BY KEN LITTLE
It's a rare day in Greene County when law enforcement doesn't respond to at least one domestic violence call.
The problem is generations old, although more help options are now available, victim advocates say.
The range of crimes connected to domestic violence can range from simple assault all the way up to murder.
According to figures released last month by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in a report focusing on family violence, 330 cases of simple assault relating to domestic violence were reported by all Greene County law enforcement agencies in 2012.
Local law enforcement officers investigated 100 reports of aggravated assault, 71 reports of intimidation and eight forcible fondling cases.
Four cases each of forcible rape, kidnapping/abduction and stalking were also reported in 2012 by Greene County law enforcement agencies, according to the TBI.
There were no homicides in 2012 in Greene County related to domestic violence, although the numbers statewide make Tennessee third-highest in the nation for women murdered by men, said Lynn Armstrong, director of the Safe Passage Program that serves an eight-county area including Greene.
"We are going the wrong way," Armstrong said. "We're not seeing a decline in domestic violence cases. In fact, we are seeing more people reach out for assistance than in the past, but it is a severely under-reported crime."
RECENT TBI STUDY
The TBI released its figures on this subject in June in "The "Family Violence Study," which focuses on reports from 2012.
It is based on offenses reported last year by law enforcement agencies to the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System.
The parameters of the study don't include "certain valid domestic violence relationships, particularly boyfriend/girlfriend, which was the most commonly reported domestic violence relationship in 2012."
The TBI did not explain why the report released in June did not include boyfriend-girlfriend-related incidents and other domestic relationships, which account for 50 percent of all reported domestic violence crimes.
About 14.5 percent of all crimes reported "were domestic in nature," the report said.
Of the more than 83,000 family-related domestic violence offenses in 2012 statewide, "50 percent were reported as having a familial-victim-to-offender relationship," the report said.
AN 'ONGOING PROBLEM'
The TBI report contains no surprises for Armstrong.
"I knew it was an ongoing problem. I know the shelter programs are struggling to meet the need, so I anticipated some of the results we saw in that report," she said.
Children are often victims of family violence.
A total of 6,781 juveniles statewide were documented as family violence victims, which is 16.2 percent of the total in the 2012 TBI report.
In 2012, six juveniles were murdered by family members across Tennessee, the report said.
"Where there's domestic violence, there is also child abuse. They go hand in hand," said Deana Hicks, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) for the Third Judicial District, which includes Greene County.
CAC works with the state Department of Children's Services and law enforcement agencies to get young victims out of dangerous family situations.
"More people know what to do when they suspect the abuse, but there is also a problem with people thinking it doesn't happen in Greene County," Hicks said.
"It is happening in Greene County."
Armstrong said local law enforcement works well with the Safe Passage Program and other agencies.
"We have good collaboration with police departments," she said.
Law enforcement officers are usually the first to respond to domestic violence situations.
"In my opinion, domestics are one of the calls with the Sheriff's Department that we answer a lot, and it can be one of the most dangerous because you're going into somebody's home and they're also upset," Greene County Sheriff's Department Sgt. David Beverly said.
Arrests aren't made on every domestic call answered by officers, but state laws are "very strict" about circumstances that require the arrest of an offender, Beverly said.
Reasons for domestic calls can be varied, Greeneville police Sgt. Shane Matthews said.
"Around here, it's everything. You can't limit it to one reason. They [the reasons] depend on the situation," Matthews said.
"Some argue over a drug habit, some argue over financial disparity, some argue over the kids."
Many potential abusers are aware they will go to jail and be held on no bond, at least until a first court appearance, if they are determined to be the primary aggressor in domestic assault.
"I think it is a deterrent," Matthews said. "Domestic charges cover a lot more people than (the law) used to."
The TBI released an earlier report in October 2012 covering the overall issue of domestic violence which shows that the problem is pervasive.
"The problem of domestic violence has consistently plagued our society," the report said.
The "Tennessee Domestic Violence Report," from October 2012, covers the years 2009 through 2011.
Domestic violence victims reported from 2009 to 2011 in Tennessee totaled 255,000, the report said.
The majority of the victims of all domestic violence were female, at 72.2 percent, outnumbering male victims by a ratio of almost 3-to-1.
A total of 25,465 juveniles under the age of 18 were reported as victims in the study, accounting for about 10 percent of the total.
"Domestic violence may often be perceived as violence against women," the report said.
The report continued:
"There are numerous agencies nationally and locally that advocate specifically for battered and abused women. The current analyses of domestic offenses in the State of Tennessee supports this notion that domestic violence is most often perpetrated on female victims." the report said.
Eighty percent of domestic violence crimes reported in Tennessee between 2009 and 2011 were cleared by arrest, the 2012 report said.
The victim refused to cooperate in another 17 percent of the cases, and prosecution was declined in 3 percent.
"Hopefully, the current assessment of domestic violence in Tennessee exposes the need for continued and increased efforts in the battle against domestic abuse within our community," the report concludes.
Key findings of the Tennessee Family Violence Study released in June include:
* Females, at 65.3 percent, were almost two times more likely to be victimized than males, at 34.5 percent.
* Simple assault was overwhelmingly the most frequently reported offense, accounting for 67.5 percent of all family violence offenses.
* Male offenders were reported in family violence offenses almost two times more than females, at 65.2 percent versus 34.8 percent, respectively.
* Forty-five of the 54 murder/non-negligent offenses documented with family relationships in 2012 were committed by males, a ratio of 83.3 percent of the total.
* The study found that 17.5 percent of family violence offenses involved drugs or alcohol use by the offender. The majority of those offenders, 82.5 percent, were using alcohol.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference (TDAGC) defines domestic violence as "a pattern of controlling behaviors aimed at gaining power in order to control an intimate partner."
"Domestic violence is about power and control. It is not just about hitting or punching. It is a pattern of assaultive and coercive behavior, including psychological, sexual and physical abuse.
"The syndrome of dominance and control by the perpetrator leading to increasing entrapment of the victim is also known as the 'battering syndrome,'" the TDAGC website states.
"The majority of the time, it is a female that is abused. There are instances of a male being abused, but it seems to be less common," it adds.
It's estimated that between 2 and 4 million women are battered each year in the U.S., resulting in 2,000 deaths. Nearly a quarter of women in the U.S. will be abused at some time in their lives, according to the TDAGC.
"It's an ongoing problem," Armstrong said. "There are not enough resources for those families."
Because of Greene County's comparatively large size, the county is served by several domestic violence shelters. The Safe Passage Program is administered by the First Tennessee Human Resources Agency.
It's difficult for many victims of domestic violence to ask for help, Armstrong said.
"There is still a lot of stigma, and a lot of people feel like they are alone and they are the only ones experiencing that," she said.
"People who are experiencing domestic violence need to be made aware that there are programs out there that do want to help and try and provide safety.
"The first step is the hardest, and that's reaching out for assistance," Armstrong said. "It's important to reach out and get assistance before it happens. Don't let it escalate."
Judges in the region "don't want to see (further abuse) any more than we do," she said.
But to a victim of domestic violence, the legal system can be challenging.
COURT SYSTEM DAUNTING
"It's difficult to navigate the court system for victims. I would like to see a more trauma-friendly system," Armstrong said.
"It's very difficult to tell the same story over and over, and therefore, it makes it very difficult to reach out for help. It's not unusual for victims to be intimidated in court by the batterer."
Domestic violence has an effect on entire families, Armstrong said.
"It doesn't just impact one individual. It impacts entire families and it's unfortunate it's allowed to continue," Armstrong said. "It goes back to holding batterers accountable."
Help can be obtained by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or, for the hearing impaired, at 1-800-787-3224.
The Child Advocacy Center can be reached at (423) 422-4446.