In Depth: Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is heartbreaking. It rips families apart. Its victims represent all generations and often our kids are right in the middle of it. Just last week, an Evansville man was charged with murder in the death of his wife. There have been several cases similar to this here at home and beyond. Kristie Byrns, the Executive Director of the Albion Fellows Bacon Center, joined Eyewitness News In-Depth with Brad Byrd on Monday to discuss.

Here's the transcription of the interview:

Brad Byrd:
"And welcome to 'In-Depth.' It is heartbreaking. Domestic violence. It rips families apart. Its victims represent all generations in our community. And often, our kids are right smack-dab in the middle of it. Just last week, an Evansville man was charged with murder in the death of his wife. There have been several cases similar to this right here at home -- and beyond. I'm joined tonight by Kristie Byrnes. She is the Executive Director of the Albion Fellows Bacon Center. Kristie, thank you so much. Talk about a subject that a lot of people are uncomfortable to talk about. But, it needs to be discussed. It's so difficult to get out of a abusive relationship. And, that is perhaps the biggest challenge that victims face in all of this."

Kristie Byrns:
"Absolutely. Well, abuse, in whatever form it's taking, whether it's domestic violence with physical violence, verbal abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse -- all forms of violence, it's about power and control. And so, when somebody has been controlling someone else in various forms, and maybe all of those ways, it can become so debilitating. There is often shame. There is often fear. It's at the base of not getting away from these relationships. And so, we understand that. It's very hard for victims to get to safety."

Brad Byrd:
"And, when we think of Albion Fellows Bacon Center, I think, it's somewhat of an inaccurate perception is -- that a lot of people think, 'Well, this is a shelter only.' This is a place where victims are going to come and have a safe haven. But, there are other ways that you help."

Kristie Byrns:
"Absolutely. Well, our shelter is very important to who we serve and how we serve. We have nine rooms with 36 beds in our Emergency Shelter. But, we reach so many more people in our community, numbers-wise, in our non-residential program. So, victims who are seeking assistance, seeking help. And, they think, 'But, I don't need shelter.' They still can use our services. And, we would encourage them to contact us to get the help that they need, whether they're the primary victim, or whether they're a secondary victim. If they're a family member who is seeing this occur with their family. We want them to reach out to us, to contact us. We can certainly provide information, assistance, and help in different forms."

Brad Byrd:
"And, when you get that first, initial call, that contact, that plea, that reaching out for help -- there are kids involved often in these situations, and they're not forgotten. But, it's a situation -- how do you keep their lives somewhat going into a normal path when a parent is seeking help?"

Kristie Byrns:
"Absolutely. We want to try to alleviate as much of the trauma as we can. These children have experienced trauma, and we know there's adverse childhood experiences that can even affect the formation of a child's brain as they're growing and developing. We want to add some stability, as much as possible, when they're using our services. Whether they're in our shelter, or if we're interracting with parents through our non-residential program. We want to help them understand what they can to do to be the stability for their child. If they're in our shelter program, our child advocate will work with the children, they'll work with the parent, we'll do things through a 40-developmental aspect program. Things as simple as reading to their child at night for a few minutes. Because, they've been in a situation where survival has been paramount. We want to get them to a place where they can look at how they can start to grow and develop. And, not only just survive this, but thrive through this."

Brad Byrd:
"I assume too that you are sometimes contacted by, maybe a family member who might be witnessing signs of abuse in a home. What should be the red flags that family members -- or even just friends at work -- should be aware of? To possibly intervene and say, 'Look. You need to get help.'"

Kristie Byrns:
"Isolation is always something that you can look at. If an abuser is trying to keep someone away from their family, their friends -- if they are being controlled, if their social media is being constantly watched, if they can't make any phone calls, or communicate. Those are signs that things could escalate. We know that there's a cycle of violence. It might start out as something small, but then escalate through to an explosion. And, then probably go through to a honeymoon phase. That cycle can repeat itself. So, we want people to understand that cycle of violence, and help them get the help that they need."

Brad Byrd:
"And, that first, initial decision. The victim. Whether it be female, male, or even a child -- there have actually been children who have gone to authorities and said, 'Hey, my parents are abusing each other.' That is the highest-risk time."

Kristie Byrns:
"Absolutely."

Brad Byrd:
"And, so how does a victim get past that? Because that victim may be taking a very big chance."

Kristie Byrns:
"Absolutely."

Brad Byrd:
"Just facing it at all."

Kristie Byrns:
"You're absolutely right. That is the highest risk -- when they're going to leave. That is when they're at the highest risk of violence."

Brad Byrd:
"So, what do you tell them?"

Kristie Byrns:
"So, we would suggest that they contact us in advance. If there's a safe, neutral way that they can do that, there's a confidential number that they can use to call us. We can help them safety-plan through the process. Another misnomer is that we're only going to be there when they're ready to leave. No, we will help you all the way through the process. We don't pass judgment. We're here to help. So, if you want to give us a call at our agency, or agencies like ours -- there's a National Domestic Violence Hotline. We can help you walk through the process and determine what is the best route for you to take. And, in the interim, what's going to keep you safe."

Brad Byrd:
"And, as far as the children go, you told me earlier about, sometimes, you'll have children interact with mom, perhaps, at the shelter. Just bedtime stories. Why is that so critical? And, obviously, it's very important -- especially in this case.”

Kristie Byrns:
"When you're developing and growing a small human brain, having that asset built-in to that child's life is something that can help them find that stability, that can help them learn and grow in a healthy way. And, also, it's helping them bond in a situation that's beyond the trauma and beyond the abuse."

Brad Byrd:
"From a personal standpoint, you have worked with victims now, for several years. How does that affect you personally, I assume there are hundreds of people who have been helped by Albion. Hundreds."

Kristie Byrns:
"Thousands."

Brad Byrd:
"Thousands. In any given week, you're talking about more than a hundred. How does that affect you as far as being there, and the people who work there with you?"

Kristie Byrns:
"It's not without its challenges. I applaud our staff. We have an amazing team of staff --volunteers in our community. We have resources available. Me personally? It just ignites my passion even more, to want to help. I do this, not because it's an easy job. I do this because I want to see change, and I want to help our community thrive and get to a place where violence doesn't even occur."

Brad Byrd:
"And, when you feel that it is safe. That that victim has faced this fear, has faced the abuser, has stood up to the abuser and said, 'Enough is enough,' and you finally let go, Do you worry about that person?"

Kristie Byrns:
"Certainly. We see every step as a victory. That first initial phone call is a victory. They've come to us once and then they've had to come back again. Every time we interact with a client, we see it as a chance to speak into their life in the way that we can and to help them empower themselves and to become empowered to take the next positive step. So, we certainly see every opportunity to interact with a client as a positive step forward."

Brad Byrd:
"There are so many pressures, now. There is the opioid epidemic that's going on. Meth, drugs, alcohol. It's always been part of the problem that can tear families apart. Is that getting worse, now, with what we report every day?"

Kristie Byrns:
"What we're seeing in our organization -- we're seeing things we haven't dealt with before. And, we're having to learn and grow through that. Of course, what you're mentioning is certainly part of that problem. We're seeing things as far as human trafficking and sexual assaults that we haven't seen or experienced, so, we're learning and growing through this. And, we're thankful that we're in a community that is supportive, and that we have resources available that help us learn and grow, as we're helping those that we serve."

Brad Byrd:
"Okay, Megan, if you cold put that website up just one more time. If you need help, you can go to your website, and there it is, right there. It is Albion Fellows Bacon.org?'

Kristie Byrns:
"That's correct."

Brad Byrd:
"Contact information is on there, and it is a portal to get help."

Kristie Byrns:
"And, if someone needs to escape immediately, there is an escape button for that, beyond just escaping out. We actually have a feature built in to help provide that extra layer of safety."

Brad Byrd:
"Well, Kristie Byrnes, who is the Executive Director of The Albion Fellows Bacon Center. Kristie, thank you so much for joining us and talking to us about this."

Kristie Byrns:
"Thank you, Brad, for having me on."

(This story was originally published on August 8, 2017)


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