Case shows cycle of domestic violence

At age 20, she stands just 4-foot-11 and weighs less than 130 pounds.

Her Trumbull County Jail booking photo shows the Warren woman’s heavily bruised face, including two blackened eyes.

The charge filed May 26 against her is listed in the Warren Municipal Court file as obstructing official business.

Two days later, charges of felonious assault also were filed against a man identified in a police report as the woman’s boyfriend. In that case, she is listed as the “victim.” As we’ve detailed in recent news stories, that man is accused of brutally beating the young woman inside a Warren home as two children, ages 2 and 8, watched in horror.

The woman was left with “bruises covering her arms, shoulders, chest and legs,” a Warren police report said, adding she was bleeding with both eyes swollen shut and what appeared to be multiple fractures in her face.

This wasn’t the first time she had been brutalized.

Court records list her as a victim of domestic violence in 2017, that time at the hands of a different man.

Police say the woman identified her most recent assailant as the man convicted in the 2017 case.

Now, police and court records indicate investigators believe that story was fabricated.

Shelly Bell, a specialist with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network in Columbus, told me it’s not at all uncommon, unfortunately, for a domestic violence survivor to end up on the other side of the law.

Bell said a victim can be charged if they defend themselves against an abuser or recants; if the abuser forces a victim to participate in crime or even if the victim flees with the children and is charged with kidnapping.

In the case at hand, it appears the woman is being charged because police believe she lied to them about her attacker.

Experts say when domestic violence victims change their stories or simply aren’t truthful with investigators, it often is due to being terrorized by the abuser.

Alicia Williamson, director of Domestic Violence and Visitation Services at Someplace Safe and Solace Center in Trumbull County, said she believes most victims who fail to cooperate do it simply because they fear more violence when their abuser is released from jail. Or it can be because they are so reliant on the abuser for financial support for her or her children.

Police and prosecutors, who are obligated and sincerely want to help victims, become frustrated by this seemingly illogical lack of cooperation. They historically have charged victims who change their stories or fail to appear in court when subpoenaed — all a tremendous waste of public resources.

This sad, vicious cycle goes on and on, until victims find the strength to break the control of the abuser. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen. Last year, Ohio saw 91 domestic violence deaths.

Statistics provided by Bell indicate that each minute, 24 people are victims of domestic violence, rape or stalking by an intimate partner.

Still, if a victim feels unsafe testifying, Bell believes it’s preferable for law enforcement to move forward without the victim’s testimony.

That makes the prosecution’s case much harder — juries aren’t likely to convict without victim testimony!

But charging a victim also is not going to guarantee her cooperation, and Bell says it can have a chilling opposite effect — leading victims to never again reach out for help due to fear of prosecution, or leading other victims who saw media coverage also to avoid seeking help.

In the end, the only way to break the vicious cycle is for these victims to find help.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims and survivors by calling 1-800-799-7233 or logging on www.thehotline. org.

And if you are a jailed survivor, Williamson and Bell suggest calling a defense attorney first, and then connecting that attorney with the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (NCDBW) at 1-800-903-0111, Ext. 3.