obvious, or there might be merely threats of violence, toward the victim, toward children, pets or even the abuser.

"Abusers will tend to threaten to commit suicide or harm themselves in order to get the victim to do what they want — 'If you leave me, I will kill myself,'" Rainey said. "The victim cannot leave knowing that if the abuser harms them, they will feel at fault."

Even after an escalation to physical violence has taken place, the human impulse is often to try and work through things and recover the person the victim fell in love with, Rainey said.

"These are people they have been with, that they have children with. They love them; they don't view them as an abuser. When the victim comes into my office, they are not saying 'my abuser,' they are saying 'my husband,' 'my boyfriend,' 'the love of my life,'" she said. "It's easy to say, 'This has never happened before; let's just move on.' ... They just want their lives back."

And once a situation is recognized as violent and abusive, leaving immediately is not always easy, said Rainey, who added that individuals should be careful about asking a victim of abuse why they are still with an abuser.

"These questions continue to victimize the victim. It's makes it their fault," she said. "It takes an average of seven times offering someone to leave before they actually leave an abusive domestic relationship ... Many victims have no income, being stay-at-home parents. ... It's never as easy as just leaving."

It can be frustrating to watch a loved one or friend that is caught up in an abusive relationship, and Rainey said it can be equally difficult to do what is necessary, to tell the victim clearly that you are concerned and that you are there for them if they need help.

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"They might be angry at you and distance themselves since the abuser doesn't want them to get help ... but when the victim is ready, accept them back," Rainey said. "It's important that when our family members are ready for help that we are still there for them ... you have to meet people where they are."

Part of meeting people where they are is giving them a way to reach out for help without committing to actions they are not ready to accept, which is why Family and Children's Services maintains a 24-hour crisis hotline, Rainey said. Those who call are not pressured to leave their home or report an abuser if they are not prepared to do so, but they have the option to speak with or make an appointment to see an adviser.

"They don't have to do anything. It's about having options, knowing that the support is there when they are ready. If they just want to talk, that's OK too," she said. "We also have drop-in support groups that are free. If they call the office, they can get those times and dates."

Hotline callers can also create safety plans, according to Rainey, arrangements in case they decide at a future date that they are in danger and might need to relocate to the Family and Children's Services safe house. If a victim decides to go forward with pursuing a protective order or criminal charges, Family and Children's Services will connect victims with legal resources to handle forms and will even accompany them to court so that they will not have to sit alone.

While the hotline exists as a support for victims of domestic violence, Rainey said that in circumstances in which a person feels endangered, or believes a child or loved one is in danger, the most appropriate phone call to make is to the police.

"Please, if you are ever in danger, call 911. It can save your life," Rainey said. "The police have a way to get a hold of my hotline ... I have a worker 24/7 that takes information from the police and then has direct contact with the victim."

Deputy Brittany Powell of the Sheriff's Office Domestic Violence Unit said police also recommend that victims report any behavior that makes them feel unsafe.

"Protect yourself," Powell said.

Police will also recommend that victims obtain a protective order against the aggressor, according to Powell.

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In a protective order, a judge requires the defendant not to contact the victim and any other appropriate steps, including ordering him or her to vacate the home shared with the victim and turn over firearms to law enforcement, Powell said.

The Domestic Violence Unit serves protective orders on respondents so that they have knowledge of the judge's orders, Powell said.

Protective orders can be issued on any person eligible for relief, which includes a blood relative, current or former spouse, or someone with a child in common with the respondent, Powell said.

Victims are encouraged to contact law enforcement immediately if the respondent does anything to violate the peace order, Powell said.

If potential victims are concerned about their situation, Powell said they should seek the advice of a District Court commissioner or a police officer.

"Don't be hesitant to ask questions," Powell said.

When it comes to friends, family, neighbors or even strangers, police recommend that any behavior that can be considered an assault should be reported to law enforcement.

"Let law enforcement get out and determine whether it is an assault or a domestic situation," said Cpl. Jonathan Light of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

According to Powell, witnesses should contact law enforcement when they see an escalating verbal dispute or a physical altercation.

"If people are in an altercation, generally, people should call because you don't know where it is going to lead," she said.

Powell also recommended that a witness remain in the vicinity to see whether police need a witness for their report.

If the law enforcement officer does not witness the assault but determines it to be domestically related, the alleged aggressor can still be arrested, Light said. If the incident is a nondomestic assault, officers usually recommend that the victim file an application for charges themselves.

Many times, those who are arrested for domestic violence are also referred to Family and Children's Services, in this case for the 26-week Abuser Intervention Program, according to Rainey. Many of those individuals, she said, don't recognize their actions as domestic violence.

"There is a behavior that has been learned in some way. We do see patterns: Children who grow up in homes with domestic violence tend to relive it in their adult lives," Rainey said. "There is the matter of being accountable for behavior. ... We need to find [abusers] other healthier ways of dealing with conflict."

Rainey said that 95 percent of people in the abuser intervention program are referred by the court, but that there is a small number of individuals who take it upon themselves to make a change.

"We actually do offer support for people that want to make that behavior change," she said. "That's what it boils down to."

Persistent support from others, and a desire to change from within, is one of the keys to ending domestic violence, Rainey said.

"I know that it is scary for victims, but there is support," she said. "Utilize the support group. Come in for an individual session and see what your options are."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com and staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or heather.cobun@carrollcountytimes.com.

More information

To reach the 24-hour domestic violence hotline, call 410-857-0077.

For more information on support for victims of domestic violence or how to get help if you are an abuser yourself, call the office of Family and Children Services of Central Maryland at 410-876-1233 or go to their website at http://www.fcsmd.orghttp://www.fcsmd.org.

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, or believe you could soon be in danger, call 911.

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