Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw
By: Jimmy Watt
Public Information Officer
(Walhalla, SC)————————————The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office last Monday, July 8th participated in an event to help bring awareness to the problem of domestic violence in Oconee County.
The event was entitled “A Call To Action” and was held at the Gateway Oconee Christian Event Center on West North First Street in Seneca. The event was held primarily to bring to the attention of pastors and staff of area churches the issue of domestic violence and the programs and tools that are available to them to help them combat the problem. The event was billed as a “Campaign Strategy Against Domestic Violence in Oconee County.”
Oconee County Sheriff’s Mike Crenshaw spoke at the event, along with Robbin Potrafka from the Gateway Oconee Christian Event Center, Celeste Norris, Director of the Lifetree Café, and Becky Callaham, Executive Director of Safe Harbor. Also, other members of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office were in attendance, as well as several pastors of local area churches and the 10th Circuit Solicitor’s Office was represented as well. Those who attended in the audience had an opportunity to ask questions once the presentation was over. The response from those in attendance was positive, with some of the pastors asking those in attendance to come and speak to their congregations and youth groups.
“The most important thing to remember this morning that is not about Mike Crenshaw,” says the Sheriff. “This is not about the Sheriff of Oconee County. This is about something that God’s hand that I feel like is upon.”
The Sheriff talked about the murder-suicide that occurred in Oconee County on January 5th, 4 days after he took office, to an address that the Sheriff’s Office had never been called to before. That event, according to Sheriff, was the event that led to his meeting with Becky Callham and Celeste Norris and started the process towards many efforts to combat domestic violence. The Sheriff said that domestic violence is a county and community wide issue and that help is needed from the religious, business and civic community in an effort of teamwork to combat the problem.
“The Sheriff’s Office is not going to stop domestic violence,” the Sheriff continued. “We had two murder-suicides last year. The Sheriff’s Office has never been to those locations in regards to domestic violence. Using the analogy of the Titanic, Oconee County has hit the iceberg. Oconee County is sinking, we have already hit the iceberg and unless we do something as a community, it is not going to solve this problem. We can continue to be reactive or we can choose to be proactive or we can choose to be co-active and partner with you to help us to change hearts and to change minds to help victims and defenders as we go forward.”
Domestic violence covers many areas and types, from hitting to throwing objects to threats to sexual abuse to economic deprivation. Domestic violence is a broad spectrum, according to the Sheriff, that one person can use over another to maintain control over that person. The Sheriff went on to say that domestic violence has nothing to do with one’s educational or economic fluency, or age or gender.
“In 2011 and 2012, of all the murders in South Carolina,” says the Sheriff. “14% in 2011 and 16% in 2012, of the victims of all the murders in the state, 14% and 16% of all those victims were involved in some type of intimate relationship, whether it was common law marriage, or boyfriend and girlfriend, which is the largest majority, about 60%, about 25% were married, about 10% were common law, living together in some form or fashion. One out of five murders in South Carolina for the past couple of years has been domestic related. Then we think about aggravated assaults, those cases in which no one was killed, it goes from one out of five to one out of four. Roughly 24 to 25% of those are domestic related.”
“When we talk about Oconee County,” the Sheriff continued, “in the past five years, in the unincorporated areas only (those areas outside the city limits of Seneca, Walhalla, Westminster, Salem, and West Union), we have averaged in excess of 200 cases a year being reported to us. How many cases go unreported? Currently this year we are on track to surpass the 200 mark again. In the first six months of this year, we have 113 that have been reported to the Sheriff’s Office. The level of violence seems to be increasing. It is not that simple assault and battery; we see injuries, we see broken bones, we see broken legs, we see death and that is what is on the increase. That is what is putting Oconee County on the map. In the last twelve months (as of July 8th), three out of the last four murders in Oconee County has been domestic related. According to stats, about every day to day and a half, someone calls us about a domestic related issue. If we factor in those reports those that go underreported, it is happening every day in Oconee County, some days, more than once.”
“Domestic Violence robs people of the safety that they should have in their own homes,” says Celeste Norris. “If you can’t feel safe in your own home, it’s not right. The victims of domestic violence deal with this every day. They are not safe in their own homes.”
According to statistics mentioned by Mrs. Norris on reported cases nationally, one in four women and one in nine men has been a victim of domestic violence. Victims are primarily women, 85% as opposed to 15% of men. Mrs. Norris reported that Oconee County is number five in the nation and number one in the state regarding domestic violence. Also, according to Mrs. Norris, one in five teenagers reports that they have been physically abused by their boyfriend or their girlfriend, which in Oconee County, it is one in three teenagers. Mrs. Norris also challenged the faith community to speak out from the pulpit against the scourge of domestic violence and what the root cause of the problem is.
“You have a voice, you have a pulpit, one, two, maybe three times a week. You can address the moral issue like nobody else can. You have the opportunity and the ability to tell the truth about the root of this problem, which we all know is sin. Educators may not be able to say it, but pastors can. You guys are on the front lines and that is why we asked you here first. And we are counting on you to respond in some way. We would like a response of what you can do, in your church, in your congregation, in your local community, what message will you present to the community, how are you going to call this community to action, because you have the means to do better than anyone else.”
Sheriff Crenshaw also discussed what the Sheriff’s Office has been doing since January to help combat domestic violence.
“In our vision statement, it talks about building partnerships to promote a safer community. That goes hand in hand with what we are wanting to do here today,” according to the Sheriff. “Currently we have undertaken some steps and some things were already in place in regards to domestic violence. We have a dedicated domestic violence investigator and our victim advocates. Beth Blundy is here from the solicitor’s office that helps us with our prosecutions. We support maximum fines for domestic violence; we don’t want it to be a slap on the wrist, and maximum prison sentences. We have protocols in place that if we have some things in place in our case file that is documented, we can forward with victimless prosecutions. It still makes it difficult because it is hard to prosecute without the victim. In early January, we talked about the needs of a domestic violence shelter here in Oconee County. Our victims’ advocates have carried victims to shelters in Greenville and Anderson Counties. We do need a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Oconee County.”
Sheriff Crenshaw also made a plea to pastors to allow deputies and other officials to be allowed to come to visit youth groups and other organizations in churches to share resources with those groups that are available and to help establish guidelines for churches as they deal with individuals who have been involved with domestic violence. The Sheriff also asked pastors to be willing to preach from their pulpits about domestic violence.
“I cannot remember a single victim that I have talked with that hasn’t had some kind of faith,” says Becky Callaham from Safe Harbor. “She had that faith to leave when she came to us; she had that faith when she came to a preacher asking ‘what shall I do?’ She had that faith when she put her feet on the ground and keep going. It is where the faith community can truly come in and change things. That is really why I know that this initiative is starting with this group. Faith communities change lives every single day. There is where it is going to happen and this is where it is going to start.”
Mrs. Callaham went on to say the survivors of domestic violence are her heroes and she said she often remembers the stories and the people. She said she remembers the broken spirits. She went on to say that according to her statistics, two-thirds of domestic violence victims don’t report what happened. She also discussed why opening the Safe Harbor domestic violence shelter is so important in Oconee County, because, according to statistics from Mrs. Callaham in a survey for Safe Harbor, 47% of Oconee County residents know someone who has been victim of domestic violence. Children are also present in 68% of domestic violence situations where law enforcement are called out. 38% of respondents to that study said they knew of a child who lived in a home where domestic violence was occurring. 57% of teenagers know someone who has been verbally, physically, or sexually abused in a dating relationship, for which Safe Harbor does have dating violence prevention program, which is available for schools and youth groups. Those children, according to Mrs. Callaham, are a high risk for juvenile delinquency, drug use, and to be perpetrators and victims of domestic violence themselves. Mrs. Callaham also encouraged those in the faith community to refer victims of domestic violence to domestic violence organizations and to pray for both the victims and perpetrators.
“80 percent of battered women do leave,” according to Mrs. Callaham. “They leave, but guess what happens? The risk of injury increases with separation. So what we are saying is, ‘It makes it worse when you leave.’ The dangers of trying to get out of domestic violence without strong support and adequate protection are real and deadly. Without proper protection, it’s true that the violence will escalate when she leaves.”
At the event, some information was available regarding several domestic related issues, including the warning signs of domestic violence. Some of those signs that one might look for include:
• Invasion into Personal Matters
• Possessive and Jealous
• Need to Control Almost Every Situation
• Treating Others as Inferior and Show Them No Respect
There is not a 100% safe guarantee concerning victims of domestic violence, but officials say there are some things you can do to increase a person’s level of safety. According to some information that was available from Lifetree Café, which was adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, here are some ideas on what you can do if you are still in an abusive relationship:
• Try to hide weapons
• Get to a safe place when arguments start
• Always have your phone with you
• Create a code word to signal friends and family for help
• Leave the driver’s side door on your car unlocked for a quick escape
If you are preparing to leave an abusive relationship, according to the same information from Lifetree Café adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you may want to consider the following things:
• Get a new cell phone and number
• Set aside money
• Keep important phone numbers with you
• Keep a bag of your things ready
• Have important documents ready
• Contact a local agency that can help you
After leaving an abusive relationship, the following steps are recommended, once again, adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:
• Carry a copy of your protective order with you (if you have one)
• Change your travel habits and where you do your regular shopping
• Talk to a local shelter about services it can provide
• Consider an address confidentiality program
• Change the locks and install stronger doors
Finally, from the same sources as above, here are some tips if your friend is dealing with domestic violence:
• Let your friend know you’re concerned about his or her safety
• Acknowledge that your friend is in a difficult and scary situation
• Be supportive
• Be nonjudgmental
• Encourage your friend to participate in activities with friends and family members
• Help him or her develop a safety plan
• Encourage your friend to contact a local domestic violence agency
• Remember that you cannot rescue him or her
The plan going forward, according to Robbin Protrafka, is to continue these meetings, hopefully with all the area pastors, and then expand to business, civic, and educational leaders in Oconee County. Mr. Protrafka also said that he wanted a program and thinks there is a program for the perpetrators of domestic violence, who in most cases is men. There are programs and counseling services currently available through the Domestic Abuse Counseling program, which is based in Columbia but meets in Seneca, even for those who are not arrested and charged with domestic violence.
Previously during his comments, the Sheriff made mention that the media often publishes information and pictures about domestic violence situations and suspects. One question concerned how church could make use of this information. The Sheriff commented that churches could use this as an opportunity to set up visitations with those individuals as a way to reach out and help and change their hearts. Mrs. Callaham commented additionally that churches must be careful in doing this.
“One of the things that gets very tricky is having the victim and perpetrator in your congregation. It is real important to make sure your congregation holds the perpetrator accountable. You don’t want to victim to feel like you are colluding with the perpetrator. The victim absolutely needs the most help. The victim needs to know that you believe her, you are going to stand with her, and that you will not tolerate this and you cannot be seen as colluding with the perpetrator. Obviously the perpetrator is struggling, no doubt. I have heard numerous stories from victims saying they felt absolutely abandoned by their faith community because their faith community was attempting to try to help both the victim and the perpetrator but it felt like the victim was being abandoned. By the time it gets to be when an arrest is made, it has gone beyond a communication issue.”
For further information on the Gateway Oconee Christian Event Center, visit www.gatewayoconee.com. To find out about all the upcoming events at Life Tree Café, visit www.lifetreecafe.com. If you are the victim of domestic violence and need help, visit the Safe Harbor website at www.safeharborsc.org or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at www.thehotline.org. Also, victims of domestic abuse are encouraged to call the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office or their local municipal law enforcement department.