The Hall County Domestic Violence Task Force challenged citizens to speak up and act when confronted with signs of domestic abuse at its ninth annual Breakfast & Briefing.
“We think domestic violence thrives in secrecy,” said Jessica Butler, executive director of Gateway Domestic Violence Center. “So we think it’s very risky if someone is bold enough to do that in public. We really just wanted to teach the community how to respond if they happen to see an incident of domestic violence.”
To honor that commitment, the task force — a partnership of law enforcement officials and victims’ advocates — challenged attendees to take the “bystander pledge” vowing action.
Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly was one of the event’s panel members Tuesday at police headquarters.
“This happens quite often in our community. It could be a very small argument that starts escalating and gets out of control. What are you as a citizen going to be able to do to respond to that?” Kelly said. “You kind of think about this stuff; prepare yourself mentally. If you were in a restaurant and you saw these things occur, would you be able to act? Would you be able to step forward and step in between what’s going on?”
Kelly referenced a clip from the ABC show “What Would You Do?” shown by organizers. The show is an entertaining but sobering portrayal of the bystander effect, a social psychology phenomenon that theorizes as more people witness a stressful situation, a lone person is less likely to intervene.
In the clip, a woman is verbally abused by her boyfriend, while bearing bruises and cuts indicative of violence.
The panel encouraged attendees to watch the full clip, which shows bystanders both willing and less willing to help.
Kelly said public displays of verbal or physical abuse are a troubling sign.
“If somebody feels comfortable doing that in a restaurant or mall, (the situation) has got to be stepped into,” Kelly said.
Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard served on the panel with Kelly, Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Neal Bagwell and Maj. John Latty.
Woodard stressed not all action needs to be physically imposing.
“A lot of times just a kind word from a bystander: ‘Are you OK? Do you need help?’ is grounding and sufficient to know, we’ve surpassed something, as Chief Kelly said, that isn’t OK,” she said, adding later, “The main thing to take away is that silence is the most damaging thing.”
The program honored domestic violence victim Ginger Tanner, shot and killed in her home by husband Hank Tanner, who then killed himself.
Since her June death, friends and co-workers of Tanner, a stylist at 2 Shae Salon, have partnered with Gateway to raise more than $15,000 in her memory.
Woodard said that based on what she had come to know about Tanner — although she fleetingly referenced problems at home — a complete picture of abuse was harder to piece together, until it was too late.
To combat victims’ falling through the cracks of outreach, the task force announced it will host a domestic violence training session for salon professionals Monday at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville.
“Women talk to salon professionals ... it’s a very intimate relationship. What we’re learning is that’s a zone of safety for victims,” Woodard said.
“This is to train salon professionals on how to recognize signs of domestic violence, to teach them that they’re not responsible for fixing it and how to maintain that safe relationship with that person, but have the resources to say, ‘Honey, I think you really need to talk to someone — here’s who’s safe to talk to.’”
Task force chairman Lanny Ledford, a licensed clinical social worker, brings a background of working with men in post-conviction treatment after a domestic violence charge. He challenged men to speak up when they witness subtler contributors to violence against women.
“Men do need to be able to step up and have a voice in all of these things — sexism, objectification. When you hear that comment with a friend that’s an inappropriate comment, it’s up to us men to fill the gap ... stand up, speak up,” he said.
Ledford cited an upcoming father-daughter training program in Atlanta, which establishes clear communication as a key process.
“In January, we hope to be able to bring Because We Have Daughters programs to Gainesville,” he said. “It starts a dialogue between fathers and daughters.”
The task force also honored several other individuals.
Kit Divine, past chairwoman of the task force, was this year’s recipient of the Georgia Domestic Violence Task Force Member of the Year.
Assistant District Attorney Shiv Sachdeva presented Gainesville police investigator Brad Raper with the Domestic Violence Officer of the Year award.
Also two student design contest winners, Heather Vandiver from Gainesville High School and Laura Hutchings of North Hall High School, were honored for their poster designs supporting bystander action.