Pocatello has domestic violence epidemic

By Sarah Leeds

First, I want to extend condolences to the family of Judith Rachel Johnson on behalf of Family Services Alliance.  We, as well as the entire Pocatello and Chubbuck communities, are deeply saddened by her violent murder.  Moreover, we are heartbroken because of the chronic abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of the person who was supposed to love her, respect her, and to raise their children with her in a safe and thriving home.

Domestic violence touches the lives of millions of Americans every year.  It touches the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of women, children, and men right here in Pocatello and Chubbuck.  In 2010 Family Services Alliance (FSA) provided supportive services to over 690 victims of domestic and dating violence, stalking, sexual assault and rape.

Domestic violence shows up in many forms.  It goes way beyond the physical abuse of punches, kicks and slaps.  It includes emotional abuse like name-calling, making and carrying out threats.  Domestic violence is usually minimized by the offender followed by denying the abuse and even blaming the abuse on the victim.  Domestic violence victims are often isolated from their family and friends.   This isolation usually happens gradually and subtly so that the victim doesn’t realize how isolated they are until they feel completely trapped in the relationship.  Domestic violence can include sexual assault and rape between the partners.  Stalking also often happens during the relationship and often after the relationship has ended.   Domestic violence is NOT an anger management problem.  It is a problem of power and control  – one person in the relationship taking and using power over their partner.  Domestic violence offenders are usually quite skilled at controlling their anger, perpetrating their abuse only behind closed doors.

If anyone reading is or knows someone who is experiencing these kinds of abuse, PLEASE know there is help and support at Family Services Alliance.  We have a 24-hour crisis line—251-HELP(4357)—for anyone in crisis or anyone who just has questions or wants to talk about domestic or sexual violence or stalking.  We have emergency shelter for victims, both male and female victims, when they are in imminent danger or their home is not a safe place.  We have several options for support groups.  We have individual counseling that is tailored for the kinds of trauma experienced by domestic and sexual violence victims.  This counseling is for children and adult victims.  FSA will accompany victims to court and help them through the court process.  FSA also has supportive services for families including Parents as Teachers.  We regularly work on safety planning with our clients.  Safety planning is an ongoing process that changes often as the victim’s circumstances change.  But most importantly, what FSA offers victims is choice.  What we can offer any victim who meets with our Victim Advocates is an open and honest dialogue about their relationship and the options each person has so that they can make the safest choice for their individual situation.   Please reach out for help and call us.

We have an epidemic problem in our community.  If this was a contagious disease, we would likely be opening up mass vaccination clinics to protect community members.   But because domestic violence is often perceived as a family problem that needs to be taken care of behind closed doors, the epidemic continues to spread.   It’s tragic that it takes a homicide for us to really sit up and take notice of the scope of the problem.   And it’s not a problem that is easily solved with a box of food or a bag of clothing, or even a certain amount of cash. YES, we absolutely need money to deal with this problem.  But equal to the money, we must have a pervasive will to eradicate domestic and sexual violence from our homes and neighborhoods.   We know that violence is a learned behavior and to undo that learning among the batterers in our community, we need to draw a very hard line as to what this community will accept as a tolerable level of violence.  Once we draw that line, we then have to hold each and every domestic violence offender, every rapist, and every sex offender accountable for crossing that line.  If this community wants to make that happen, we CAN do it.  Our community has a strong stance and a strong response against domestic violence.   But this case clearly shows that we need to do more to protect victims and their children!  I invite each and every community member to join Family Services Alliance, the Pocatello Police Department and other partners to help us strengthen our community response to domestic violence.

Today, many of us will be celebrating Mother’s Day with beloved family members and women who impacted our lives.   And yet we know that three members of our community, two of them children, won’t have that opportunity.   This, and every future Mother’s Day celebration, was violently and permanently stolen from Judith Rachel Johnson’s three children.   I know we are all saddened by that fact.  But I implore you and I challenge you—that every time you think about Rachel Johnson or her children, don’t stop there.   I challenge all of us that every time we think about Rachel and her children, we take one small but impactful ACTION to change the future and help us eradicate this epidemic of domestic violence in Pocatello.  Let our goal be for this to be the last domestic violence homicide in our community.

Sarah A. Leeds is executive director of Family Services Alliance of Southeast Idaho. She can be reached at (208) 232-0742.