Social organizations spreading domestic violence awareness in Cole County
JEFFERSON CITY - The rates of reported domestic violence in Cole County have risen in each of the past three years according to information released by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
In 2014, there were 577 reported domestic abuse cases in Cole County, 2015 there were 587, and last year, 2016, there were 618 documented cases.
Of the 114 Missouri counties, Cole County ranked 15th in the number of domestic violence cases that were reported from 2015 to 2016. Now, several social agencies are doing their part to provide help for victims of domestic violence.
Organizations work hand-in-hand to raise awareness
Missouri NOW, the National Organization for Women, and the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service, or RACS, are two social organizations that work to assist victims.
RACS has sheltered domestic violence victims of all ages. The shelter is hidden from the public, so a victim's anonymity remains protected.
Alden Henrickson, executive director for Jefferson City RACS, said there are 15 staff members who handle many services like counseling, case management, and legal implications.
“We’re open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, we have someone there every minute,” Henrickson said. “We help Cole County and nine counties surrounding it.
Henrickson said RACS has sheltered 190 women and children from January 1 through September 1, 2017.
“Our primary goal is to serve people once they’ve been aggrieved, once they have become victims, but we’re not going to solve this problem until we get to the core of it,” Henrickson said.
The Capital Area chapter of MO NOW was established in February of this year, and has held rallies to spread domestic violence awareness. Chapter President Jeannie Lahman said it’s important to spread its message to the public.
“Over the next few months we will continue to talk about this issue in public places,” Lahman said. “It’s so very important that people realize it’s such a shame that comes with domestic violence.”
Chapter president has her own dark experience
For Lahman, domestic violence is an issue that is deeply ingrained in her past.
When Lahman was 16, she became pregnant. Just a year later, her parents signed for her to marry the father to her child. The father physically and mentally abused Lahman over the next several years.
“There were many beatings, hair pulling, being kicked, being told I’m worthless. At many times I was in fear for my life,” Lahman said.
Fearing for her child’s life and hers, Lahman created a plan to leave her then abusive husband.
The night she left, Lahman said her then husband came toward her with a gun, but she said she took the proper steps to permanently remove herself and her child from the situation.
“I think if given one more opportunity, he would have killed me,” Lahman said.
Lahman later remarried, had another son, and moved forward with her life.
“As time went on I didn’t have a lot of time to deal with what happened to me. I just knew that I had to go forward,” Lahman said. “I had to provide for my children, a home and a safe place, something that I didn’t have.”
Lahman said it’s important to tell her story, because she knows that she is not the only woman that has faced abuse in the past, or currently experiencing domestic violence.
“I believe that the pain that I endured, and there was a lot of pain and hardship, I can now use that as a way of showing other women and men as well, that there is life after abuse,” Lahman said.
In 2016, Missouri had 44,000 reported instances of domestic violence. From a national perspective, one out of every four women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner according to a report from the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Steps to combat domestic violence
Lahman said there are several steps that the public and governmental bodies need to focus on to decrease the rate of domestic abuse.
“We should believe women,” Lahman said. “When women come forward and say they are being beaten, believe them.”
Lahman said other factors include starting to vote for pro-women candidates in various roles like the school-board, the sheriff, city council, mayor, and all forms of government.
On October 22, the Capital Area chapter of MO Now held a rally to raise domestic violence awareness. The chapter invited officials like the sheriff of Cole County, county commissioners, and the Jefferson City mayor, but none attended.
Lahman said it is important city officials get involved.
“We would like for them to come so the public can see that these elected officials understand that this is a problem and they want to work with us. If we invite them again, I hope they will come this time,” Lahman said.
For those experiencing any type of domestic violence, help is always right around the corner.
“I’ve been where they were at. I would be willing to get them to a place where they feel safe,” Lahman said.
“Don’t stay in a situation just because you don’t think that there is someone out there that can help. That’s simply not the case,” Henrickson said.
Resources for victims
Henrickson and Lahman said that help is always available. If you or someone you know have been affected by domestic violence, contact the police, MO NOW or RACS for immediate support.
To receive help, call the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service the hotline (573)634-4911 or toll free hotline at 1-800-303-0013.
To contact MO NOW visit its website here.