‘Be a hero to somebody’s story’

Saturday morning on the front steps of the DeKalb County Courthouse, Bob Johnston, chief deputy district attorney for the ninth judicial circuit, detailed exactly what a typical week in his office looks like. 

He said last week he had the District Court docket, and on that docket were six domestic violence misdemeanor cases. 

“That was my week, and it was one week out of 52,” Johnston said. “In all 52 weeks, domestic violence has its fingerprints on almost everything we do.” 

Johnston spoke at the Domestic Violence Crisis Services “Remember My Name” event honoring survivors of domestic violence, but also those who have lost their lives. DVCS also held a candlelight vigil Saturday night. 

Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser read a proclamation declaring October as Domestic Violence Awarness Month, and then DVCS Director Carla Wood introduced Johnston as speaker. 

Wood has worked with victims of domestic violence for about 14 years. She said it was her own personal experiences that led her to this profession. 

“I am a survivor of domestic violence, and when I got involved in this I was trying to leave my situation, and there wasn’t help,” Wood said. “It just made me wonder, ‘What would happen to victims that didn’t have support? Where would the go?’”

She said it became a passion of hers to make sure the public received education about services offered in the area. 

On Oct. 3, 2016, the DVCS office opened its doors. The building is located at 306 Alabama Ave. SW in Fort Payne. The front steps are located directly across from the courthouse’s back entrance.

DVCS is a satellite office of Kelley’s Rainbow, a Domestic Violence Shelter in Albertville. In 2003, the Marshall County Coalition Against Domestic Violence opened up the shelter which provided services to individuals in Marshall County specifically, and due to cuts in various agencies across the state, included services to DeKalb and Cherokee County.

The office downtown is the first office they’ve had in DeKalb County to serve the victims.

Johnston said oftentimes people are unaware of how prevalent acts of domestic violence are in your own town. He said the reality is that for many people “unless you are affected by the event of domestic violence, then it may not occur to you.” 

But, it’s a problem he sees every day. 

Johnston said from 2001-2012, the United States has lost 6,488 soldiers to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said it is “appropriate, just and right that we remember those soldiers,” but during the same time period, “we’ve lost 11,766 women to domestic violence homicide.” 

“Today [Saturday], we remember and acknowledge them,” Johnston said. “You don’t know what battles women that are victims of domestic violence face on a daily basis.” 

He said domestic violence is the leading cause of injury for women, and the number is greater than “motor vehicle accidents, muggings and rape” combined.

But, back to those six cases he worked in the past week, Johnston said he is still “stunned with the mindset that exists” with these offenders. He said there were instances where he had to explain to grown men where “choking” or “throwing a spouse down the stairs” was never OK. 

“It felt like I was speaking to a 4-year-old who should’ve known these things,” he said. “[They seem to have] zero understanding of how harmful or potentially deadly that conduct can be.”

Johnston said many times spouses are not cooperative, which is common with a lot of people. He said many offenders create a “pattern and process of isolation,” which gives the victim a sense that there’s nothing they can do.”

Wood said her office has been doing what it could to make sure these women know they have a place where they can go.

“If you’re not in that situation, you don’t really think about it,” Wood said. “But we want people to know we’re out there. It’s so sad when people get hurt and they don’t know we’re there. It just breaks my heart.” 

Johnston said people should follow the “if you see something, say something” adage. 

“You can be the hero to somebody’s story,” he said. “Go forward from here, and let’s see if we can make a difference.” 

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