Memphis may have taken some heat for a spike in homicides last year, but there was a slight decline in reported domestic violence cases.
The Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Domestic Violence Unit reported a total of 23,375 cases last year, which is a decrease from 2011's total of 23,696.
But unlike in years past, domestic violence victims had a new place to turn for help last year. The Family Safety Center was established in 2012 as a one-stop facility for domestic violence victims.
Nearly all the agencies that deal with domestic violence victims — the Exchange Club Family Center, the MPD's domestic violence unit, the Shelby County Crime Victims Center/Rape Crisis Center, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office domestic violence and sex crimes unit, and the Shelby County district attorney's domestic violence unit — are now located under one roof at 1750 Madison Avenue.
The center provides many of the city's victims with legal, health, and social services assistance. Victims visit the center to file orders of protection, make a safety plan when preparing to leave a violent relationship, seek confidential emergency shelter, and prosecute domestic violence offenders.
Gwendolyn Turner, a receptionist at the center, is a survivor of a 20-year abusive relationship.
"At first, he was my prince in shining armor, and then it began to build up. I never saw the red flags," Turner said. "The controlling, the tone of voice when there was something that I disagreed with. It moved from talking sternly to talking mean, to a shake, to a slap, to a downright fight."
Turner said her tipping point occurred when her partner slapped her while they were at church.
"I said, 'If you hit me in the Lord's house, you'll kill me in your house. I've had enough.' That was it," Turner said.
Although Turner got out, some victims feel trapped in an abusive relationship, which sometimes results in the loss of life. Last year, 19 percent of all homicides were classified as domestic violence-related. This is the city's highest percentage since 2010, when it was 21 percent.
Olliette Murry-Drobot, executive director of the Family Safety Center, said there are indicators when determining the potentiality of homicide in abusive relationships.
"If he's abusing alcohol and drugs on a regular basis, whether or not he has access to a handgun, whether or not there are children in the relationship who are not his biological children," Drobot said. "All of those factors play a role in the potential of a homicide."
Although more than 23,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in 2012, Drobot said some cases go unreported.
Most of last year's domestic violence-related homicides involved people who didn't utilize resources from the Family Safety Center, Drobot said. And she said some of those people likely didn't even inform friends or family that they were in a violent relationship.
"We do get phone calls from friends, family members, and neighbors who know things that are going on. We share information with them," Drobot said. "The biggest encouragement for anyone who is a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker of a person experiencing domestic violence is to continue to be a listening ear for that person. That victim may not be ready to seek help at this time, but when the time comes and they're ready, it's good for them to know that there are individuals there as a support system."