Domestic violence a complicated problem

Published 1:33 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2012

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

My mom died when she was 56 years old. She was plagued her whole life with sickness and battled demons, such as substance abuse. One of the greatest challenges my mom faced was who she decided to keep company with.

The first time I remember my mom being assaulted was when I was 6 or 7 years old. She and her boyfriend were arguing, likely drunk, and it became physical. My mom was yelling for me to call for help, but instead I tried to separate them. I paid the price for that.

The neighbor heard the commotion and called 911. My mom was bleeding from the mouth, had swollen eyes, holding her arm, and I knew from an early age what it felt like to get hit in the face. When the officer finally arrived, what he said was true. “It was a family problem,” and no arrest was made.

Fortunately, in 2000, the state of Alabama passed a law that made it law enforcement’s problem. That law mandates that police arrest if a primary aggressor is identified. If there is evidence of injury, then there is probable cause for arrest.

We do not have to have the compliance of the victim. The officer becomes the complainant and signs warrants on behalf of the victim. Unfortunately, many times, as with my mom, there is a long history of abuse. We may only be called because we are summoned by a neighbor, and often the victim doesn’t want us there for fear that his or her attacker will think the victim called us.

Many people outside an abusive home will ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” There is no good answer for that. The victim may be financially dependent on the assailant or there are hopes that the attacker can be reformed. There may be children in the picture that the victim doesn’t want to know mom or dad is abusive.

The key is to be supportive and try to offer resources. Do not be judgmental; do offer suggestions for safety plans, and let them know you care about their safety. Now is not the time to talk about divorce. What is important is to not give up hope. Domestic violence, if not addressed by the victim and the attacker, could progress into serious assault or death, and possibly, not by the same attacker.

When I was about 9, a different man was charged with attempted murder and was recently released from prison for nearly killing my mom. This was a classic case of a victim that tried to handle it herself, sometimes felt guilty and embarrassed, and was very dependent on her attackers for support.

Here in Shelby County, our strongest advocate for victims of domestic violence is Safehouse. October is domestic violence awareness month and we need to be aware that domestic violence exists in our communities and there is help.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He can be reached at