Domestic violence continues to claim the lives of local women

Domestic violence continues to claim the lives of local women

A local counselor weighs in on recent domestic violence-related deaths.
Robert Schulze confessed to shooting Charlotte Branton to death in Jacksonville, Florida this week.  Branton was in the process of moving back to Dothan to start a new job.
Robert Schulze confessed to shooting Charlotte Branton to death in Jacksonville, Florida this week. Branton was in the process of moving back to Dothan to start a new job.
The Exchange Center in Dothan provides support and counseling for child abuse and domestic violence victims.
The Exchange Center in Dothan provides support and counseling for child abuse and domestic violence victims.
Rebecca Toney, Charlotte Branton, and countless others have paid the ultimate price as a result of domestic violence.  Both had ended their relationships with their killers.

"Even during the act of getting out of a dangerous situation, a woman is actually in more physical danger from her abuser, who may track her down and kill her as a way of saying if I can't have you, no one can," said Lisa T. Smith, a counselor and clinical director at The Exchange Center in Dothan.

Rebecca Jackson Toney was strangled to death by her ex-husband, Willie Toney, in March, and Robert Schulze confessed yesterday to killing Branton, his ex-girlfriend, in Jacksonville, Florida this week.

Smith says cases like this are all too common and all the more reason to raise awareness.

"I think a lot of women are in denial.  A lot of women take responsibility for their relationships," Smith said.

Police reviewed the text messages in Branton's cell phone during their investigation of her death, and they said she had reason to fear for her life.  Abuse counselors say threatening messages are one of many warning signs.

"The biggest one we always warn women about is if you get involved with someone, if the relationship goes too quickly, you'll never know how that person would react in different situations," said Smith.

A recent report shows domestic violence-related homicides in the Wiregrass have increased by 100% over the last few years.  It also shows an overall increase of 50% in domestic violence crimes, in general.

"I'm really proud of a group of women that we serve in the community and the fact that they're passing information and encouragement on to each other and making everyone that they come into contact with more aware of domestic violence," Smith said.

Although domestic violence doesn't discriminate, reports show more women are victims than men, and she hopes continued awareness of the issue will save more lives.

For information on domestic violence resources, you can visit the House of Ruth or Exchange Center web sites.
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