Stillwater News Press

October 22, 2013

Domestic violence rising problem in Oklahoma

By Megan Sando
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Two days after Janett Reyna filed a protective order against her boyfriend, she was stabbed to death in a Blackwell apartment.

Her three young children also were in the apartment.

Luis Octavio-Frias, 29, of Blackwell, has been charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 8 attack.

Reyna was the domestic violence prevention program coordinator for the Ponca Tribe when she died.

Before helping more than 60 victims during her first year with the Ponca Tribe Domestic Violence Prevention Program, she served as a law enforcement officer with the Blackwell Police Department.

Octavio-Frias fled and is wanted by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.

An affidavit from the Kay County Courthouse recounts the last hours of Reyna’s life.

The day before the murder, Reyna asked Frias’ mother, Atocha Maria Beltran, to watch the children while Reyna was at work.

Reyna did not know Frias was waiting to talk to her when she arrived at Beltran’s apartment.

At approximately 8:15 a.m. Aug. 8, Reyna told Frias she did not want to talk. He pulled her inside and shut the door.

Reyna’s oldest child told police she saw her father almost immediately start stabbing her mother.

A short time later, Beltran put the children in a separate room, called 911, found blood on a kitchen knife, washed it off and told police she committed the crime. An hour later, doctors found muliple cuts and stab wounds to Reyna’s abdomen, chest and face, and a strand of black hair in her right hand. She was prounced dead at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 8.

In the past year, Oklahoma has jumped from No. 17 in the nation for women murdered by a male significant other to No. 3, according to the Violence Policy Center.

Melissa Oliver, a senior counselor at Stillwater’s Wings of Hope Family Crisis Services, said Reyna’s death has affected many domestic violence advocates in Oklahoma.

“It’s easy to think that with education it doesn’t happen, but it’s far from the truth.” Oliver said.

The Violence Policy Center reports 97 percent of women who were killed were slain by someone they knew. They were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives or girlfriends.

“I don’t have numbers, but I think it’s more common than what we’d be comfortable with,” Oliver said. “I think it happens more next door than we know, and I think it happens more middle class than we like to think.”

More than black eyes

Oliver said she is shocked by how commonplace abuse is.

“I talk to women who check 15 out of 20 on the danger assessment and they don’t identify themselves as a victim because they’ve never had a black eye,” she said. “It’s been everything else — the control, the manipulation and the harassment — plus the psychology around everything else, maybe to the extent of choking, grabbing or throwing.”

Wings of Hope is a nonprofit agency. It offers a variety of services for domestic abuse issues, from emergency protective orders to providing a shelter on site. The shelter is women only and takes care of all the family’s basic needs. It may provide clothing, toiletry, groceries and most often a private bedroom. Victims pay nothing for counseling, protective orders, group therapy or shelter stays.

Oliver estimates 95 percent of emergency protection orders come through the Wings of Hope. Trained staff help individuals explain why a court order is needed.

The Payne County District Attorney’s office is part of a coordinated community response team for domestic violence in Payne County.

Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hermanson prosecutes domestic violence cases for the county. Hermanson works with Wings of Hope, the Iowa Tribe and law enforcement personnel.

Hermanson said the team focuses on helping the victim.

On the prosecution’s behalf, not all cases go to trial. At this time, 205 cases have been accepted for prosecution.

Many times, the victim will not cooperate with law enforcement or assist in the prosecution of their abuser, Hermanson said.

“A good plea deal is a victory,” she said. “The bigger picture is justice for the victim and the community interest. That’s my goal for each case.”

The time it takes to prosecute a case can postpone a victim’s closure.

“For someone to have something significant happen, when they are trying to heal and move on, it can be a delay,” she said.

For that reason, Hermanson said she tries to file cases as quickly as possible. She often faces the hurdle of keeping in contact with the victim, who also may be afraid to testify.

“On average, it takes a woman seven times of trying to leave the relationship,” Oliver said. “Knowing that, if we hear them talking, and it’s the fifth time they’ve tried to leave him, it counts as success because it’s one step closer.”

Law enforcement personnel conduct investigations, file reports and make arrests if supported by physical evidence and statements of victims and witnesses.

Stillwater Police Department spokesman Capt. Randy Dickerson said it is important for responding police officers to remember that domestic violence cases may be routine for police, but it isn’t for the people involved.

“Domestic violence brings with it some unique dynamics as compared to other crimes,” he said. “First, the suspect and the victim have a personal relationship which brings into play heightened emotions and reactions.”

The process of filing a report or making an arrest has long-lasting ramifications on the children and family of the involved persons.”

Impact on children

Domestic violence’s impact on children may affect them long after the abuse happens.

“Research shows that it is psychologically worse for a child to see their mom being beaten by dad than it is for the child being beaten,” Oliver said.

Fight or flight has its purpose, yet children who experience domestic violence are affected developmentally.

“Their brain gets aroused to flight or flight, even an infant,” she said. “They can’t do anything, and their brain develops differently because they are used to being on alert and ready for something.”

Oliver said it is easy to identify students with ADHD or having difficulty concentrating, but it shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Trauma is something that makes those symptoms worse,” she said. “When you see your mom getting choked or strangled once a week, you’re going to have a hard time concentrating for math because you’ve got really disturbing images in your head that you don’t know how to get rid of.”

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Rita Smith said it would be hard to predict an increase in domestic violence based on data alone.

With 30 years of experience, she has seen an increase in the requests of services since the economic downturn.

“In the early days of the crash, victims may be forced to not flee the abuser,” she said.

For financial reasons, women are strained of resources and because of job loss, the couple is home together more often. This opens a door to increased opportunities for arguments to result in violence.

“Instead of using money for a hotel to get away, it is used for groceries,” Smith said. “The crash made it less likely a person could take care of themselves. Thus the increase in the request for services.”

The coalition provides the nearly 2,000 domestic violence networks nationwide with public information and opportunities to communicate.

Information is shared with legislators to help alleviate problems to have an impact on policy.

The organization supports crisis centers to help domestic violence victims.

Heritage of violence

Gender roles in the South and Bible Belt may play a large role in domestic violence incidents.

“The gender roles in our country — especially given that Oklahoma is a conservative, Bible Belt state — are pervasive,” she said. “Even though I personally like living here, it tends to perpetuate those harsh gender roles at times.”

South Carolina had the most domestic violence incidents. Alaska was second.

“Also having a lot of rural areas with limited resources, considering Alaska, has an impact,” Oliver said.

“When you have an abuser who controls the money, (the victim) has to ask to do anything, and he might take the license plate off her car so she can’t go anywhere and read her every text message. That for us counts as domestic violence because there is control and manipulation.

“In a scenario like that, domestic violence is more common than we think. It’s not just the black eye that counts. It’s unnerving to think about.”