The Norman Transcript

October 9, 2013

Moore church airs documentary, hosts dialogue to help residents learn how to help victims

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — MOORE –– A free screening of the documentary “Telling Amy’s Story” brought a handful of people to Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College on Tuesday night in hopes of raising awareness about domestic violence.

Last year, Oklahoma ranked 17th on a national list of victims who are killed as a result of domestic violence.

This year, the state was ranked third, said Tom Nix, a panelist who talked about the film and domestic violence issues after the screening.

The documentary told the story of a woman named Amy McGee who was shot in the head by her husband at point-blank range after years of his abuse. She was trying to leave the relationship when the shooting occurred.

Det. Ron Johnson, another panelist who has worked countless domestic violence cases said the moment when victims make decisions to leave that abusive relationship is often when they are at the most risk because the abuser is losing the power and control they have over the victim.

However, many social service agencies are working together now to prevent another “Amy” situation.

Cleveland County has organized a Coordinated Community Response Team that brings several agencies together to help victims get the help they need. The team consists of every law enforcement agency in the county, the District Attorney’s office, the Women’s Resource Center, OU Women’s Outreach, probation officers, an offenders council and a ministerial alliance group.

Representatives meet to discuss cases and talk about what they can do to make sure these victims get the help they need and make sure the community is aware of how they can help, as well.

Johnson advised if a friend or family member is in a situation like this, reach out to them and support them, let them know of resources that are available to them and, if need be, get the police involved. Often times, the victim is isolated from their support structure, he said.

In Amy’s case, coworkers knew what was going on. While Amy asked them not to call police the day she was killed, it may have been a phone call that saved her life.

In many cases, it can be frustrating as well because victims will not leave until they are ready, Burnett said. One year, law enforcement responded to 176 calls to the same house, and each time the victim would not give law enforcement anything, claiming she didn’t mean to call them.

Assistant District Attorney Allie Spears, another panelist, said law enforcement acted appropriately and professionally to every one of those calls, never deterring the victim to keep from calling the police, and it paid off. One day, she was ready.

Now the victim’s abuser is in prison, she’s moved out of the house and is moving on with her life, Spears said.

Something law enforcement does to help the victims of domestic violence is giving them a packet full of resources so they know where they can go for help. Sometimes they call the Women’s Resource Center when they’re responding to the call, Johnson said.

It also helps that the district attorney has a “no-drop” policy, meaning that no domestic abuse charges can be dropped and will be seen through until the end. Victims also can receive help through a Victim’s Compensation Board for any medical bills incurred that insurance hasn’t been able to cover, Spears said.

The DA’s office also has a victim advocate available to talk to them and make their voice feel heard, she said. In addition, they also let victims know how they can sign up to receive a phone call if and when the offender is released from jail or prison.

Verizon Wireless has also become a partner, collecting any and all unused cell phones to distribute to shelter’s or places where victims may seek help. The donated cell phones are wiped free of any previous data and victims can use them to call 911, Nix said.

Nix, a Verizon employee, said they currently have boxes for phones at all Verizon store locations and hope more people join in the effort.

Anyone can have a phone drive to help support the cause, he said. The Cleveland County District Attorney’s Office, which is on the third floor of the courthouse, currently is taking cell phone donations.

While there continue to be more resources available and people coming together to help address the problem, there’s still more that is trying to be done.

Spears said right now, a first-time offender will only receive a misdemeanor for domestic abuse unless it is strangulation or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. It doesn’t matter how many bruises the victim has, it still will be a misdemeanor, she said, which is something that needs to be looked at.

If the offender repeats, then it will be a felony charge.

Another free screening of “Telling Amy’s Story” will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 in Oklahoma City on The Great Lawn of the Myriad Gardens.

Jessica Bruha