CENTRAL, Texas — Behind closed doors, millions of people are suffering at the hands of someone close to them.
“Domestic violence has always thrived in silence. It’s still a crime that a lot of people don’t want to talk about,” said Misty Biddick, Executive Director of Aware Central Texas.
The numbers may come as a shock to some. Nearly 20 people every minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That adds up to 10 million men and women a year, but the number could be even higher.
“We can throw out statistics all day long but there is still that kind of dark figure of crime because some of it is not reported,” Biddick said.
Here is what we do know: Domestic violence went up during the pandemic. In Waco from 2019 to 2021, there was a 3% increase in family violence. In Temple, cases went up in 2020 then back down; Cases went from 985 incidents in 2019, to 990 in 2020, and 910 in 2021. So it overall showed an 8% decrease from 2019-2021. Killeen saw the largest increase. Cases jumped almost 29 percent in the same time frame.
“What we've seen especially in the last two years, and especially in the last year, it's a 69% increase in the number of calls that we had and the number of clients,” Biddick said.
Aware Central Texas is a non-profit that provides educational and financial resources to those trying to escape dangerous situations. The organization helps clients find food, housing and can even be there as the client files a police report.
These are things Kerry Ann Zamore-Byrd wished she knew about when she tried to leave an abusive relationship.
“I always say in hindsight, I see red flags from the onset of the relationship looking back. But we had a 14-year marriage of which was domestic violence from the very beginning,” Zamore-Byrd said.
She and her ex-husband were college sweethearts. Zamore-Byrd said he was an officer in the military, so they moved around a lot, leaving her isolated from friends and family.
“I remember taking a look at all the pictures on the walls and thinking to myself, 'this is not real, right? This image that we had created is not real,” Zamore-Byrd said.
Even though she was suffering, it took her a while for her to realize she was in fact a victim.
“When you think about a victim of domestic violence. You don't think about individuals with master’s degrees who are officers in the military. That's not the image,” Zamore-Byrd said.
Zamore-Byrd explained the final straw was when her ex-husband struck her then 9-year-old son who tried to break up their fight.
“And so where I didn't love myself enough to leave, I loved my child enough to say no more,” Zamore Byrd said.
The fight left her with injuries all over, she said.
“I had bruises on my face. I had bruises to my mouth, to my cheek, [and] to my rib cages. I had bruises on my thighs, bruises up and down my arms,” Zamore-Byrd said.
When she was finally ready to leave, she didn't know who to call locally. She had just moved to the Fort Hood area. So Zamore-Byrd said she reached out to sorority sisters she had confided in who lived across the country.
“They dropped everything to come here and be my support because I didn’t have any support. And so it was even scarier going through the situation here and not knowing anyone,” Zamore-Byrd said.
Sgt. Kerryann Harris with the Killeen Police Department realizes a situation like Zamore-Byrd's is common for this area.
“So we have those instances where they have no support, so they feel like this is where they have to stay because the abusers are the only support that they have,” Harris said.
If things are going to get better, victim advocates say the community needs to be vocal.
“We have to discuss what healthy relationships look like in churches and schools in different agencies and also create safe spaces so that victims feel comfortable coming forward,” Zamore-Byrd said.
Biddick also said there should be more intervention from law enforcement for lower-level offenses.
“So, taking those assaults seriously, those misdemeanor family violence cases seriously, really could stop something really horrible from happening,” Biddick said.
Harris explained that in some cases, police may file a report on behalf of the victim.
“We are trying to push cases from repeat offenders. So, when we see cases like that, I’m telling my detectives even though that victim does not wish to pursue charges we are the state of Texas, and we represent them. And we are here to protect them, so we are picking up the charges on their behalf,” Harris said.
She went on to explain once a warrant is issued, the charge goes to the courts who then determine the severity of the punishment.
Zamore-Byrd wears many hats as a licensed clinical social worker and the director of field social work at UMHB. She spends most of her time preparing the next generation of social workers, often sharing her own personal experience.
“So I think my quest now, even with my students here, is to be real so that others can heal,” Zamore-Byrd said.
Zamore-Byrd is also an author, a playwright, and screenwriter. She shares her darkest days as a way to educate the public.
“So the book ‘Restored’ is a combination of journals that I put together to really tell the story and give a picture of what domestic violence looks like from the verbal, the emotional to the physical,” Zamore-Byrd said.
She said she wants people to know they are not alone and that help is always available.
Here is a list of resources available at your fingertips if you are suffering from domestic abuse or know someone who is.
National Domestic Violence 24-Hour Hotline
View Website | 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Families in Crisis (Bell County area, including Ft. Hood)
View Website | 254-634-1184 or 254-773-7765
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
View Website | Call or text 1-800-422-4453
Family Abuse Center (McLennan County area)
View Website | 24-hour hotline 1-800-283-8401
Aware Central Texas (Bell, Coryell, Lampasas, and Milam Counties)
View Website | 24-hour hotline 254-813-0968
Killeen location 254-213-2986 Temple location 254-939-7582
The Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children (McLennan, Falls, Coryell, Bosque, Hill, and Limestone Counties)
View Website | 24-hour hotline 888-867-7233 or 254-752-7233