Help is available to Tennesseans who face domestic violence

By Abby Morris
tar Staff

Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series on domestic violence. Part two will be printed on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
   As children, many people dream or imagine the day that they will grow up, get married and begin a family of their own with all the elements of happiness and romance in place. But for some, the fairy tale will fade and something much darker will come to take the place of that joy.
   Domestic violence takes many forms. Everything from financial control and verbal abuse to actual physical assaults. And Tennessee is not immune from this horror.
   According to the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, in the year 2000 there were a total of 63,802 incidents of domestic violence reported among the over 5.6 million residents of the state. That number includes murders, assaults, rapes, incidents of stalking and kidnappings associated with domestic violence cases. In 2000, 76 people in the state of Tennessee died as a result of domestic violence and another 53,476 cases of assault were reported.
   But crimes such as these are not isolated to the areas of big cities such as Nashville or Memphis. They occur here in East Tennessee as well. According to the TCADSV, in 2000 there were 242 instances of domestic violence in Carter County -- 202 of which were assaults.
   Det. Anthony Buck, with the Elizabethton Police Department's Domestic Violence Unit, has been investigating domestic violence situations for a little over three years.
   "That's one of the worst calls an officer can go to," he said.
   Law enforcement officers answer many calls on domestic disputes or violence each year, but not all calls lead to an arrest. "We're not going to arrest every time we go. There has to be a crime," Buck said.
   Buck defined domestic violence as occurring "when a person causes or attempts to cause bodily injury, fear of bodily injury, interference with personal liberty or property crimes." He added that crimes where the perpetrator is intoxicated can also fall under domestic violence.
   In order for it to be considered domestic violence, the victim and perpetrator must have some kind of relationship connection. According to Buck, those relationships include people who are legally married, formerly married, have a child in common, living together, related by blood or marriage, are in a dating relationship or a homosexual relationship.
   When officers respond to a domestic dispute call, they must determine who the primary aggressor is by looking for wounds on the victim, defense wounds on the perpetrator, looking at the history of past calls to the residence or on the parties involved, talking to witnesses or seeing if the perpetrator is aggressive to the officer.
   If a person is arrested for domestic violence, they must spend a minimum of 12 hours in jail. If they are convicted of the crime, they are given a minimum of one year of probation, ordered to attend anger management classes and lose their right to legally possess a firearm, Buck said.
   Previously, in order for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest on reported domestic violence, the officer had to see the offense be committed. Now, because of a domestic violence statute adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in recent years, officers can make a warrantless arrest on probable cause. The statute provides for arrests on offenses of stalking, assault, aggravated assault, vandalism and false imprisonment, all of which fall under the umbrella of domestic violence.
   In 2000-2001, the EPD worked a total of 350 cases of domestic violence and made 127 arrests -- 76 of which were drug or alcohol related. Those cases included 81 assaults, four aggravated assaults, six vandalisms and four stalking incidents as well as other crimes. So far this year, the Carter County Sheriff's Department has investigated a total of 129 assaults, 111 of which were perpetrated by a partner or former partner of the victim.
   In 2000, a total of 242 domestic violence cases were reported by both the EPD and the CCSD. That number includes assaults, stalking and kidnapping as well as other offenses.
   "The ultimate goal is to protect the victim," Buck said.
   There are a number of ways that law enforcement officials help victims of domestic violence. Officers can offer assistance in obtaining an arrest warrant or an order of protection. They can also provide transportation for the victim to go to another residence or to a safe house or shelter.
   Another way that officers are helping victims is by giving them reprogramed cellular phones. The phones are donated by a cellular phone service provider and are reprogrammed so that they only dial 911. The phones are given to victims so that if the situation happens again, they will have a way to call for help. According to statistics provided by the Safe Passage domestic violence shelter in Johnson City, approximately 80 percent of victims go back to the abusive relationship.