Local Experts Give Insights on Domestic Violence

By George Slaughter

Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan (Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office photo)

Local experts on domestic violence said no template exists for a typical abuser, and that cases can evolve into something dangerous.

The three experts—Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan, Katy Christian Ministries Crisis Center Director Susan Hastings, and Katy Police Detective Angelica Salinas—shared their insights as Katy observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

Misperceptions of Abusers

Domestic violence has misperceptions around it. Fagan said one in four women are affected by domestic violence, with an attack occurring every seconds. But it’s not always men attacking women. Hastings said she has seen cases where it’s the other way around.

“We had a male client that came in, requesting assistance from our counseling services,” Hastings said. “During the hearing, it became apparent that he was a victim of domestic violence by his spouse. We were able to help him with law enforcement reporting, victim’s rights, and rights through the attorney general. We were able to provide him with counseling.”

Katy Christian Ministries Crisis Center Director Susan Hastings (Katy Christian Ministries photo)

Hastings said another misperception is the view that the victims like what happens to them.

“That’s a huge misperception,” Hastings said. “Victims stay because of all different kinds of reasons. When a victim leaves in abuser, that’s the most dangerous time for them.”

Fear is at the heart of it, Hastings said. Victims fear their abusers will find them. Victims fear their abusers will threaten to hurt or kill them, or the children. Even the family pet might suffer if the victim doesn’t return.

“Cruelty to animals is a big problem,” Hastings said.

Salinas said a common misperception is that domestic cases are between a husband and wife. She said it could include any family members, including children.

Salinas said fear prevents victims from coming forward.

“A lot of them don’t come forward because they don’t want that negativity towards their family,” Salinas said. “The ones that do go through it, they weight, 14-15 times before they call the police.”

Why would someone want to abuse his or her family? Salinas cited some reasons—depression, employment (or a lack of it), financial stress, or the holiday season can influence a situation. Adultery in a marriage can cause someone to lose control.

Salinas said illegal immigrants wanting to be discreet about it can feel the stress that might lead to domestic violence incidents.

“It’s a variety of reasons,” Salinas said. “There are just so many. A lot of it is money or alcohol-related.”

Many abuse cases go through what Hastings described as a “honeymoon phase.” She described it as an abuser harms a victim, then feels remorse and gives them gifts as an apology. Then, later, the cycle begins again.

“It happens quite often,” Hastings said.

Financial aspects are another factor. Hastings said when children are with the abuser, the victim may not have a way to support the family financially.

“The shelters are so full that they have a hard time finding a place to go, especially if they have children,” Hastings said.

Fagan said one misperception is that domestic violence abusers are only in low-income areas.

“That’s the biggest falsehood,” Fagan said. “It touches everyone, no matter your economic status, your zip code. Domestic violence is a crime against a family. Mental illness, trouble in school, it touches on all aspects of the community.”

Hastings said a situation where a person with no clear issues becomes an abuser can happen.

“We get victims that have full-time jobs,” Hastings said. “It can evolve. You don’t ever know how that could happen. That’s why we talk about signs of an abuser. You look for red flags. They feel they own the person they are with. They have low self-esteem. They feel inadequate. They will externalize their behavior and blame it on the person they are abusing.”

Planning to Leave and Getting Help

How should a domestic violence victim respond in a tough situation? One misguided tactic for victims is to retaliate in kind, perhaps by hitting back. Fagan advised against it.

“I don’t want them to hit them back,” Fagan said. “That’s dangerous.”

Instead, victims should make a plan to leave their situation and seek help. Developing such an exit plan takes time and thought—when to leave, where to go, what the next step would involve. Following an exit plan takes away the abuser’s power, Fagan said.

“Be aware,” Fagan said. “Pay attention. You know when that perpetrator is going to be away from home. Plan to leave. We are here to help you. Call the sheriff’s department. Call your local law enforcement.”

Salinas said much help exists for victims. Hastings said Katy Christian Ministries provides community and education and outreach.

“We accompany victims to court proceedings, forensic interviews, which includes law enforcement peer counseling, crisis intervention, and therapeutic counseling,” Hastings said. She said the Katy Christian Ministries staff is fluent in Spanish.

Salinas said the police has worked with Katy Christian Ministries when victims must decide how best to proceed.

“If she’s in fear of imminent danger, call us,” Salinas said.

Fagan advises that if one sees something, one must say something.

“You have the power to get away,” Fagan said. “You just have to believe in leaving yourself and know there’s help out there for you if you reach out for it.”