The impetus for the Domestic Violence Awareness Town Hall was a restraining order against Rep. Cody Henson (R-Transylvania) that it took almost a year for his wife to get. But this story was the tip of the iceberg as experts and victims talked about the realities of violence against women, domestic violence in North Carolina, how things are worse for victims in small towns, and victims in different communities (like the African American community).
“Speakers emphasized the insidious nature of domestic violence as a crime that often goes unreported or unpunished and for which societal norms and laws often fail to remedy. ” As reported by Carolina Public Press, in “Domestic violence in spotlight during forum on lawmaker’s home turf,” 2/19/19.
Expert’s words really surprised many attendees who had no idea how bad things are in North Carolina. Survivor stories were shocking and heartbreaking.
“What’s different about domestic violence is that one person is in control, and it’s persistent and ongoing,” said Abigail Cooley of SAFE, Transylvania.
Cooley also talked about special challenges of dealing with domestic violence in a small community where everyone knows one another and can expect to encounter both supporters and opponents doing every day activities. The best line of the night was “We don’t have ‘Ingles,’ we have ‘mingles.’” referring to the name of a Western North Carolina supermarket chain.
As ABC affiliate WLOS captured in “Speakers in Brevard discuss the problem of domestic violence in rural areas,” 2/18/19, “Experts said Monday night that isolation can make bad situations even worse, especially when it comes to domestic violence.”
Nationally known expert and educator on domestic violence, Kit Gruelle, said she has been asked the question of why women don’t leave domestic violence situations millions of times over the last 30 years.
Gruelle learned right away not to tell women to leave. The risk of homicide increases up to 75% when victim leaves. She learned to listen to the victim.
Gruelle told another story of why some women are afraid to report DV. There was a case of a chief of police who murdered his wife and then himself. Clearly the wife had been unable to report to those who reported to her abusive husband.
ZaKiya Bell-Rogers Grew Up With A Violent Father
ZaKiya Bell-Rogers tells her personal story at the Domestic Violence Awareness Town Hall in Brevard. She grew up Mississippi. Her father was a Vietnam vet and a violent monster to her and her family. ZaKiya Bell Rogers watched mother be abused by father as child. Bad man. ZaKiya said she “realized young the system wouldn’t save her.”
Her father followed through on every threat, including killing the family dog in front of the children. He wouldn’t allow ZaKiya’s Mom to call her own family. Her mom quietly called her family from elsewhere – from the doctors office, from friends’ houses.
When the family finally escaped her father, it was after more than 3 years of planning. They could not take the chance to not get completely away, afraid he would kill his wife and possibly children as well.
Jeanette Carter Hurt So Badly She Was In Coma For 10 Days, Not Expected to Live
Charlie and Belinda Shelton nearly lost their daughter after what they called a severe instance of domestic violence. Jeanette Carter got her head bashed in by her husband in the middle of the night, and then was in a coma for 10 days. She was not expected to survive, and will likely never completely recover.Carter herself was unable to attend the DV event. Her stepmother, Belinda Shelton, represented the family.
Belinda Shelton told the news anchor at NBC Channel 4 WYFF, that the abusive husband “took a walking stick, he cracked one side of [our daughter Jeanette’s] head, then he cracked the other side to the point that she nearly died. She was in a coma for ten days and in the hospital for 26 days. She’s got some brain damage.”
Jeanette Carter almost dying was exacerbated due to delays in paramedics reaching their remote house, and further due to her assailant/husband lying about what happened, in fact, convincing paramedics to treat non-problems first. Paramedics believed the assailant/husband that Carter was the attacker and on drugs. The paramedics even gave her Narcan (treats opioid overdose), although Carter was incoherent due to massive head trauma, not drugs. Another major issue was that while she was in the hospital and in a coma, the Buncombe County Sheriffs Office investigators did not find out how seriously Jeanette had been injured until Charlie and Belinda Shelton told them. Her parents were trying to get her protection.
Furthermore, Carter’s assailant/husband’s sentence has already been significantly reduced from an already too-short sentence. When Todd William, the DA for Buncombe County, was interviewed by the Asheville Citizen-Times at sentencing time, he said that she was “fine.” But she is not fine. She has numerous residual healthcare issues as a result of the assault. See “Candler man sentenced to 5 years for domestic assault – Citizen Times,” 9/20/18, Asheville Citizen-Times.
More Deficiencies – with 50Bs and People Of Color
Problems in stopping DV were discussed the whole time, with a special section on challenges in a small town, but other aspects of this massive problem were revealed during the section toward the end on deficiencies.
Bell-Rogers talked about “the failures of the system to fairly serve African-Americans and other people of color, with inappropriate law enforcement handling of cases only increasing distrust and discouraging victims from relying on the system for help.”
Although the 50B Domestic Violence Protection Orders document that there is a serious threat, they don’t really protect anyone. A 24/7 bodyguard could do that.
Bell-Rogers explained how she sees 50Bs. She said basically “even though it is illegal to beat or kill your partner and/or children, here is a piece of paper with your name on it, making sure that ‘you the abuser’ see again that you aren’t allowed to do it, and you need to stay away from your victim. And when it happens again, the system will give you a slap on the wrist and tell you, yet again, what you did is illegal and you should stop.” But the police are not do anything substantive to make the abuser stop. Bell-Rogers brought up how the punishment for beating one’s dog is often higher than the punishment for beating one’s wife. More on deficiencies with restraining orders at “How Much Protection Do Protective Orders Provide?” (8/9/18, broadly.vice.com).
Use Laws Working In Other States
During the Q&A at the end, attendees expressed shock, and some talked about how other states handle DV better. North Carolina lawmakers would not have to reinvent the wheel.
This event was put together in less than a week by NC NOW, SAFE Transylvania and Progress NC, with Kit Gruelle. It was scheduled to begin at 6:30pm. Lots of press came out early – from Asheville and even NBC WYFF from Greenville, SC! But at 6:25 there were maybe 4 attendees, and the victim speakers hadn’t arrived yet. At 6:30pm, people were parking and finally walking up, thank goodness! By 6:35, there were over 35 people, and there ended up being more than 40, include Brevard County District Attorney and two Brevard ADAs, who sat together in the front row.
The program was organized as follows:
- Experts talk about what domestic violence is, how things are harder for victims in a small town, and the reality of violence against women – Abigail Cooley and Kit Gruelle
- Hear from survivors and/or family – stories and realities for them – Jeanette Carter (who ended up being represented by her Stepmother, Belinda Shelton) and ZaKiya Bell-Rogers
- What programs are available in Brevard – Abigail
- Other deficiencies – Kit, Abigail and ZaKiya
Information was available about programs at SAFE Transylvania, Helpmate in Asheville. Information was also available from NC NOW and Progress NC.
Press so far:
Second press release, emailed after midnight on 2/18/19 – https://northcarolinanow.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/domestic-violence-awareness-town-hall-in-brevard-more-speakers-2-18-19-630pm/
Facebook live of first half hour – https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaPublicPress/videos/404340087041735/UzpfSTYwNzU2NjY4NjpWSzoyMDM3NzIzODc5ODYwMzEw/