WHEN Janet Peery heard about the arrest of Oklahoma City Thunder player DeAndre Liggins, who is accused of beating up his girlfriend, she said her first thought was: “Did the victim know about services available?”
Peery is CEO of the YWCA Oklahoma City, which offers shelter and services to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The job keeps her and her staff busier than any of them would like. Indeed the YWCA is in the midst of a multimillion dollar capital campaign to build a new shelter, one that can accommodate about 120. The current facility can serve about 55.
The shame is that a bigger building is needed at all, but domestic violence occurs all too frequently. Liggins' recent arrest placed a spotlight on it.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Liggins' girlfriend said he hit her in the head with his hand and then punched her in the head after she fell to the ground. The woman locked herself in a bedroom. Liggins then reportedly kicked in the door, pushed her down, dropped a fan on her and stomped her with his foot. Liggins was released by the Thunder on Friday.
Ugly stuff. And it happens regularly across the city and state. Peery said that investigating domestic violence cases cost the Oklahoma City Police Department about $8.5 million in 2012. “That doesn't count our jails, or medical costs, or mental health costs, the court system. That's one law enforcement agency,” she said.
How can this be? Because about 36,000 calls received by the department last year were tagged as domestic violence calls, Peery said. Roughly 6,000 of those were considered violent or potentially violent without intervention.
Often, police officers are called more than once to the same residence. For any number of reasons — he promised not to do it again, I can't support the kids on my own, I don't know where to turn — the victims of domestic violence don't extricate themselves from bad situations.
Historically, Peery said, domestic violence and sexual assault are two crimes in which the victim has been put through the wringer by the criminal justice system. “It's very critical we begin to educate the community and really change the paradigm of our dialogue,” she said.
Domestic violence through the years “has been kept so quiet,” Peery said. “The silence keeps victims in those situations. It tells victims that no one else cares. It tells victims, ‘It's your problem, you have to figure out a way to handle it.'”
But as she tells anyone who'll listen, domestic violence isn't simply a “women's issue.” It's a community issue. In homes where children are abused, there's often a pattern of abuse against the mother as well. The high rate of child abuse in Oklahoma, sometimes with fatal consequences, has been well chronicled. Domestic violence also impacts the business community, in lost time at the job.
Peery started at YWCA Oklahoma City working a couple of days a week. Helping to write grant proposals gave her a deeper understanding of the YWCA's work. “The more I learned, the more I became passionate about what they do,” she said.
We should all care deeply about domestic violence and its effects on women and families. One way to help is to remember this phone number: 1-800-522-SAFE (1-800-522-7233). It's a 24-hour hot line for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Learn it. Share it.