INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Carrie Stephens spent 17 years extracting herself from a violent domestic relationship.
“My mother was abused. I did not get the type of love that I needed, type of support that I needed,” said Stephens, “Literally when I left, it was truly me and my three children, three laundry baskets, a broke down van and the four of us slept on a queen size air mattress for probably about three months.”
As Community Housing & Outreach Coordinator at Coburn Place, Stephens said she can see herself in the hundreds of women and families who seek assistance every year for transitional housing as they escape from domestic violence.
“I did not even call the police for the first time until I left. A lot of people know that one of the most dangerous times when someone is fleeing is when they actually leave.”
A survey just released by the Domestic Violence Network found that more than 10,000 Marion County victims reported domestic violence in 2016.
Center Township is the most likely place for domestic violence in Indianapolis with reports of 9.1 victims per 1,000 people.
In 2015, the Marion County Prosecutors Office reviewed more than 5,000 domestic violence cases, filing criminal charges in more than half. 47% of those cases were dropped due to difficulties locating the victims and witnesses, or because of the reluctance of victims and witnesses to testify.
“They can’t testify for various reasons,” said Stephens. “One is fear. Two is being confused as to the next step especially if they don’t have a plan or no one has spoken to them about a plan about safety or financial reasons or how to parent once they leave.”
While housing, immediate and transitional, is the greatest need of all the survivors escaping their dangerous households, 40% of the victims said they fear for their lives, 32% claimed a suspect had used or threatened a weapon against them and 35% said their attacker had access to a gun.
“Victims of domestic violence are in the gravest danger once they actually leave the relationship because it threatens the power and control of that abuser,” said Coburn Place Executive Director Julia Kathary. “Often times the abuser will stalk them, will make threats against them, up the physical violence that is occurring.”
Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation permitting domestic violence victims to own a gun for up to 60 days before seeking a license after a protective order against their abuser has been filed.
“In situations where domestic violence does occur, if there is a gun brought into that situation then the victim is at much greater risk of being harmed with that gun,” said Kathary, “whether the victim’s trying to protect themselves and they brought the gun to the situation or the abuser has brought the gun into the situation, the victim of domestic violence is much more likely to be injured or killed.”
Last year, Coburn Place provided transitional housing for 83 families with 112 children with a waiting list of more than 100 families.
“You feel like your life is in danger and without safe housing you’re gonna always feel like your life is in danger,” said Stephens. “If you don’t have a safe place to retreat to you’re always gonna feel like someone’s gonna get you, your abuser is gonna find you.”
A complete copy of the report can be downloaded here.