The Journal Record
July 26, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY – During his three decades as a minister, state Rep. George Young has counseled couples, many of whom didn’t even go to his own church.
Couples and women sought help because of violence within their relationships and within their families. Not all of them could find answers in their own congregations.
“They would say, ‘Well, I talked to my pastor, and my pastor said that it was my responsibility as the wife to stay with my husband,’” Young said. “That has always stood out in my mind.“
He’s been a hospital chaplain, a full-time minister and a social services counselor. Domestic violence seemed to remain ever-present. It was common for families to experience violence but because it was so ubiquitous, they had come to normalize it. And those who wanted to stop the behavior weren’t sure how. Above all, it wasn’t an issue that people in the congregation or in the community wanted to talk about openly.
“It occurs, and we know it occurs,” Young said. “That was always a very difficult area for me as a pastor.”
Now, he’s a state representative in northeast Oklahoma City. He requested an interim study on what state officials and other organizations can do to raise awareness of domestic violence patterns, particularly in the northeast and southern portions of the city. Although about one in four women and one in seven men across the state face violence in romantic relationships and in their families, residents in those areas face unique challenges.
“It is an issue that impacts our communities,” he said. “It’s different from the larger community. It’s different from the communities that have greater resources. I want people to come and talk about those differences.”
He said he wants the study to examine where there are gaps in services and to get all those who are tasked with tackling this issue on the same page, regardless of how uncomfortable the epidemic is to confront.
“You have folks saying, ‘That’s not acceptable in our community,’” he said. “In some communities, there is a fear of saying, ‘That’s not acceptable,’ because it’s so prevalent.”
When lawmakers hold interim studies, legislative committees convene to delve more deeply into issues than they can during the session. Unlike regular committee hearings, these studies always bring in experts to testify. Young has worked with nonprofit officials across the city to organize this study.
Among those officials is Angela Beatty, the senior director of domestic violence victim services at YWCA Oklahoma City. That organization focuses on eliminating racism and empowering women who have faced abuse. They offer the services Young is calling to expand and promote.
“We’re the only certified shelter, so we greatly understand the need for these services in Oklahoma City,” she said. “The need for services in our community is there. But I think the need outweighs what we can do as a single agency. We’re struggling every day to meet the demand for services.”
Services specifically geared for the black and Latino communities in northeast and south Oklahoma City are vital because of the additional barriers to entry that residents there face, she said.
Beatty was on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board’s task force that studied patterns of death in Oklahoma, which found that African-American women are significantly more likely to die at the hands of their partners. About 16 percent of people who died at their partner’s hands were African-American, about twice what would be expected, based on census population estimates found, according to the Review Board’s 2017 report.
But despite the increased need, participation in these programs tend to be lower.
“In those minority communities, there is historical trauma and a distrust of systems,” she said. “Clients might have a negative view of law enforcement.”
Latino clients are often fearful of seeking services because of their own or someone in their family’s immigration status, Beatty said, leaving victims vulnerable. In some cases, abusers either stall immigration processes or hold onto documentation to prevent their victims from leaving.
“None of those things matter to us,” she said. “We serve everyone.”
Agencies that do serve undocumented clients or documented clients with concerns about loved ones’ immigration statuses have to find ways to ensure those victims feel safe seeking their services.
Young’s interim study hasn’t been scheduled yet but if approved will likely take place in the fall.