Truth, before consequences

AHS students learn about domestic violence

Alcoa High School students were taught a life lesson recently. They learned that not only is domestic violence real, but it happens to people their age.

Ellen Berez, Assistant District Attorney for Blount County, and Monica Aistrop, Blount County District Attorney’s domestic violence victim assistant, spoke to a different class each hour at the high school about the realities of domestic violence. “Teen dating violence and domestic violence are basically the same thing,” Aistrop said. “What happens with teens is exactly the same in women relationships.”

Domestic violence is about power and control, Berez said. “It is about exercising power over someone else you are supposed to love.”

Aistrop said that this “power” over someone is not exclusively demonstrated with physical violence. It can be power through different forms of abuse: Harassment, intimidation, violating privacy, threats, limiting independence, humiliation and isolation.

Relating the abuse to a teenager’s life, Aistrop said that the abuser could break personal property, initiate unwanted intimacy, control how the teenager dresses, call them worthless, say “it is either me or your family/religion/friends,” provide rules on when and where the teenager could go, and say “I’m the boss.”

“Isn’t love grand?” Aistrop said. She said that these forms of control and abuse do not express any form of love. “Abuse knows any type of relationship. Whether you are white or black, rich or poor, a lawyer or a judge, it knows no backgrounds,” she said. “We’ve seen it in so many relationships. Whether you are gay or straight, man or a woman, it happens.”

While each case may involve different situations, Berez said that in domestic violence relationships, there is a pattern. “Domestic violence goes in a cycle of three steps,” she said. The first step is the explosion. This step is when the abuser has an outburst of physical or mental abuse. The second step, which immediately follows the first, is the honeymoon step.

This step is when the abuser treats the victim like a king or queen. The abuser pampers the victim with flowers, movies, dinner, apologies and promises that everything will be fine. “He promises you everything will work out, and you believe him since it’s the first time,” Berez said. “If it’s the 50th time, you still believe his promise because maybe he will mean it this time.”

The third step is the tension-building stage when the victim is “walking on egg shells, waiting for another explosion,” she said. “We cannot say in the 10 years how many times we’ve seen this cycle. Once it gets physical, it gets only worse.”

Aistrop and Berez told the students if they ever see a friend, acquaintance or a family member in an abusive relationship to always be there for that person. They said to tell the victim that it is not their fault. “All the victim hears is that it is their fault,” Berez said. “You need to be supportive and don’t tell them what to do. Offer to go with them to talk with someone.”

Though Berez warns that sometimes there are “clueless adults” who do not believe people or people who say, “It will work out.”

“It is really hard to leave relationships. Victims need the support of a lot of people,” Aistrop said. Statically, they said the victim returns to the abuser an average of 12 times, until the victim is ready to leave.

The class ended with a personal story of abuse from Aistrop and a slideshow of domestic violence victims. There were looks of fright and anger in the students’ eyes as photos of battered women came across the screen. To be safe, Aistrop and Berez said to always carry a cell phone and a charger with them if they ever need to call 911.

Candance Brown, one of the students in the class, said that she believes what was being said about the realties of domestic violence. “I believe they are telling the truth about girls going back to their boyfriends every time they fight,” she said. Brown has not experienced violence in her relationships but there has been a time when violence hit home with her. “One of my cousins was in an abusive relationship. It took her a while but she left him.”

The Blount County District Attorney’s office reports they have more than 653 new domestic violence cases in General Sessions Court each year. This number does not include Grand Jury and Circuit Court.

While violence against women is the most common with 94 percent of abusers in domestic violence cases in Blount County are men; women abusers make up the other 5 to 6 percent.

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