The pictures are disturbing: Angela Brower, a 37-year-old resident of Memphis, Tennessee, was hit so severely by her ex-lover that a metal plate had to be implanted in her face; other injuries included ruptured blood vessels and a broken nose. Brower’s story of fear, pain and injuries is all too familiar to anyone who’s dealt with domestic violence—but there’s also good news:
- Her attacker, Walter Frank Bradley, is in jail.
- Her injuries are healing.
- Brower has raised more than $11,000—much of it from strangers—in an online fund-raising project to help pay her medical costs.
- She is reaching out to other victims of domestic violence.
- She is part of a much larger story about Tennessee’s success in fighting domestic violence.
Tennessee has long been one of the worst states for domestic violence. Last year the Violence Policy Center said that Tennessee had the sixth-highest rate of women murdered by men in the US. At the same time, however, domestic violence rates in Tennessee are not only falling, but declining dramatically. According to a recent Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report, domestic violence reported to police across the state has dropped for the four consecutive years—by 5.7 percent in 2013, for example. Statewide, nearly every category of crime — including murders and aggravated assaults— decreased in 2013, and 65 out of 95 counties saw domestic violence cases drop as well.
Tennessee’s success reflects a pattern that researchers are seeing across the US, where domestic violence has been falling sharply since 1994. Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence, says she’s seeing many signs of broader awareness of the problem. She notes, for example, that domestic violence played an important role in a recent district attorney race in Davidson County, Tennessee. “All three candidates were talking about their platform on domestic violence, and I think that’s a very direct result of local folks making this a priority issue,” she said.
Although most types of domestic violence are decreasing, the number of same-sex incidents, while less than 2 percent of all cases in Tennessee, has grown by more than 44 percent. Within same-sex relationships, the largest group of domestic violence victims and perpetrators were African-American females at 42.5%. Those statistics are troubling.
But Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says that even those disturbing numbers may signal progress. In the past, he says, many same-sex couples were afraid to call police. Lately, though, Tennessee has become more welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. “More people are forming relationships because more people are out,” he says. “Those city police forces are taking more steps to learn more about the diversity of domestic violence, so reporting becomes easier.”
Much remains to be done for all victims of domestic violence, whether in same-sex or traditional relationships. In 2013, despite dramatic progress in Tennessee, 78,495 incidents of domestic abuse were reported there. Angela Brower, the victim whose injuries have begun to heal, is one of many victims who are taking action. Brower, who went back to her abusive lover the first time he hit her, has begun educating other victims about the problem.
The TBI report shows that between 2011 and 2013, more than 24,000 cases were closed without prosecution because victims backed down. Often, the report says, victims feared retaliation—but sometimes a victim simply couldn’t let go of a relationship despite the dangers. Brower is asking those women to think again. Graphic photographs she’s posted on her Facebook page document what happened to her and ask a blunt question: “Does this look like love to ANY OF YOU?”
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of ten books, including Police Talk (Pearson), and she publishes a Police Writer Newsletter. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book Criminal Justice Report Writing. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.