Public forum addresses domestic abuse, violence
SIBLEY, Iowa -- "911, What is your emergency?" the dispatcher asks the caller.
On the other end of the line is a 6-year-old girl, crying that her mommy's old boyfriend is in the house. He yelled at, hit and hurt her mommy.
The little girl is screaming ... crying ... her voice is trembling. She wants to see if her mommy is OK, but the dispatcher tells her to stay put.
When law enforcement arrives, they find "mommy" sprawled out on the staircase.
She died at the hands of the man who had likely beaten her before.
This 911 recording was played Monday night during a public forum at First Presbyterian Church. The program, sponsored by the Osceola County Sheriff's Office, focused on domestic abuse and domestic violence.
Osceola County Sheriff Doug Weber said when officers are called to a domestic abuse situation, they realize it probably isn't the first time the victim has been hurt at the hands of a partner.
It is rare for a victim to report abuse the first time it happens.
That's how it was for Barb, a Sibley woman in the process of divorcing the man who abused her for years.
The first time her husband hit her, she said she couldn't conceive that it would happen again. After the second and third time she was assaulted, she began to think that if she tried to leave, she wouldn't get out alive.
"I left him seven times, I think," she said. "I lost count."
Barb said the beginning of the end came about two years ago, when she sought yet another restraining order to keep her husband away from her and the kids. She finally realized that the relationship was enmeshed with violence.
She lived by the pattern of violence -- the escalation of the anger, the boiling point, the abuse and the honeymoon phase.
"Visine became my best friend, and ice cubes can take the swelling out of the eye so quick," Barb said.
She didn't want anyone to know she'd been crying from the bruises and pain inflicted on the parts of her body no one could see. She didn't want people to know that her husband inflicted injuries to the back of her head, where her hair would cover up any marks.
Barb asked attendees to think back to Sept. 11, 2001, and how they felt seeing the images of the terrorist attacks. How did they feel about the nameless, faceless monsters who did the destruction?
"Did you fear for your own life? Did you fear for your children's lives?" she asked. "Now turn that around -- when that nameless, faceless person is in your home, behind the door ... in your bed."
To this day, Barb said it feels so good to go home and not have to fear who's on the other side of the door.
"I don't live in fear, I live in reality," she said. "That's OK, because I'm living."
Yet, said Barb, the danger hasn't gone away. She wonders if her soon-to-be ex-husband could snap again once he's faced with divorce papers, child support or when she begins dating another man.
The level of anger batterers experience is, of course, a concern for law enforcement when they are called to a domestic disturbance. Weber said the batterer could have a weapon or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"Many of the domestic calls we go on, they're (using) something -- they become unpredictable," he added.
More than 150 peace officers are killed each year in the line of duty. The second highest cause of death is responding to a disturbance call, whether it's a domestic abuse situation, a bar fight or similar situation.
Weber said August is the deadliest month for law enforcement officers, Saturday is the deadliest day, and between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight is the deadliest time. Firearms are blamed for the majority of those deaths, with most officers shot at close range -- seven feet or less. The rate of officers killed in the line of duty is highest among those ages 31-40.
"Older officers tend to become complacent," Weber said. The message he delivers to his deputies: Complacency does not belong in law enforcement.
Anytime officers are called to respond to a domestic abuse situation, Iowa law requires they make an arrest. While the arrest provides an immediate stop to the violence, it is just the beginning for law enforcement as it builds a case to prosecute the batterer. That prosecution, however, often hinges on the testimony of the victim.
"The victim wants the abuse to stop, but they don't always want the relationship to end," Weber added.
Part of that mentality may be because children are involved, it isn't financially feasible to walk away, or there's a fear of what might happen if the victim left the batterer.
"The domestic abuser turns most dangerous when he learns his partner wants out," Bob Hansen, Osceola County Attorney, said.
Hansen's law career gravitated toward domestic abuse cases after serving as an assistant county attorney in Fort Dodge in 1991, when a domestic abuse situation turned into murder.
"It's not an easy thing to prosecute domestic violence," Hansen said. "At least in a murder case, you don't have a victim take the stand and say, 'It's my fault.'"
Helping the victim realize they didn't ask to be abused is part of the role attorneys often deal with. Hansen's message to victims is, "You deserve better; you don't deserve to be a punching bag."
"We often hear the question, 'Why doesn't she just leave?'" Hansen said. "Perhaps the better question here is, 'Why does he beat her?'"
A batterer's reason for abusing his partner, more often than not, is because he is desperate to maintain a relationship.
"The guys that we deal with have immense insecurities that their (partner) will leave them," said Jamey Beltman who, with LaNee Perkins, leads a Batterer's Education Program (BEP) in northwest Iowa. "I ask them, 'What would make a woman want to stay in an abusive relationship?'"
While Beltman and Perkins work with both men and women who have been convicted of abuse, their clientele is predominantly male. At this time, the youngest man enrolled in BEP is age 20; the oldest is 70.
"Eighty-five percent of people convicted of domestic abuse have a substance abuse," said Beltman, adding that batterers must complete a chemical dependency program before they enter BEP. "They can't understand our stuff until they're clean and sober."
The message Beltman and Perkins wanted to deliver Monday night was that batterers live within all of our communities. They could be the next-door neighbor, a familiar face at church or prominent individuals in the community.