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Ending abuse requires legal, cultural change

Posted September 18, 2014

It takes courage to step out of an abusive relationship, or even to call the cops on someone you love.

Emotional and cultural shame, fear and forgiveness combine to keep individuals in a risky situation, say those familiar with the cycle of domestic violence.

"Once its reached the criminal justice system, typically, it's already happened more than once," said Sgt. John Guard of the Pitt County Sheriff's Office.

Guard trains officers across the state how to handle domestic violence. His program is an example of increasing awareness for a crime once considered a family matter. There were no programs to prepare officers to diffuse a domestic violence situation when he started his career in law enforcement 22 years ago.

"We're still relatively new in the amount of training we have," Guard said.

The treatment of domestic violence has evolved, from the first response through the court system and up to the penalties imposed.

Thelma Cole suffered at the hands of a partner who would strangle her until she passed out.

After she got out of that relationship, she petitioned state lawmakers to increase strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony. That 2004 act dramatically strengthened the state's domestic violence laws.

"That was absolutely a landmark bill because it was so broad," Guard said.

Prosecutor Marci Trageser is among those who enforces those laws in Chatham County.

"When I first started working here, I had a victim who said, 'He's going to kill me no matter what.' And he did," she recalled.

Peggy Locklear was killed by her husband Woodie Locklear in 1998 in Harnett County.

"Battered women can predict their own deaths, and oftentimes they do," pointed out victims' advocate and filmmaker Kit Gruelle.

Years after escaping a violent relationship herseld, Gruelle spreads the word about abuse as control through speaking engagements nationwide and an award-winning documentary, "Private Violence."{{a/}}

At first, Trageser was so distraught by Locklear's death that she considered quitting. Then she vowed to work even harder to protect other victims.

"I promised that I would not give up (on) each victim that came to me," Trageser said.

"I love the fact that you no longer have a court system that tolerates physical abuse if the evidence is present," she said.

But as victims get more courageous, Trageser sees a court system struggling with how to support them.

"I think one of the strongest things our system now faces is the non-violent displays of aggression and control," she said.

"There's just another way to assert power and control, and that is through cyber-stalking," Trageser said, "It is through following their every move."

Gruelle agrees.

"We have to be very clear that domestic violence is much, much more than physical abuse," she said. 

"Get past this notion that it's about black eyes and broken noses. It's about control. It's absolutely about control," she said.

Advocates continue to push for expanded prosecution ability and a cultural shift that would take the onus off the victim to leave.

"I've long said, if we wait for the criminal justice system to respond, we've waited too long," said Guard.

"It should never be about just what happens in a courtroom," Gruelle seconded.

"It can't just be up to law enforcement. It can't just be up to advocates. It has to be up to the community at large to change the way they think about violence against women."

Guard said he'd like to see men take the lead in defining abusive behavior as just plain unacceptable.

"My opinion is, until society steps up and says violence in the home is wrong and really lowers that bar, we're going to be slowing down our progression toward the ultimate goal, which is eradicating violence," he said.

eNOugh domestic violence: eNOughNC

WRAL and our parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, are partners in an effort to prevent and end domestic violence called eNOughNC. On {{a href="external_link-13970519"}}eNOughNC.org, victims and batterers can find resources to break the cycle of violence, and members of the community can find ways to help.


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  • 678devilish Sep 19, 2014

    ladies should be careful in who they choose to enter their life. no man owns you. period. no man should ever hit a woman and no woman should ever hit a man. if you have to do all that, end the relationship and find someone who will treat you like a queen or king.

  • runsracks2 Sep 19, 2014

    Comp Train... nothing makes it through moderation here if it doesn't fit the agenda they promote... more propaganda than news.

  • 50s Child Sep 19, 2014

    jargon jargon jargon "it's about, it's not about" jargon jargon "raise awareness" jargon jargon "the community at large"

    And not a word about teaching "our little girls" (why not start by calling them "daughters", just as if you held them as equal to your sons?) that "getting a man" is not their primary purpose in life and the standard by which they will be judged, no matter what else they accomplish.

    Boys aren't taught that they're failures and pathetic jokes if they don't have a romantic partner, and while they are abused too, they don't subscribe to the belief that they have to smile and keep taking it because 1) boys are "SWEET" at all costs and 2) their worth is defined by their partnership status.

  • Barbara Sossomon Sep 19, 2014
    user avatar

    Domestic Violence is NOT just violence against women. There are many men who are abused by their wives. A LOT more than people would believe. Why do they not do something? It is not MACHO to tell someone that you are physical, mentally or emotionally abused by your wife/girlfriend/female friend. So, they suffer in silence. Many times they put up with it, because they fear for their children. They stay in the situation, because the mother is ALWAYS the better person to raise the children (so the courts say.) To ensure that their children stay safe, they risk their own lives. I posted this on the Live Chat for abuse and it never showed up. I suspect because no one wants to admit it happens. Culturally, it is ONLY women who are abused. Sure, it is.

  • sunshine1040 Sep 18, 2014

    and many women think he does love mea and he did not mean to do it. Sorry ladies he did mean it and if he said he will kill you he will will try get away at the first sign and protect yourselves and your family and friends by telling them so they can protect themselves and a piece of paper does not do it you need more and training on how to use it get it and take the training please