Once a victim takes the first step, the social service system offers support.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A retired Army master sergeant who left an abusive marriage has joined the Youngstown Police Department's Crisis Intervention Unit as its social worker.
Cynthia Carter said she's proof that domestic violence has no boundaries. Victims, she said, come from all walks of life.
Carter said it's been 25 years since she had a toddler on her lap, a rifle pointed at her head and a deputy sheriff watching from the doorway. The deputy said he couldn't intercede unless her spouse pulled the trigger.
"The attitude used to be 'wait until something happens,'" said Carter, 48. "It's not like that anymore."
Carter, who spent 22 years in the military, comes to the CIU from Valley Counseling Services on Belmont. Her experience includes assessing needs and crisis management.
Most domestic violence cases investigated by the CIU will be reviewed by Carter, whose background includes working with mental health issues, said Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin Casey, a unit supervisor. She said Carter scored first on the civil service test and her experience fits the CIU.
Breaking the cycle
Casey said domestic violence is on the decline and credits a zero tolerance by police, prosecutors and judges. Comparing 2004 to 2003, she said complaints dropped from 2,161 to 1,807 and arrests from 588 to 493.
"People would rather be arrested for drugs than domestic violence," Casey said. "A domestic-violence conviction means you can't carry a gun, and it makes it difficult to find a job; employers don't want you."
Carter said a domestic-violence conviction shows you easily violate trust. Casey said employers know the violence can spill over into the workplace.
Casey said nearly every victim needs the help of social service agencies to break the cycle of violence. Carter's mission is to help victims find the right agency.
She has a thick book from Help Hotline that lists page after page of the agencies available. She plans on visiting many of them to familiarize herself with the services offered and let the agencies know about the CIU.
"The agencies are overwhelmed because the need is so great in the Mahoning Valley," Carter said. "People cannot provide for themselves like they used to."
She said abused women who seek sanctuary find it at Sojourner House, an emergency shelter. The typical stay is 30 days before women and their children can be placed in permanent housing, such as properties managed by Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Casey said statistics show that most women are abused five to seven times before they leave for good. She mentioned a recent homicide linked to domestic violence, saying the woman's friends remained silent until it was too late.
"The friends, as soon as they witnessed the physical abuse, should have called police," Casey said. "Some feel it's a private family matter -- that's the mindset we have to change."
Carter nodded her head in agreement.
"They have to be empowered, to learn to take care of themselves, to step out on their own," Carter said. "Abuse isn't just violence but also power and control."
She said unmarried women with children too often seek the wrong type of mate -- or mates -- in a quest for status.
"If they chose a drug dealer they have status because of ready cash to have their hair and nails done and to buy clothes," Carter said. "They need to make better choices. With education they won't have more children."
Casey said some women feel getting pregnant is the way to get a man.
"When we hear that, it still amazes me. Pregnancy doesn't result in marriage," Casey said.
She recalled a 22-year-old woman who visited the CIU with five children, ages 2 to 7. The kids played in the outer office with toys provided, including a tiny plastic stove and refrigerator.
"The older one was aggressively kicking the younger one -- you could see what they witnessed in the house. You got the whole picture," Casey said. "If the mother had never walked in here, those kids' behavior told the story."
Carter said women who don't work outside the home and depend on a man for the basics often find it difficult to leave. Violence in the home, she said, can have an impact on children.
The CIU, formed in 1996, is in the process of making information packets that will detail the harm done to children who witness abuse. Casey and Carter said such children often can't sleep and their schoolwork suffers.
"They get a warped sense of what a husband is; they learn that with violence they get their own way," Carter said of the children.
Carter said there's no excuse for domestic violence and allowing it shows a lack of self-esteem, with some women believing they deserve to be hit. "If you love what you see in the mirror you won't allow harm to come to it," she said.