Balloons in the sky: 'Remember My Name' honors domestic violence victims

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
October 17, 2012

ENID, Okla. — A cluster of purple balloons rose into the sky Wednesday from YWCA Enid, released by attendees at the annual “Remember My Name” ceremony.

Each balloon represented one of the 68 Oklahomans who have lost their lives this year to domestic violence.

Volunteers read aloud stories from the lives and deaths of domestic violence victims: a man stabbed to death by his wife; a teenage girl strangled by her boyfriend; a woman repeatedly shot by her boyfriend; a 68-year-old woman killed by her husband — just a few of the 15 stories of domestic violence victims recounted Wednesday.

On average, about 100 Oklahomans lose their lives to domestic violence each year, according to Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.

And, Enid is by no means immune to the domestic violence that can escalate to these fatal conclusions.

Sgt. Greg Gordon, with the Enid Police Department Investigative Services Division, said domestic violence reports account for approximately 20 percent of the department’s case load.

Each of those cases is assigned to Detective Jeff Weber, who works exclusively investigating reports of sexual assault and domestic violence. Gordon said that case load adds up to about 25 to 30 cases a month.

Aside from the sheer volume of domestic violence reports, Gordon said police struggle to overcome the “cycle of violence” in which victims often become trapped.

“A lot of times the victim will report the incident, and once the incident is over and the danger is gone for that particular event, then they don’t want to do anything after that,” Gordon said. “It becomes hard because you have to wonder, if it goes to court or if they have to testify, if they will follow through with it.”

Working together

Gordon said EPD works with YWCA Enid and other social service agencies to empower the victims by helping them build a support network. He said law enforcement and social service groups have come a long way in recent years on working together to address domestic violence.

“We used to have an adversarial relationship with the YWCA,” Gordon said. “We didn’t really understand what their role was, and we weren’t sure they understood what our role was.”

Gordon said that relationship began to change four years ago with formation of the Garfield County Domestic Violence Task Force, which pulls together the efforts of law enforcement, social service providers, prosecutors and community nonprofits to prevent and respond to domestic violence.

EPD and YWCA Enid together form the Community Coordinated Response (CCR) team, a sub-committee of the task force, which focuses on direct response to domestic violence crimes and aid to the victims.

Both the CCR and the task force meet monthly to discuss case loads, plan community prevention and coordinate response.

Gordon said the coordinated efforts of the task force represent a “110 percent turnaround, and we’re all able to help each other.”

“Now we can put a name with a face, and we know the ladies at the YWCA one-on-one, and when you can trust each other it’s really helpful,” Gordon said. “Now, we’re all part of the same team and we all work for the same thing.”

EPD now works directly with YWCA Enid on domestic violence cases, connecting victims with the counseling and advocacy services available at the YWCA. And, Gordon said, the YWCA staff is able to help police by giving victims the support they need to follow through on a criminal charge against their attacker.

“It’s really very helpful because a lot of times the victims might have some trouble talking to a male, and that’s where the YWCA can really help us out,” Gordon said. “We take the standpoint of really trying to help the victims, because we want to prosecute the offender. We don’t want this to happen to them again.”

Breaking the cycle

It’s not uncommon for police to repeatedly see the same victim, and for that victim to repeatedly return to their abuser.

“We’re not pushy, but we do try to get them to understand the next time it can be worse, and we don’t want that to happen,” Gordon said. “That’s the point in domestic violence, is to get ahead of the game so something worse doesn’t happen.”

Getting “ahead of the game” with regard to domestic violence in Garfield County requires constant attention.

The county has the highest rate of domestic violence reports to law enforcement in the state, according to a survey of data from all 77 counties for the 2006-2010 period conducted by Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.

According to the DVFRB data, Garfield County residents made 4,888 reports of domestic violence to law enforcement during the five-year term, more than twice the per capita state rate. Eight county residents died as a result of domestic violence during 2006-2010, equal to the state per capita rate.

Gordon said the higher rate of domestic violence reports in Garfield County could mean the crime simply is more reported here, while it continues to go more unreported in other counties.

“I think what we’ve seen here is, since we have the CCR team and we have a domestic violence investigator, it becomes more reported,” Gordon said. “We put more of an awareness on it. And, now that we have these things in place, it becomes more reportable.”

Help is available

Victims who see a police report through to a criminal charge usually make a stop in the office of J. D. Overton, victim witness coordinator for Garfield County District Attorney’s Office.

Overton is the district attorney’s point of contact for protective orders. He helps victims fill out the paperwork, file it with the court clerk’s office and accompanies the victims to appear before a judge.

Overton works to keep victims informed about the status of their case, and to coordinate victims’ filings for the Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation Fund. He also makes referrals to other agencies, including YWCA Enid, Department of Human Services, social workers and law enforcement.

As a victims’ witness coordinator Overton works with victims of all types of crimes. He said domestic violence crimes carry with them particular challenges, because the victims often are unwilling to cooperate for the duration of the prosecution.

“It’s tougher than most crimes because the couples have a tendency to go back together,” Overton said. “It’s tough, because more often than any other crime, the victim will come to us wanting to drop the charges.”

Overton said it can take some victims numerous police reports before they decide to finally break free and follow through with a prosecution.

“I treat them the same way, whether it’s the first time they’ve come in, or the second or third or whatever,” Overton said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help them.”