The murder of a prominent Realtor in broad daylight last week has shaken many residents and shed new light on one of the fastest growing crimes in Rim Country — domestic violence.
Statistics show domestic violence arrests in Payson have risen nearly 140 percent since 2007 and a full house at the Time Out Shelter illustrates that women are fleeing abusers more than ever. The Dec. 5 killing of Marjeane Easley, at the hands of her estranged husband, illustrates the devastating and deadly turn abuse can take.
Domestic violence has risen inexorably in Rim Country, even as other major crimes have declined. A tragedy often hidden from view, domestic violence directly affects an estimated one in three women in their lifetimes. Many of those outside the relationship can’t understand why women stay. But people who work to help womenescape say many are either too ashamed to seek help or too deeply in denial to recognize the signs of abuse.
The tragic effort of Marjeane to divorce Thomas Easley after 15 years offers a chilling case in point. Close family members say she had finally had enough, after years of verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Her family members say he had become increasingly angry, frustrated and threatening in recent years.
Some time after Marjeane filed for divorce in October, one family member suggested she take out a restraining order. She rejected that idea, saying it would only aggravate Thomas. Marjeane reportedly told a sibling that she believed more people are killed when they get an order of protection.
While experts like the counselors at the Time Out Shelter advise women to get a restraining order, they admit a court order isn’t always the best idea for women who fear retaliation.
Retaliation is something those at the Time Out Shelter take seriously, which accounts for the high fences and security cameras.
Many perpetrators grow increasingly violent when they think the person they have worked so hard to control and manipulate could break free.
Taking the life of the person they claim to love represents the ultimate act of control.
“Abusers try to control their victim’s lives. When abusers feel a loss of control — like when victims try to leave them — the abuse often gets worse,” according to a Web site on domestic violence.
And the Time Out Shelter says “power and control are the reasons abusers choose to use violence and other tactics against their partners. They want complete power over and control of their partners.”
Power and control remain the prevailing motifs behind domestic violence, experts say.
Time Out’s Director Camille Levee said case after case at the shelter illustrates this.
Innocently at first, a boyfriend tells his girlfriend what to wear. Then he starts to put her down, cutting her self-esteem. Then he insists that she spend all her free time with him, isolating her from friends and family.
That was how it happened for Jerri Johnson DeCola, who spoke about her abusive relationship at this year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event.
She said she was so proud to be seen with her ex. They made a handsome couple and everyone thought he was the perfect man for me, she said.
Then he shoved her. “I was shocked, I thought, how can this man do this to me? I thought he loved me,” she said.
As time went on, things grew more serious and he asked for her hand in marriage.
DeCola said she both wanted him and feared him. She found herself on pins and needles around him, unable to predict his moods.
“You never know about men that are violent,” she said. “You never know about abusers, they want control of you, they want you to be at their beck and call all the time.”
She said the man tried to keep her from her sons and friends.
“He wanted all the control.”
The violence increased gradually. DeCola said she didn’t really realize she was in trouble until the first time he punched her. But intimate-partner violence occurs on all levels — physical, emotional, sexual and through controlling demands.
“I find that domestic violence knows no boundaries, no ethnic groups, no political stance or whether you are poor, it reaches all aspects of life,” DeCola said.
Many women say they never learned the signs of domestic violence or how to get out of an abusive relationship.
Many who visit Time Out say it was the first place they could even define abuse.
A failure to educate women and men and an overall acceptance that domestic violence is “normal” and part of any society has perpetuated abuse, one study found.
“Violence against women has a far deeper impact than the immediate harm caused. It has devastating consequences for the women who experience it, and a traumatic effect on those who witness it, particularly children. It shames states that fail to prevent it and societies that tolerate it,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Against Women.
Cultural beliefs can reinforce domestic violence through the media and other societal institutions that tolerate it. Peers, family members and others in the community often minimize or ignore the abuse and fail to provide consequences, concludes a report from the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau.
“The perpetrator’s violence is further supported when peers, family members, or others in the community minimize or ignore the abuse and fail to provide consequences,” it adds.
Case in point: A Gisela neighbor of the Easleys called the Roundup after the shooting to say Thomas was really a good guy. Furthermore, the neighbor insisted Marjeane had probably provoked him, like she had done in the past.
The belief that victims can provoke an attack is false, according to Time Out.
“Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault. Use of violence in an intimate relationship is always a choice.”
A variety of factors cause domestic violence.
“As a learned behavior, domestic violence is modeled by individuals, institutions, and society, which may influence the perspectives of children and adults regarding its acceptability,” found the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect.
Abusive tendencies can be learned through:
• Childhood observations of domestic violence;
• One’s experience of victimization;
• Exposure to community, school or peer group violence;
• Living in a culture of violence
Levee said it would take a community effort to end domestic violence and close Time Out’s doors for good. Government, health care and education officials must make it a priority.
Men, in particular, play a vital role, she said.
During the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, several men, including Police Chief Don Engler and the Roundup’s Andy Towle and Bobby Davis, donned high heels to raise awareness about domestic violence and promote a positive change.
“It starts in the home. Men grow up like their fathers,” Davis said. “If they are taught at a young age that there is no excuse anytime to hit another person. We need to get back to family values and raise our children, especially young boys, to know you just don’t hit a woman. That will help strengthen our future generations.”
“We have to set the role.”
Deciding to leave
When a woman finally decides to leave an abusive situation, she needs to do so carefully.
From interviews with friends and family, Marjeane, like many women, apparently believed she could handle ending the abuse by herself.
She rejected help from siblings and their advice to leave years earlier.
She moved in with a friend, but continued to meet with Thomas at her new home.
Experts say women need to keep their location a secret.
Additionally, they should get an unlisted phone number, cancel their credit cards and bank accounts and use a post office box.
An order of protection is also a good idea. Let neighbors know you have the order and if they see your abuser in the neighborhood to call police, said Time Out staff.
“If you have to meet or communicate with your partner, do it in a public place or have a third party make contact and relay messages. Keep in mind that with an order of protection in place, no communication or interaction should occur.”
These steps are necessary, experts say, because on average more than three women in the U.S. are murdered by their spouse every day.
For DeCola, the decision to leave was painful. Although she loved him, she knew the abuse would only get worse.
“Part of me said: ‘Go back’ and the other part said: ‘No, look at what happened to you. It could be your life the next time if you go back to him.’”
She realizes now how close she came.