Tipton County had rural West Tennessee’s third-highest domestic violence rate in 2017 and 2018 and the fourth-highest in 2016.
The numbers suggest it’s not only a problem that’s not going away, but one that is getting worse.
Some local organizations, thanks to some federal funding, are increasing their efforts to curb the issue.
Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS), which has an office in Covington and provides free civil legal services, and Wo/Men’s Resource and Rape Assistance Program (WRAP) have partnered up to increase its services to those affected by domestic violence.
Kimberly Dougherty was hired last month as an attorney who will work with victims full-time. Danielle Faulk joined the team in March as a domestic violence victim advocate for MALS.
“Our goal is to provide full, holistic services to victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault and other related issues,” said Dick Cullison, the interim CEO of MALS. “The district attorney doesn’t really get involved in providing protection for victims in the civil arena. That’s where MALS comes. With WRAP as a partner we think we can provide for the emotional needs and the legal needs of our clients. Domestic violence is a serious problem.”
WRAP, which also has an office in Covington, was formed in 1975 in Madison County as a rape crisis hotline and has gradually broadened its services and client base to include 19 counties in West Tennessee.
The ramifications of domestic violence are complicated and numerous. The goal of WRAP and MALS is to navigate victims through the process.
“It’s not just a physical act,” Dougherty said. “It can be financial abuse, litigation abuse or child custody because the abuser knows by threatening custody of the child it puts the women or victim in a very precarious position having to defend an action. Sometimes these women don’t have access to money to hire a lawyer.”
Faulk has a background in law enforcement, which gives the organizations a unique perspective.
“I tell clients when they come in you were a victim before, now you’re a survivor because you’re trying to get out of the situation, do better for yourself and get the help you need,” said Faulk.
“I don’t like using the word victim at all because it takes a lot of courage to go to court and to stand there and get an order of protection,” Dougherty said. “I think survivor is a much better word.”
Studies say the single most important factor in reducing domestic violence in a community is access to an affordable, knowledgeable attorney. It’s not the first time for many victims.
“They’re looking for somebody to lean on,” said Scottie Wilkes, another attorney at MALS. “We walk them through each stage of trying to get their life back together.”
Other services MALS can provide include finding housing and helping women get child support payments and other benefits.
Robin Peacock, an advocate at WRAP, said she does not tell clients what to do. If they want to try and work things out with their significant other, they will assist them.
“We will work with them if they plan to stay,” Peacock said. “Everything we do is confidential. He can’t get that information … Everything is free and it doesn’t matter what type of income you have. Some agencies have that limitation.”
Representatives with WRAP are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hotline number is 1-800-273-8712. Peacock said the police do not have to be involved.
“Sometimes the victim does not want to call the police,” she said. “We ask them they want to do and don’t tell them what to do.”
“One in three women of all socio-economic levels and education will be the victim of domestic violence,” Dougherty said. “These cases go largely unreported. Our job is really tough because we have to go out there and educate our judiciary, the police and just the community on what is domestic violence. People think it’s just when you’re hit or punched. That’s not necessarily the jest of it.”
Said Cullison: “About a third of the women in the country will face it sometime in their lifetime. Forty percent of female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner. This program, in the long run, we think is going to save lives in our community. Not only literally saving lives, but also giving the victim her life back.”