Domestic Violence Special Report - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Domestic Violence Special Report

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by Colby Robertson

MARATHON COUNTY (WAOW) -- "Everybody thought that I had such a great life. Everybody thought he was Mr. Perfect," says a victim of domestic violence. I will refer to her as "Vee" throughout this article.

The face of domestic violence is often one we know, but a story that stays secret. It stays that way for many victims until things come crashing down.

"That was the night he physically picked up my whole body and threw me," says Vee.

 For nearly a decade, Vee was physically, emotionally and mentally abused by her husband. Her face we keep hidden, but her story she reveals now, for the first time. The walking on eggshells, the never knowing what to expect.

"I'd hear the garage door open and I'd just take a deep breath and say okay. What kind of mood is he going to be in today?"

Living in fear, until one day, she knew it had to stop.

Vee says, "Our little guy said to me 'Mama, Daddy hit me in the arm with my truck,' and I just took a deep breath and I thought it was only a matter of time before it got to him and I knew what I had to do."

And so she left. Leaving behind an abusive husband and walking into the Women's Community. 

Vee says, "The walk through that door was probably the hardest thing I ever had to, but honestly it was the best thing I could ever do for myself and for my son."

Jane Graham Jennings runs the women's community. She says, "The physical bruises heal, but it's that emotional and psychological abuse that takes so long and hurts so deeply."

This woman is one of the fortunate. A victim who got out before it was too late. But many victims of domestic violence don't leave and many times if they do leave they end up dead.

In January of 2009, Robin Dunwoody was murdered outside of Wausau Manor where she worked. Her ex boyfriend, shooting her in front of her coworkers.

Lee Shipway counsels abusers and says murder often results for one reason. She says, "They can't fathom living without her and on top of that they just can't fathom her being with anyone else."

Shipway and partner Todd Werner tackle the problem from the abuser's side. As Co-executive Directors of Peaceful Solutions Counseling they focus on those behind the violence.

Shipway says, "Some of these guys, a lot of these guys call their partners names or pushed or shoved. In their mind, the defense mechanisms explain that all away. Well that wasn't violence because it was only a push or a shove. We help them realize that any form of physical use of force is domestic violence."

This man, who we will call "Dee" also asked not to be identified. He showed up at Peaceful Solutions on his own, voluntarily looking for help.

Dee says, "I pushed her, which makes it a domestic. I didn't see it that way, but the option was either to get help or go to jail. I made the option to get help."

Counseling opened his eyes. Weekly, he tells his story, listens to others and together they learn better ways to handle anger.

"They help you realize that's not the way of life. There are a lot of different options," says Dee.

Courage to admit they have a problem and need help. He says it took group sessions and homework to develop a sense of empathy for his partner. One assignment, writing down names he's used to hurt her.

Shipway says, "What do you think she was feeling when you did that and more importantly, what were you feeling at the moment that you said those things to her. We try and get them to understand what the payoff is for them and with verbal abuse it's feeling superior to her."

Shipway says he is a perfect example of the domestic violence in our community. Not always ending in murder, but still ending with hurt.

Shipway says, "I want people to realize domestic violence isn't someone that is beating their partner to unconsciousness everyday of the week. It goes all the way to someone who pushes someone or slaps someone. One act of that physical force is domestic violence."

In 2009, Wausau Police responded to more than 800 domestic violence related calls. That's an average of three calls a day and those are only the cases that get reported.

Wausau Police Lt. Ben Bliven says, "We see a high level of violence in our area and that's something we certainly need to address."

The Domestic Abuse Response team or DART is a partnership between local police, the District Attorney's Office and the Women's Community.

It's the county's most recent effort to combat what's becoming an epidemic, differentiating itself from other groups by truly following up with the victims in a unified approach.

At the same time, this group: the Domestic Abuse Intervention Team meets twice a month to talk about system flaws and failures.

Chad Minder, a member and Assistant District Attorney prosecuting domestic abuse currently has 300 open cases.

Minder says, "In most cases people have a constitutional right to face the person that is accusing them of a crime and so then you have them sitting face to face with the victim and the victim who has been abused has to testify about that that's very difficult for a lot of people."

Minder sees the fallout of a family when abuse happens. It unfolds in court. But few see the other side effects. The children who witness the abuse, learn the behaviors and are left to cope with the aftermath.

Graham Jennings sees all of it at The Women's Community. That's why she works to keep abuse in daily conversation.

Graham Jennings says, "We need to keep it in the forefront. We need to keep people talking about it and silence is a perpetrators best friend, so we need to break the silence."

Coming here was a step that saved Vee's life and now telling her story she hopes to give other victims courage to say enough is enough.

Vee says, "They've helped me find that inner strength that I thought I'd lost. I was so scared for so long, but I'm so proud that I did it."

We still, of course, have a long way to go in this community to put an end to domestic violence.

If anybody knows of a friend or someone who is getting abused, you need to speak up. Say something to that friend and open the conversation.

Please watch the extended interviews to hear more from the victim, the abuser and the experts. Click on the links to see what's being done in the community and if you need help, there's a list of resources by county in our viewing area.

Online Reporter: Colby Robertson

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