EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final story in a five-part series on domestic violence. The topic may be too sensitive for some readers.

Guthrie Police Officer Michael Johns observed firsthand the need for advocacy while responding to domestic violence calls. Johns stepped into the advocate role at Guthrie Police Department after they applied and received the Victims of Crime Act grant in 2015.

The grant runs for one year, and the department has to reapply yearly.

“It’s a very tedious and thorough process applying,” Johns said. “Each year we wait on edge to see if we got funded. “

Johns works with Patricia Mutters, another advocate who previously worked for the Iowa Tribe. Together they offer support and resources to domestic violence victims in Logan County while sometimes teaching a course to help identify forms of abuse and healthy relationships through education.

•Identifying relationships

Johns and Mutters said the course has a multitude of content geared toward helping identify healthy and unhealthy relationships.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, there’s DV everywhere. And sadly, a lot of people don’t (know) because they grew up with it,” he said. “So they saw their parents abused so they don’t know what a relationship should look like and abusers find these people, and therefore they end up in these relationships.”

But, victims who did grow up with a healthy relationship can also find themselves in an abusive relationship, Johns said.

“Some of these people have never had trauma, and they come from healthy families, they get manipulated … and the next minute they wake up … 10 years later like, “How did I get here?”” he said.

Mutters said educating victims is critical.

“They go over the red flags and what is domestic violence, but not many of them teach what a healthy relationship looks like, and I think that’s very important,” she said.

•Victim demographic

Anyone can find themselves in an unhealthy relationship, Johns said.

“That’s one thing that I do teach is that there’s no discrimination in domestic violence or sexual assaults. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, sexual preference, there’s no discrimination at all,” Johns said. “There’s domestic violence everywhere.”

Stillwater Police Capt. Kyle Gibbs said abuse starts gradually, sometimes without escalating to a physical altercation. Without knowing both healthy and unhealthy relationships, victims may think something is normal when it isn’t.

•Challenges with leaving

Victims can find themselves in dangerous situations when leaving their abuser, and if they have kids, it can add to the stress.

Johns said victims ponder questions like; “where am I going to take the kids, how do I get a job, if I get a job who’s going to look after the kids” and if leaving would put the victim and children in a dangerous situation.

“A lot of times, having children together is what binds them until the child turns 18 so that abuse is able to continue,” Mutters said.

Marica Phipps, the founder of Battered Not Broken, eventually left her abuser. But, having kids is one reason she stayed longer than she should have.

Johns said it gets tricky with the family court system because the abuser can sometimes still have parental rights.

“Like did you know if you got raped and had a baby, the rapist still has parental rights to the child,’’ Johns said. “Welcome to our job, (and) they are still entitled to visitation.”

Patti Wheeler was in an abusive relationship and stayed hidden with her two kids.

After her abuser Greg Wheeler got visitation rights, he shot Patti and killed their son Bryar. Mutters said there are stipulations, and each case is different, but abusers can have visitation rights.

Even if the victim doesn’t have kids with her abuser, they are at risk when leaving.

Victims have a greater chance of being murdered once they leave the abusive relationship, not while in it, Johns said.

Gibbs said cases sometimes escalate to murder because the “suspect becomes too violent and out of control, or sometimes when the victim feels there’s no other way out.”

He said he’s had cases in the past when a domestic violence victim killed the abuser.

Johns is still an officer, he is now a full-time victim advocate as well. His focus is helping victims, not investigating a crime.

Johns and Mutters provide victims with resources to help with the legal process, understanding different forms of abuse, facts, and domestic violence myths.

Victims aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this course. Understanding the truth behind domestic violence is beneficial to everyone, Johns said.

“I think there’s still a lot of people that don’t realize or understand domestic violence in the community. And there’s a possibility throughout your lifetime that you’re going to be someone who is a victim,” he said. “If you can, maybe recognize some of the signs.”

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