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Flashpoint: Domestic Violence Awareness Special

WCNC Charlotte's Sarah French is shining a light on domestic violence. She spoke with local organizations about how they're helping victims.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, WCNC Anchor Sarah French is shining a light on the issue in a special edition of Flashpoint. 

French explained in a social media post why this issue is so important to her after losing a friend and colleague to domestic violence. 

How has it been 12 years since this incredible, loving, kind soul was taken from so many of us that loved her dearly… One of the hardest things I've ever had to do - and what changed me as a journalist - was covering the murder of my friend and colleague, Alice Morrin. At the time, Alice couldn’t text 911 for help while she was hiding. This needed to change. It became my mission for this to change. Now, it’s available in almost every state. In 2018, Connecticut - the state where Alice died - launched Text to 911. Mecklenburg Co. recently upgraded to Text to 911 just last year as I covered for WCNC Charlotte.

Domestic violence was not what I thought. It wasn’t coming into work with bruises. It was controlling, constant phone calls, obsessive, taking her away from friends. It wasn’t walking away once and being done. It takes a victim on average 7 TIMES to leave before staying away for good.

Let me leave you with some warning signs from the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage:

-Never being at fault 

-Trying to control you through constant communication 

-Separating you from your family/friends

-Being overly critical 

-Searching your belongings, email, Facebook, phone records 

Abuse does not have to be physical. If you feel intimidated by, controlled by or afraid of your partner, you may be experiencing emotional or psychological abuse.

It’s time to say eNOugh! If you need help or know someone who does, visit www.enoughnc.org or call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). 

For the latest breaking news, weather and traffic alerts, download the WCNC Charlotte mobile app. 

Sarah French interviewed Karen Parker, the President and CEO of Safe Alliance

Sarah French: 

For someone who's watching who doesn't know what Safe Alliance is, how would you explain it?

Karen Parker:

Safe Alliance provides domestic violence and sexual assault services here in Charlotte Mecklenburg. And we work to provide wraparound services. So we do everything from shelter, to helping people get protective orders, to providing counseling, to advocating for them and helping them get a safety plan. So we really want to work with people throughout the process so that they can heal during their journey.

Sarah French: 

How would you explain domestic violence for someone watching who thinks, well, that could never happen to me or someone that I know?

Karen Parker:  

Well, we do know that it can happen to anyone. And it really is about power and control. That's the thing to keep in mind. Sometimes there are bruises, sometimes there are, it really is something where you see one person taking control over another one. It can be very coercive, it can be where one person has control over where the other person goes, or what they wear, or what they eat, anything like that. So we're really looking more for control than we are for the physical injuries.

Sarah French:

Talk about all the different programs that you have.

Karen Parker:

Well, we have our shelter, which is a domestic violence shelter. And actually, during the pandemic, we've been operating both a shelter and a hotel facility so that we can have social distancing. We also have an office called victim assistance, where we help people get protective orders. And we have an office in Lake Norman. And then we have our sexual assault center, which is in uptown Charlotte. And that's where we help victims of sexual assault. So we have a range of services, from counseling to advocacy to you know, from the immediate crisis, all the way through the issues dealing with the issue.

Sarah French:

How has the pandemic affected domestic violence victims?

Karen Parker:

Well, when the pandemic first started, we saw a 45% increase in our calls to our hotline. And that was because a lot of people were trying to figure out where they could go and not be stuck with a perpetrator in a house. And so we answered a lot of calls. Then we saw the calls getting much more complicated because, in addition to dealing with domestic violence, people were dealing with issues around maybe having to work from home or maybe having to have their children at home from school. And so that just compounded the issues. And so our hotline calls that used to take 10 or 15 minutes, we're then starting to take 30 minutes or 45 minutes. So the issues just became a lot more complicated during the pandemic.

Sarah French:

And you were talking about some of the signs of domestic violence -- controlling, what are you wearing? Where are you? -- What should parents be looking out for when it comes to our kids?

Karen Parker:

What's important for parents to look for is a change in personality, or maybe your child is becoming more isolated. Isolation is a big, big piece. Perpetrators like to isolate victims because then they have more control over them. So it's important to think of it that way. You do want to watch cell phones, you want to watch, you know where your kids are going, who they're with. Also, you want to watch if there is any kind of injury or something that was unexpected that came up and the teenager seems to be making excuses for their boyfriend or their girlfriend, you want to look for things like that.

Sarah French:

Isn't it true it takes a victim like seven times before they actually leave their abuser?

Karen Parker:

Yeah, that's true. Because, you know, abusers aren't bad all the time. Sometimes they're very charming, sometimes they're very loving. And so a lot of times victims will go back hoping that things are going to change. And it's very normal for a person to return to an abusive relationship and to come back out of it. And one thing we always tell people is that we're here for you anytime, no matter how many times you've gone back, you can always come to us when you need help.

Sarah French:

And you have a big event coming up. Tell us about that. 

Karen Parker:

We do. We have our annual breakfast of hope. And that is something we do every year. It's going to be virtual this year. And we invite people to come and join us. We have Rachael Brooks, who is a sexual assault survivor and she wrote a book called Beads, and she's going to be our keynote speaker. Bank of America is presenting for us, and we're really excited, and people can sign up to be a champion of hope. And that means that you can ask your friends to donate on a fundraising page and help us raise dollars for Safe Alliance and that helps make sure that we stay stable through and then we're able to answer the call even during the pandemic to victims all over the community.

Sarah French:

So finally, I want to ask you, for people watching, how can they help if they know someone that they think might be a victim of domestic violence? Or maybe they're suffering from this? What do you suggest they do?

Karen Parker:

Well, if you know someone who's dealing with domestic violence, definitely reach out and start a conversation. They may not be ready to open up to you right now. But it's important for them to know that you care. And it's important for you to believe them and to listen without judgment, and to offer resources. So offer a hotline number, let them know that there are services available because many people don't realize these services are there. And we're here 24/7, until they are in that situation. So we always try to educate the community so that there are a lot of people out there who know about us and can reach out to a friend or family member when they need us the most.

Sarah French:

And Karen, what is that hotline number for you guys?

Karen Parker:

It's the Greater Charlotte Hotline and the number is 980-771-4673 (Hope).

Sarah French: 

Karen, thank you so much. Such a pleasure speaking with you today. And thank you for all the work that you do in our community. Thank you. 

Sarah also spoke with Sherill Carrington, the Executive Director of the Jamie Kimble Foundation and Rose Planer, a therapist on the board. She was also best friends with Jamie. 

Sarah French:

For those who aren't familiar with the Jamie Kimble Foundation, can you give us an overview?

Sherill Carrington:

The Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage was founded by Ron and Jan Kimble. Ron was the former deputy city manager. And unfortunately, Labor Day of 2012, he and his wife received a call about the untimely death of his daughter. And when they were doing interviews regarding her tragic death, it was then that they said, you know, we didn't know about the warning signs. So we want to do something so that no one else experiences, what we experienced. So what they did is they started the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage in honor of her name and her livelihood. And they are focused on prevention, education, awareness, and research.

Sarah French:

So what are those warning signs that people should be aware of?

Rose Planer:

I think when we talk about domestic violence, we're really talking about an unhealthy relationship, you know, a relationship based on power and control. And the warning signs really can span the board. But I like to think of it as physical abuse, sexual abuse, even financial abuse, digital abuse. So physical abuse, meaning when a perpetrator is hitting, choking, kicking, punching, when somebody is trying to control your money, finances, that person doesn't allow you to have a job. There's isolation between the perpetrator and your support system, your family, your friends, there's heavy criticism, yelling, violent language, making threats, intimidating.  These are all warning signs that this relationship is unhealthy. And that's really, I love how Sherill, you know, introduced the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage. Jamie was one of my best friends. I saw a lot of this emotional abuse playing out in her relationship. And I saw the isolation that the person she was with was really trying to drive a wedge between Jamie her family and friends. So I mean, I think it's important as somebody who knows somebody who's in a relationship, or this is present to be brave, to have that conversation, right, be able to say, you know, this relationship doesn't look healthy, you know, I'm concerned for you. So I think that's really what defines, what defines unhealthy relationship.

Sarah French:

Talk to me about this teen's program that you guys have started.

Rose Planer:

Uou know, the CDC has researched teen violence and this is an evidence based model for we want to be able to provide prevention models for young people, especially in school. You know, the sooner we can educate young people and help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like, the better chance that they're going to have in being able to extricate themselves from a relationship that's unhealthy. So we started this model that we call it the Courage Clubs where we encourage students to get their friends together, form a club in school, where they're having conversations around healthy and unhealthy relationships. And we encourage them to create fun activities where they can get peers understanding what abuse looks like. And like I said, having a dialogue around healthy relationships and then, you know, as kind of to top it all off, we have our annual Teens for Courage Summit really provide experts to get in front of these young people and start the conversation about, you know, let's talk about unhealthy relationships, let's talk I mean, have any of you experienced it, and just getting young people aware of what their relationships look like, and if it is unhealthy, and how to act, or how to help their friends understand when something isn't right.

Sarah French:

How has the pandemic really impacted this organization?

Sherill Carrington:

We've had to adjust. It's been quite an adjustment in that, although we can't be in person in many cases, we find that through our social media, like we're talking today via zoom, or WebEx, where we're reaching our students. The beauty of the way that students interact via their phone or via their computer, we're able to be there real time with them. So in a way, it's kind of a good situation, because we're there real time, we're able to provide resources, as Rose mentioned, we want to make sure that the teens have the right information that they're sharing with their friends, because they speak their language. But we want to make sure that the language that they're speaking to one another is the right information about prevention, regarding the warning signs, and what to do not to be a bystander to be someone of support providing information on the services that can help them if they find themselves in the situation of being victimized at that moment. 

Sarah French:

For people watching, maybe they're in a domestic violence situation, maybe they think they know someone, what's your advice to them? And how can they help?

Sherill Carrington:

Number one, we tell them if they are, if they know someone, or if they themselves are in a situation, first thing we tell them is to call 911. Definitely get out of the situation, immediately call someone for help. Secondly, we asked for them to go to our website www.jkffc.org to look at some of the resources that are being offered. We partner with organizations in North and South Carolina that provide direct services if they need those. So we ask them to go to our website to learn more, or they can call us directly and we will also forward them to those services and those agencies who can help them.

Rose Planer:

And just to add to that I think a big concept that I think people can hear but they don't really understand the safety planning. And that's the idea of if you are experiencing abuse in a relationship and you want to get out, but are not sure how, I always say to people, you know, plan for an emergency and have a to-go bag ready. That's the biggest thing have a to-go bag, leave it at your neighbor's house, have clothes, have extra money, have phone numbers, you know, be ready to leave a relationship if it becomes violent and you're afraid for your life. And I think that's a big thing for people to understand who are in a relationship is that you know, you can, you can get out, there are resources, but make sure you have that safety planning knowledge. And you can find that information also on our website: www.jkffc.org.

Sarah French:

Well ladies, thank you so much for being with us today. And thank you for all the tireless work that you are doing in our community. It's so so important.

Sherill Carrington:

Thank you for having us because the more people understand the impact of abuse, the more we'll understand that healthy relationships is what you need to be in. But there are organizations and resources available to help you get out of that situation.

According to a 2020 study conducted by The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, domestic violence reports have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Carolinas are no exception.

"If you want a tangible visible display of resilience and the human spirit you will find it here," Jessie Lindberg, the executive director of Turning Point, a 42-bed domestic violence shelter in Union County, said. "We serve people who are fleeing intimate partner violence."

The shelter provides a 24-hour response for sexual assault survivors. It also runs a children's advocacy center for kids who have been abused themselves or have witnessed abuse. 

WCNC Charlotte Anchor Sarah French started working with domestic violence shelters after her friend and colleague was killed -- the victim of domestic violence. 

"One in four families we know is impacted by domestic violence," Lindberg said. "So it's far more likely than not that you have experienced it or you know somebody who has."

"Before she was killed, I don't know why I just thought domestic violence happened to other people, and they would come into work with bruises on their arms," French admitted when talking about her friend. 

"Our brochures and our marketing materials you will not see a bruised person anywhere because that's a dangerous cliché," Lindberg said. "There are so many forms of abuse." 

There are many warning signs to look out for.

"I know we did the Jamie Kimble summit together, and that's why that's so important because you'd be amazed at how many people don't actually know that they're in an abusive situation," Lindberg replied.

Hannah Kay Herdlinger and Pamela Blount are both victims of domestic violence whom French has interviewed before in her Carolina has Heart series. 

Pamela witnessed her mother's murder at the hands of an abusive boyfriend.

Hannah Kay experienced abuse from her now ex-husband.

Both women have worked with Turning Point to help other victims. 

"Pamela brings the child aspect," Lindberg said. "We get her view through the eyes of a child." 

"In my situation, domestic violence didn't win," Blount told French. "The lives that are being impacted, the people that I get to touch because I get to share her story ... it is just absolutely amazing."

RELATED: Now able to text 9-1-1 in Mecklenburg County 'when speaking on the phone will endanger your life in circumstances'

"Turning Point isn't just a safe place to stay," Hannah Kay said. "They provide safety, securing and programs to help domestic violence survivors like myself get back on our feet." 

"Hannah Kay is just a warrior for victims and survivors," Lindberg added. "She gives a voice to the people who aren't quite there in their healing journey. We want people to be ambassadors for this work!" 

How can you help?

WAYS TO DONATE

  1. Turning Point has three secondhand stores called Second Chance Boutiques. Please shop or drop off clothing donations to help! 
  2. "We always need supplies here at the shelter," Lindberg said. "You know, with COVID especially, you know people are here a lot more. We're going through products like paper towels, toilet paper, snacks for the kids, food, etc. If people want to make meals, prepare them ahead of time, and bring them that's also a really helpful thing for us." Once COVID is over, volunteers will be welcome to use the shelter's kitchen to cook for the residents.  
  3. Of course, they could always use volunteers. However, Lindberg said with COVID-19, that's been tough. "We just are so desperate to keep this virus out of our shelter, and you know that can leave people feeling very isolated," Lindberg said. Click here for more information on how you can volunteer. 
  4. Lindberg also said since they are a nonprofit, they do function on donations. Click here to donate.

It's been a tough year for so many, and Lindberg just wants to make sure the families of Turning Point know how loved they are. 

"They too can get past what's happened to them and live a violence-free life that's really meaningful," Lindberg said. "It's not on people's radar. If you've never experienced it, you don't understand that it's right outside your window ... We can't turn a blind eye to it." 

If you or your children are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you can safely talk to a staff member, call Turning Point's Crisis Line at 704-283-7233.

Almost everyone in the Carolinas knows Steve Smith the “football player.”

But how many know the man behind the famous No. 89 jersey?

The former Carolina Panther sat down with WCNC Charlotte’s Sarah French to discuss what really drives him on and off the field. From his rough childhood, becoming a father and what he called his defining moment, it’s a Steve Smith you’ve never seen before.

BREAKING THE CYCLE

To know Steve Smith the man, you have to understand Steve Smith the child.

There are a few words that easily describe Smith’s persona on the field — electric, passionate, driven.

The man he is today is fueled by the boy he was.

“There are these statistics that say if you’ve witnessed domestic violence as a child as a young male, that you are prone to repeat the behavior,” Smith said.

As a young boy, Smith saw his mother repeatedly be abused by her boyfriend.

“He would beat her and talk down to her,” Smith said, who knew immediately what he was seeing was wrong.

“You show your love and affection by being gentle," he said. "Not by punching, not by kicking, not by degrading her like I experienced and watched her go through.”

But he couldn’t stop it. He said he’ll never forget the day they got married.

“I went to the bathroom and I was crying and I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘I lost my mom,’” Smith lamented. “That was the day I lost her.”

'IT WAS A DEFINING MOMENT FOR ME'

Before he became a star in the NFL, Smith spent several months in high school without a place to call home.

Smith was a sophomore in high school when years of turbulence finally came to a boiling point.

“When your mom comes home after school and says, ‘pack your things, we’re leaving,’ you know, you’re like, ‘why are we leaving," he asked. 

“We were on the run for about two or three weeks living out of hotels. It was a defining moment for me,” Smith shared.

Years later, the pain of that moment for his mom is still evident.

“I’m at home, get a phone call from her and she tells me that he died and she was emotional about it,” Smith said. “And I realized that even though she went through all that stuff with him, she still loved him.”

It was an explosive existence that left lifelong scars.

“It shaped and molded her to where she raised two young men that were a little hardened and very hesitant with people,” he said. “The wound it has created…I’m 38 years old. A husband, father of four, but there are wounds inside of me to this day.”

SMITH FAMILY VALUES

A dream that was sparked on an overseas mission trip has led to the reality of helping thousands of people in need.

Smith said every time he visits his childhood home in southern California that it’s a powerful reminder of how far he’s come after a difficult upbringing. He recently took his son Boston with him to Los Angeles to show him his grandparents’ house. 

“We drove by and he’s 12 so he can understand, and he was like, ‘dad, you lived here?’” Smith explained.

Family is important to the former football star. In fact, he said he wouldn’t have created the Steve Smith Family Foundation without the blessing of his mom.

“It’s personal for her, you know,” Smith said. “To talk about anyone’s personal life, I think you have to seek their permission.

“She came back and was like, ‘yeah, I’m ready to not have this secret anymore.’”

The foundation helps families in need and victims of domestic violence. In November of 2016, the foundation opened the Steve Smith Wellness Center. It was the realization of a dream sparked by a trip to Nigeria.

RELATED: Steve Smith's foundation builds home for domestic violence survivor

“That was a mission trip and the first time I’d ever been out of the country!” Smith laughed. “And it was mind-blowing. Those places out there look just like some of the places here in Charlotte.”

Since then, the center has provided more than 1,500 people with medical help and free counseling.

“There’s people right here that need your assistance, that need your help,” he said. “You just have to look.”

BUILDING A BRIGHTER FUTURE

The humble Smith said he wants to be forever remembered for the values he instills in his children as a father.

Smith's humility and kindheartedness are traits he wants to instill in his children.

“I want to build them to be humble to serve, to think outside of themselves and also to smile and laugh.

“Ultimately, how I am with my kids is how I’m going to be judged more than anything and that’s really important to me. Success at work is great, but really my success as a man is based on what I have instilled in my kids.”

“Nothing’s better than when you come home and the kids yell, ‘daddy!’ You know, it’s better than a touchdown, it’s better than anything.”

Steve says these days he’s a professional unpaid chauffeur taking his kids to school and football practice. When asked what advice he would give his younger self, Smith didn’t hesitate: Listen more, talk less.

Contact Sarah French at Sarah@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

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