“We try to do the best we can, but I’d love to be out of a job,” said Banks, executive director of the Family Crisis Center, which serves Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties. “In my 16-year career, that would be the most wonderful thing — to be able to go home and say ‘I don’t have a job anymore.’”
Banks estimates her agency’s caseload has increased 10 percent during the last year, noting that the number of domestic violence-related homicides in the area is higher than her agency has seen in the past.
Banks said, in her experience as a shelter advocate, episodes of domestic violence increase locally every two to four years. She hypothesizes Walker and Catoosa counties are experiencing that temporary increase.
Walker County experienced its last domestic violence-related homicide seven months ago when Matthew Lee Reynolds of Chickamauga argued with and fatally stabbed John William Holmes. Reynolds had been staying with Holmes at his Kensington residence.
The fatal shooting of Jovy Graham by her estranged husband Mark Wayne Graham on July 10 in Fort Oglethorpe marked Catoosa County’s third domestic violence-related homicide in seven months. After killing his wife, Graham drove to East Ridge, Tenn., where he attempted suicide. According to authorities, Mrs. Graham had called Fort Oglethorpe police in March over a domestic dispute with her husband, but no charges were filed.
Days later, Harold Richard Land of Ringgold shot his ex-girlfriend, Kathy Songer of Chickamauga and formerly of Catoosa County, in the arm. According to authorities, after the drive-by shooting outside Taco Bell in Chickamauga, Land drove to a Chattanooga park where he shot himself fatally on July 15. Earlier this month, Songer had obtained a temporary protective order against Land.
Banks, a one-time victim of domestic abuse herself, cites the influence of television, the media and a lack of strong role models for children as factors contributing to this growing, self-perpetuating, nationwide epidemic of domestic violence.
Detective Bill Cason of the Walker County Sheriff’s Department’s Family Violence Unit said each month he and his partner, Kathy Richardson, handle 30 domestic violence cases, the majority of which are misdemeanors.
Cason said he has also noticed the increase in domestic violence reports, but is not sure whether the statistics reflect a 10-percent increase in incidents or reports.
When a domestic violence case receives news coverage, victims “become more aware of their vulnerability” and make more reports, the detective said. “We have so many more that never come forward.”
“In the 16 years I’ve done this work, I’ve watched it (domestic violence) grow,” Banks said. Although domestic abuse crosses all social and economic boundaries, “we’re seeing a higher-income level class of people, too.”
Since its founding eight years ago, the Crisis Center has successfully helped more than 2,000 clients escape abusive situations, Banks said.
Victims of domestic abuse often linger in violent relationships, hoping the situation will get better, she said.
“I think there is a large degree of denial (by the victims),” Cason said.
“A woman is usually beaten seven to 12 times before she attempts to leave (the relationship),” Banks said.
Abusers maintain their power by hurting or threatening to hurt their victims, and, in recent years, the likelihood has grown that they will carry out those threats, she said.
Banks urges women to watch for warning signs to identify a potentially abusive husband or boyfriend and calls for establishing a screening measure to identify suicidal abusers who threaten their victims.
“We need to look closely at the suicide component of domestic violence,” she said, alluding to the recent local cases.
Banks would also like to see legislators make resources for abuse victims more readily available, she said.
“The legislators and lawmakers are going to have to step up to the plate and look at some different options because the things we’ve done have made a tremendous impact, but there are other things we could look at doing,” she said.
Facing the issue of abuse on a daily basis sparks an emotional response from the staff of Family Crisis Center, especially when they hear of an abuse victim who is killed by her abuser, she said.
“I’m very passionate about this, and it’s been an emotional time for myself and my staff lately,” Banks said