Domestic violence in rural Nebraska poses challenge for agencies

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September 15, 2011 - 7:00pm

For one Hastings woman who we'll we refer to as Samantha, it took one incident that almost cost her life before she realized she had to find help.

"He tried to strangle me," Samantha recalled. "I was scared of him but I was afraid to leave him because I didn't know what he would do. When he strangled me two years ago, I didn't have any place to go so I went to Crossroads Mission here in Hastings."



Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News

Supporters relax in the shade while attending the second annual "Music in the Vines", a music festival organized to raise funds for the domestic violence organization Voices of Hope.


It was there that Samantha took the first step toward safety and recovery. Perhaps even more importantly, she realized the abuse would have to end.

"He hurt me real bad, inside and out. I guess something had to happen to me to see that I was going through abuse - real, physical abuse," she said. "The cop told me if he would have had his hand on my throat, I would have been gone. God gave me a sign that said, 'Get out of there before you die.'"

As disturbing as Samantha's tale might be, it's not uncommon. Her voice is one among many domestic violence victims in the state of Nebraska. According to the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition (NDVSAC), agencies in Nebraska provided services to 28,047 people throughout the state. What sometimes is uncommon is the ability of victims to receive help, particularly in rural parts of Nebraska.

Sarah Balcolm, domestic violence program coordinator for the NDVSAC, said leaving an abusive situation in a small town can be challenging for both shelters and victims alike.

"In some areas of Nebraska, cell phone service - it just skips, you just can't reach anybody. If a woman lives on a farm or a ranch she's not going to leave because her animals won't be taken care of. Often abusers will threaten to hurt the animals, just like with pets," Balcolm said. "Another thing is the small town dynamics: everyone knows everybody."

For another victim, a mother-of-three living in North Platte whom we'll call Tracy, that small-town dynamic was one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when making the decision to leave the abusive household she was stuck in only two months ago.

"That ran through my head every day," Tracy said. "What're they going to say about me? What are they going to do? You know, I was so scared, I didn't know what people would do or say. He had friends that would stand up for him before they'd stand up for me."

Like Samantha, it was only after Tracy was convinced her life was in danger that, with the help of her father, she contacted a local shelter and was able to escape with her children.

"He would throw me up against the refrigerator and just start yelling at me," she said. "It got to the point where I was so terrified, I thought something was going happen to me ... I was going to die that night. And my daughter came up to me and she had tears in her eyes, and she's like, 'Mommy I'm scared. I ... I'm scared.'

"That right there told me that I needed to get my children out," she said. "I needed to be the parent that needed to be strong and get them out of there."

Both Tracy and Samantha overcame the challenges of being in an abusive relationship within smaller communities. For support agencies and shelters throughout the state, however, and especially in rural areas, two large obstacles have been a tightening budget and a lack of resources. Many state- and federally-funded programs have been forced to find alternative ways to make ends meet. That problem was reflected in the annual National Network to End Domestic Violence census report. It's been particularly worse since the economic downturn in 2008.

Each year, the National Network has compiled census data for a period of 24 hours from domestic violence programs across the United States. The latest report in 2010 showed that 77 percent of the 22 Nebraska programs reported a rise in demand for services. Simultaneously, those agencies reported a 55 percent decrease in funding.

On a warm September afternoon in Eagle, the Lincoln-based organization Voices of Hope, which provides services for Lancaster County, held a musical fundraiser.

It was the second annual "Music of the Vines," and Patsy Martin, communications and resource development coordinator, sayid it's become one of the lifelines for an organization like Voices. A dwindling budget has forced the program to cut back.

"It's been challenging, and we've actually made some sacrifices to make sure our services continued," she said. "We tried to prioritize, and just felt like they could all be critical to somebody's safety, which is the bottom line. And so staff took a voluntary salary reduction and also took some voluntary furloughs, where they just took leave without pay, in order to really get through the worst of the times."

For Samantha however, a price can't be placed on the support and safety she's been given over the past two years by agencies like the Crossroads Mission in Hastings. And although the past is now behind her, she said that she never takes the kindness of shelters like the Crossroads for granted.

"I don't know. I just get in real bad situations," she explained. "I guess I just don't know how a man's really supposed to love a woman. I'm learning more and more by going to the meetings, and they're always here for me if I need something. For the grace of God, I'm glad I'm alive; some women don't get out of it, some people die over stuff like this. But there is light at the end of the tunnel."

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