Reach out, speak out
Domestic violence experts call for culture shift, harsher laws against offenders
Tracey Lyall is the executive director of Tulsa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Services.
Editor’s note: This story uses a pseudonym to protect the identity of a victim of domestic violence. This story contains graphic information detailing domestic abuse.
Two months ago, 22-year-old Allyssa Fielding and her unborn child were killed after suffering a severe beating, allegedly at the hands of her partner Colby Wilson. In October of 2016, Wilson was convicted of domestic assault and battery against Fielding. He was released the following July, according to Tulsa World.
A preliminary hearing for Wilson is set for July 3. The double homicide case is particularly jarring because Fielding had a protective order against Wilson when she was killed. Police say Wilson held Fielding hostage, making her sit in front of a camera when he was away, according to Tulsa World reports.
“This is a woman that was controlled beyond reason,” Tulsa Police Homicide Sgt. Brandon Watkins told The World. “Under no circumstances can I blame her for not reaching out. I can’t imagine she had much hope of anything.”
Mental and emotional abuse can warp the thinking of a victim of domestic violence’s thinking. For one Tulsa woman who survived domestic violence, her ex-husband’s incessant mind games made her believe she deserved the abuse.
“He picked away at my insecurities and eventually he mentally conditioned me into thinking his thoughts,” said Hope, a Tulsa teacher.
She recalled one particular incident—the one that drove her to seek help. Hope said her husband got upset about a phone conversation she had with her mother.
“He waited until our son was asleep. Then he proceeded to beat me,” Hope said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. He’s gonna kill me.”
Then their son woke up. Hope bolted out the door and ran straight to the apartment manager. They called the police. Her husband spent a single night in jail.
What followed would culminate into a cycle of religious manipulation, false apologies and relentless beatings. He used the Bible to control her, blaming his beatings and verbal abuse on her not being a good enough Christian wife. Eventually Hope reached out for help and received counseling and legal assistance from Tulsa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS), finally giving her the courage and resources to take her son and leave.
“We still have people who believe domestic violence is a private matter,” DVIS executive director Tracey Lyall said. She and her organization are working with the OKC-based Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to change that perception and update criminal penalties for abusers.
In recent weeks there have been stronger calls for legislative action after the double-homicide in April, where a man who was recently released from prison after a domestic violence conviction allegedly regained control over his girlfriend, strangled her and beat her severely, ultimately killing her and her unborn baby.
Lyall says stronger penalties and longer prison sentences could have possibly prevented the recent murder in Tulsa. While legislation on the issue has mostly stalled, a ray of hope came earlier this spring with the passage of Senate Bill 926, which requires sex education in schools to also teach consent.
“With criminal justice reform, I become concerned that we’re going to forget that domestic violence is a violent crime,” Lyall said.
She said she would like to see strangulation become a crime that requires the offender to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. Strangulation is an indicator that abuse could turn deadly. A 2014 study in the San Diego Tribune showed women who had been strangled were almost eight times more likely to end up homicide victims than women suffering other forms of abuse.
Some advocates wonder whether the mostly male legislature even understands the severity of domestic violence in a culture that blames the victim.
“Domestic violence equals manipulation, control and abuse,” said Rose Turner, vice president of clinical services at DVIS. She said when a captor continually hears phrases like “you don’t deserve any better,” “you’re worthless,” or “nobody will believe you,” it starts to challenge their self-worth.
After years of counseling, apologies and false promises, a clip of a Dr. Phil episode shined a light through the shadows Hope’s life had become. “What is it about your self-perception that makes you think this is something you deserve?” Hope repeated the quote.
She said it was then that she knew she had to leave and through the legal resources that DVIS offered, Hope filed a protective order against her husband of 20 years.
While some ask why a person stays in that situation, Hope wants people to recognize that without a safety exit plan in place, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous action a survivor can make in the relationship.
“But there is a life beyond abuse,” Hope said. “I’m remarried to a man who is the complete opposite.”
Laughing through the painful memories, Hope said her life went from a Lifetime movie to a Hallmark romantic comedy.
For Lyall, domestic violence won’t ever be solved until spouses, friends, families, legislators and society takes a hard stance against domestic violence, which may be a difficult task in a country that hasn’t yet ratified the Equal Rights Amendment for women nearly 50 years after the bill’s passage.
To learn more about DVIS resources, visit their website. You can also call the 24-hour information and crisis hotline at 918-743-5763.