The domestic abuse against Melissa escalated over 13 years of marriage as her ex-husband beat, kicked and attacked her, she said.
After her husband repeatedly hurt her, she finally “made an escape.” But always one to hope for the best, she said she went back, before working with Hubbard House, Jacksonville’s domestic abuse shelter and counseling site, to get out for good.
“He had me convinced basically that no one would understand me, no one would believe me because I had covered for so long because I didn’t want to hurt my family; I didn’t want to hurt my fiends,” the Jacksonville woman said. “Life is much better. I have been married for over 19 years now and I have three boys, four grandkids and a great job. I am blessed. But I never thought I would have that.”
Melissa joined Hubbard House shelter staff, police and prosecutors Monday to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Statistics released Monday show 14 fatal domestic abuse cases reviewed by the State Attorney’s Office in 2022, leaving 19 people dead. That compared with 17 cases in 2021, also with 19 people dead, four more than the year before.
While the number of incidents dropped, the number of dead remained the same, and that is too high, said Gail Patin, CEO of Hubbard House. She wants people to understand what domestic abuse does to everyone it touches.
“We heard about a man who killed his partner, who was also pregnant, in front of children,” Patin said. “Those children are alive, but they are growing up with that. So it really shows that domestic violence impacts so many people surrounding that survivor, and it is so important that we understand when lethality is high, everybody is at risk.”
A team of law enforcement and prosecution experts have researched domestic abuse cases for the past 26 years as part of an annual Fatality Review Committee. They seek patterns in domestic abuse deaths that law enforcement or other agencies might have prevented with revised responses.
Assistant State Attorney Khary Gaynor presented a breakdown of the cases they reviewed from 2022.
- Of the 19 deaths last year, 17 were homicides, and the two others occurred when a suspect committed suicide.
- The deaths of three victims were deemed to be justified — possibly killed by people they were abusing.
- Seventy-nine percent of the homicide cases involved intimate partners, more than the 71% average since the group began reviewing cases in 1997.
- The majority of the abusers were men. From 1997 to 2021, men committed 75% of domestic homicides involving intimate partners.
The numbers have tragic components, Patin said.
“One case had three victims — a woman’s boyfriend killed her and also her two adults siblings,” she said. “One homicide victim was 4 months pregnant when her abuser killed her, with their two young children in the home at the time. For anyone living in abuse, we know that journey to safety can be hard. But your life may truly depend on it.”
Women made up 59% of the domestic homicide victims last year, with 35% male and one unknown, the study said.
“Women remain extremely vulnerable and are often a primary target in domestic violence situations,” Gaynor said.
Melissa told the audience that her ex-husband’s family had a history of verbal and emotional abuse and he began abusing her a few years after they married.
First, her ex-husband head-butted her, then apologized. Then the abuse escalated as he kicked her out of bed one night, saying he would “control when and where” she slept. He straddled her and hit her head “because the marks don’t show,” she said he told her.
She would get her injuries cared for at different doctors so no one would see that it was happening repeatedly. She said she “covered for him, and he would use that as a tool” against her.
Finally, she said she was injured when he threw a bowl of hot soup at her, before another incident ended up with police called and they took her to Hubbard House.
“I realized then that my son could not grow up with this. I could not continue to cry through the pain, tears and lies,” she said. “Sitting with the Hubbard House advocate, it was the first time I ever told anybody about the violence.”
In 2022, 47% of the victims were Black, 47% white and 12% Hispanic. In 2021, 67% of the victims were Black, 28% white and the rest Hispanic.
Guns remain the primary weapon used in domestic homicides, causing 72% of the deaths in 2022 versus 14% for blunt force and strangulation. In 2021, guns were used in 71% of the incidents, which was 7% higher than in 2020, the report said. Knives were the next most common at 18%.
“Abusers who have access to firearms remain a significant threat to their potential victims, and it is even more true now,” Gaynor said.
Sheriff T.K. Waters said all of Jacksonville’s patrol officers are trained in how to help domestic abuse victims. A special team — called the Incident Violence Enhanced Services Team — works with families identified to be at greatest risk of injury or death due to domestic violence.
From October 2022 to this past September, INVEST team members reviewed 9,380 reports of domestic violence, with 769 of those deemed to have significant threat of death, he said. All of those 769 victims were offered services, and 140 of them accepted help. None of them have been killed, Waters said.
Domestic abuse awareness month events
- Aannual Take Back the Night March and Candlelight Vigil sponsored by the University of North Florida Victim Advocacy Program — 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Peace Plaza, with an awareness and resource fair, followed at 6 p.m. by a cross-campus march to Osprey Plaza for survivor speak out and candlelight vigil.
- 29th Annual Barbara Ann Campbell Memorial Breakfast — 7:30 a.m. Oct. 11 at EverBank Stadium’s East Club. The Hubbard House event remembers those lost to domestic violence and creates awareness of the problem and solutions. Tickets cost $75 per person.
Domestic abuse resources
- Jacksonville’s Hubbard House 24-hour hotline: (904) 354-3114 and 24-hour text message line (904) 210-3698.
- St. Johns County’s Betty Griffin Center 24-hour hotline: (904) 824-1555.
- Nassau County’s Micah’s Place 24-hour hotline: (904) 225-9979.
- Clay County’s Quigley House 24-hour hotline: (904) 284-0061.