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Community braces for possible rise in domestic violence cases
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Tri-County Protective Agency Assistant Director Cheryl Hughes stands next to a crib at the shelter. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge

Tri County Protective Agency staffers say the community is currently experiencing a “honeymoon phase” with the recent Christmas holidays and the return of most 3rd Infantry Division troops to Fort Stewart. But they don’t expect the quiet to last.
“We’ve had a slight rise in temporary restraining orders,” Tri-County Protective Agency Assistant Director Cheryl Hughes said. “We’re not seeing a tremendous rise (in domestic violence rates) now. But it will come.”
Liberty County Communications Director Tom Wahl said more people naturally mean more 911 calls.
“The calls upon initial contact of that type [domestic violence] usually go up when soldiers are redeploying back to Fort Stewart,” Wahl said.
However, some calls that are categorized as domestic disturbances may not be, Wahl said. Once first responders arrive on a scene they may determine a call to be something other than was initially reported, he emphasized.
 “A rise in these calls would be expected any time there is a rise in population,” Wahl said. “When you have more people coming into a community, you are naturally going to have an increase in all types of calls.”
Wahl said the volume of calls drops when soldiers deploy simply because there are fewer people.
Tri-County Protective Agency Executive Director Paula Foerstel said since a large number of people in the community are connected to the military, many of the shelter’s clients are soldiers or military spouses, but not all. Foerstel said they often serve just as many victims who have no connection to the military.
Hughes said most of the shelter’s military clients, men and women, come to them for temporary protective orders.
“I remember one soldier who came to us for a TPO. He was enormous. He was embarrassed. He had a girlfriend who was extremely abusive. And he needed help,” Hughes recalled.
She said domestic violence is still a taboo subject in society.
“I think it’s something people don’t like to talk about,” Hughes said. “And some people don’t realize it’s going on in their own families. It’s hard for [victims] to open up.”
Victims may feel ashamed and reluctant to tell relatives or friends there is a problem, she added.
 “I think the military is aware there is a problem and they do what they can, especially through ACS (Army Community Services),” Hughes said.
Hughes and Foerstel said ACS has come a long way over the years.
“They have several counselors today where before they only had one,” Hughes said.
 Foerstel said the agency works with ACS when possible.
“If a military spouse chooses to go to counseling offered by ACS, she can still stay at the shelter,” she said.
However, the Tri County Protective Agency cannot release a client’s information to anyone, other than the person, or people, they choose to have that information. The shelter’s services are completely confidential, Foerstel said, even for military-connected clients.
What is unique to military families is the added stress of the deployment cycle, the shelter director said.
“Reintegration is a stressful process,” Foerstel said. “For someone who is an abuser, they’d have a tougher time than someone who isn’t.”
Foerstel said abusers must have power and control. Victims of domestic violence tend to be dependent and are not used to making decisions on their own. They’re told by their abusers what to do, she said.
Part of a client’s rehabilitation is making her [or his] own choices, Foerstel said.
“We work with them on their goals,” she said. “It could be one night of peace for them and their children, or it could be they want out of their marriage.”
Shelter workers help clients devise safety plans, as well.
“Safety is our main priority,” Foerstel said. “It’s not easy for them. It takes time for them to get on their feet.”
Safety plans can change when a client changes jobs or her children change schools, Hughes said.
“Once they leave the shelter we still have contact with them,” Foerstel said. “If they go back to their spouse, we tell them we’re here if they need us. We provide follow-up and outreach services to clients if they leave their abuser.”
The agency serves victims of domestic violence in Liberty, Bryan, Long, Tattnall and Evans counties.
If you need help, call the Tri County Protective Agency crisis line at 368-9200.

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