In addition to hosting Halloween, October is also observed as domestic violence awareness month.
Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said his office has seen an overall rise in the number of domestic abuse cases since 2010. Brown said his office filed 235 such cases in 2011 and 245 in 2016. So far for 2017, his office has filed 162 such cases.
Domestic violence is something that knows no socioeconomic, religious or ethnic boundaries, Shelli Shields, executive director of the Ella Mae Brown Crisis Center in Sherman, said.
“It affects all of us and we need never think it couldn’t happen to us or it couldn’t be happening next door,” Shields said.
And if it is happening next door, Shields said, it is absolutely your business to step up and call police.
Marking October as the month for awareness of domestic violence helps society take time to the celebrate the many people who work tirelessly to combat it and those who work tirelessly to overcome it. Shields said the staff at the center also use the month as an energy boost to “educate and bring awareness to our community.” The center is located at 4200 N. Travis Street in Sherman.
People have to know where the shelter is to be able to seek services there, Shields said of why the center’s address is no longer secret. And she said the center has plenty of security on hand to keep their residents safe.
At a recent meeting of the Sherman City Council, Crisis Center Volunteer Coordinator Jordan Stewart said the center offers shelter to roughly 150 to 200 people a year. Shields said the number of people seeking assistance from the shelter, whether that be residential assistance or not, continues to rise. He said he would like to think that is due to the fact that the center’s mission is becoming better recognized in the community.
Shields said 158 women lost their lives to domestic violence in 2016 in the U.S. Each one of those women was someone to others. She said they mattered and their deaths should matter too.
Leaving is hard to do
Some of the women who go to the shelter come in seeking assistance because they have finally found the nerve to leave an abusive situation. Shields said one of the things the center would most like people to understand is just how complicated and dangerous the decision to leave actually is for those who live with domestic violence.
“I kind of put in the same sense of having a job that you don’t like,” Shields said of the question of why people who live with domestic violence don’t leave. “Why don’t you just leave and get a new one?”
People have multiple reasons for not immediately leaving an abusive relationship. Sometimes, Shields said, it might be that the abusive partner holds all of the financial resources in the relationship or the abused partner might be worried what would happen to children if the primary caregiver leaves. There might also be fear that the abusive partner might hurt themselves or someone else, or that the children would lose contact with that abusive parent.
“And a lot of times, there is a level of love,” Shields said. “There are times when they have good times as a family unit.”
Whatever the reason is, the situation is complicated. She said the question that should be asked is, “Why doesn’t the abuser stop abusing?”
On average, a woman will try to leave up to seven times before she can actually start over, Shields said. While that number might seem sad, Shields said it can be seen as positive because every time a woman takes a step toward leaving there is an opportunity for her to seek help from the shelter.
She said people know that as friends they can listen to such a woman and hear her story, but they might not know exactly how to help. That is why women in that situation should be referred to the shelter. The shelter has trained advocates there who can help a person in that situation make a plan and figure out what is needed to make that final time of leaving as safe as possible and as successful as possible.
Some women, Shields said, don’t need a residential shelter, but they do need someone to walk them through the type of paperwork they are going to need to file for court orders to keep themselves, their children and their property safe once the separation has been accomplished.
How to help
The Grayson County community has been helpful to the shelter, Shields said, and its staff are thankful for that help in whatever form people are able to give. She said one of the things that many people may not think about is coming into the shelter to talk to the residents and those who are seeking services on a nonresidential basis. Programs on things like parenting and budgeting can be helpful to the shelter’s clients as they seek to rebuild their lives.
Additionally, donating gently used clothing, appliances and other items to the shelter’s thrift stores supports the program in a number of ways. The stores are located at 1729 Texoma Parkway and 920 Heritage Parkway in Sherman. The financial resources from the store are poured back into the shelter and the items that are donated are there for the clients to use in restarting their lives, whether that includes furniture for a new home or clothes for a new job interview.
And, of course, the shelter can always use the things that one needs to run a home. like paper and cleaning products.
Local cases of domestic homicide and violence
One of the items on the proclamation that the Grayson County Commissioners Court recently approved declaring October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month said that domestic violence is the single largest cause of injury and homicide for women. Locally a number of women have died at the hands of their partners and others have been injured or threatened.
Perhaps the most notorious case in Grayson County is that of Laura Boren, who died along with her two small children at the hands of Andre Thomas in the spring of 2004. Boren and Thomas had been married since 2001 and had a son they called Andre Jr. But they separated months after the child’s birth and Boren had a second child, Leyha, with another man. That man lived in the apartment with the mother and the children where Boren’s father found them all stabbed to death. Thomas would later be tried and sentenced to die for killing Leyha. He is currently in a prison mental health facility after having removed both of his own eyeballs.
Then there was the case of Sheila Claytor, 58, of Collinsville who was found dead in her home on Debbie Court in December 2015. Her son Garth Adam Claytor was convicted of killing her and sentenced to life in prison in February of this year.
Authorities say Maria “Lupita” Ventura, 25, died in a car near Sherman’s Walmart as Jimmy Ray Wallace drove toward her family home in Fannin County in June of 2015. Wallace was convicted of murder in her death in November 2016 and sentenced to life in prison for the homicide.
More recently, Joshua Simmons was indicted in September on multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon-family violence related to a knife attack. Simmons was listed in police reports as the husband of the 37-year-old Sherman woman who survived the attack.
The 37-year-old female victim was found underneath the carport of the residence and had several wounds to her neck, according to a Sherman Police news release. Witnesses told police that Simmons used a pocket knife to stab the victim multiple times. When the mother of the victim attempted to stop the attack, the release states Simmons threw the woman against the house and then turned his attention back to the victim. Simmons allegedly picked up the victim’s head and cut her throat, the release states.
Simmons is represented in the case by Timothy Brown and has a conference set for Nov. 1. Brown declined to comment for his client on the pending charges.