October 4, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Abuse begins slowly

Victim of domestic violence says program helps her heal
Laura Umthun lauraumthun@yahoo.com
Kathy Plonka photo

Bridget Eismann, left, Detective John Mason and Christine Jones at the OASIS Program office at the Post Falls Police Department Tuesday. The program offers support and services to domestic violence victims.kathypl@spokesman.com
(Full-size photo)

More information

Post Falls and Rathdrum police departments’ OASIS Program has a weekly support group that is open to all who have been or are in a hurtful relationship or are a victim of crime. All services are free. For more information, call (208) 773-1080.

She thought she had met the “man of her dreams.”

“I just knew this was the right guy this time,” says Kathy, a Kootenai County resident who has requested anonymity. She had been a single parent for many years when she met her future second husband.

They dated for over four years and during that time Kathy says she never saw a single sign that he might be an abuser.

It started with a forced isolation from everyone she knew.

“Friends would call the house, and he would tell them that I wasn’t home, when in fact I was home,” says Kathy.

Next came the verbal abuse, then the financial control and constant questions as to why she needed to spend more than $40 to feed a family of five for a week.

The physical abuse begun after Kathy witnessed some strange behavior, including an incident where he put their 13-month-old son in a closet. The abuse continued to escalate and Kathy found herself crying and praying.

“I prayed to Jesus Christ that my life might be saved,” Kathy said.

Kathy contacted the Post Falls and Rathdrum police departments’ OASIS Program, which stands for Officers and Advocates Sharing Intervention Services.

On call 24 hours a day, advocates Bridget Eismann and Christine Jones respond immediately with police officers to provide crisis intervention, support services, and shelter to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. They also assist with child abuse victims, runaways, suicides and other incidents.

Support can include emergency shelter, transportation, referrals to community resources and support groups for adults and children. OASIS also operates a short-term crisis shelter.

“I was so embarrassed that I allowed this to happen to me,” says Kathy. “It happened little by little, and he was so manipulative, I was unaware of what was happening.”

Kathy, who has successfully rebuilt her life, is enrolled in classes at North Idaho College, and is now a shelter advocate for abused women. Her family and friends welcomed her back into their world.

“I would not be where I am today without Bridget and OASIS,” Kathy said. “I can’t count the number of times she has helped me.”

They are statistics which no one likes to hear, but Eismann is spreading the word because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Kootenai County has the highest rate of domestic violence per capita in the state of Idaho. One in four women and one in 10 men are victims of domestic violence. In 2008, OASIS had more than 1,900 crisis calls and assisted more than 400 new victims of crime. This was a 19 percent increase from the previous year. Through August of this year, 987 crisis calls have been logged.

“Often we hear people say that they love their abuser, which might sound weird,” Eismann said.”The reality often is that they do love them and that is OK; but often times it’s just not safe to be with that person.”

According to Eismann, domestic violence is a learned behavior that affects everyone on some level. No community or family is immune.

“Sometimes an anonymous call for help for them or just letting them know that they deserve better is a great starting place to stop the cycle of violence.”

OASIS advocates educate youth and community members on different areas of victimization and how to prevent it with their “Hands Are Not for Hitting” and “I Can Handle Bullies” programs in the Post Falls and Rathdrum schools. They also give presentations to middle and high school students on dating violence, date rape and sexual harassment.

As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities, The Coeur d’Alene Women’s Center is sponsoring Purple Light Nights. The center is asking people to shine a light to remember and support domestic violence victims. Purple light bulbs are $3 each or two for $5, with all proceeds to benefit The Women’s Center. For more information call (208) 664-9303.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email