Tomeka Garnett, 33, is the children and youth coordinator at SafeHaven of Tarrant County, the county’s only state-designated family violence center. But the organization helped Garnett long before she was employed there.
“My brother, my mom and I were at SafeHaven. My mom’s boyfriend was physically, mentally and financially abusive, and he cut us off from my mom’s sisters and brothers,” Garnett said. “My mom couldn’t take it anymore. She packed up really fast and grabbed me and my brother with just our pajamas and socks on.”
Garnett and her family fled to a nearby 7-Eleven, where a worker called 911. They were later connected to SafeHaven.
“We were at SafeHaven for a couple of months,” she said. “My brother actually attended school at one of the shelters. From there we were connected to resources, counseling and housing – my mom still stays in the house they connected her to.”
Garnett’s experience at SafeHaven inspired her to pursue this line of work. As the children and youth coordinator, she works to provide safety planning, education and counseling services for children.
Garnett’s story mirrors the experiences of thousands of women who have received services from SafeHaven, which provided refuge to 1,526 women and children in 2021 alone. But, some women were not as lucky.
In 2021, seven women died at the hands of abusive intimate partners — people they’ve dated or married — in Tarrant County. SafeHaven will memorialize these women at a Remembrance Event on Oct. 20.
If you plan to attend
What: Honor Tarrant County Victims: A Remembrance Event
Where: 1010 N Center St., Arlington, TX 76011
When: Noon Oct. 20
Details: SafeHaven president and CEO Kathryn Jacob will deliver remarks before a short program to memorialize victims
The county’s Fatality Review Team, co-led by SafeHaven and the District Attorney’s Office will host a short program to remember those who lost their lives to domestic violence in 2021
This event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, contact HPreissner@safehaventc.org
The Remembrance Event is one of a series of events for SafeHaven’s month-long campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence and support survivors.
Every year in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a team of collaborators from SafeHaven, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, police departments and other agencies work together to release the Adult Fatality Review Report – the county’s only analysis of local intimate partner homicides.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
SafeHaven’s 24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline is 877-701-7233.
The fatality review team reviews every homicide in the county that might be a product of intimate partner violence, said Kathryn Jacob, SafeHaven’s president and chief executive. The team’s definition of intimate partner homicide, published in the report, was used solely as a tool to look for patterns in each case.
Out of 17 possible cases reviewed by the Fatality Review team, seven were victims of intimate partner violence in 2021. Three of the victims lived in Fort Worth, and each of the remaining four lived in Arlington, Hurst, Grand Prairie and Mansfield.
Overall, intimate partner homicides have decreased since 2016, though 2020 saw an unusual spike in the number of intimate partner homicides, which claimed the lives of 17 people.
“2020 was a crazy year. People were isolated in their homes. There were family and economic stressors. Jobs were lost or cut,” said Shelby Hopson, victim assistance coordinator for the Fort Worth Police Department. “But, there is a misconception that stressors cause domestic violence – it’s not. Power and control is the cause of domestic violence.”
SafeHaven staff spend a large part of October drawing attention to domestic violence and fundraising for their cause. On Oct. 4, SafeHaven was the beneficiary of the Texas Rangers 50/50 raffle. Rangers players also wore purple practice shirts in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Jacob said.
This year’s fatality review report was released on Oct. 5, with SafeHaven coordinating a fundraiser with Kendra Scott in the days following that release.
What is intimate partner violence?
The CDC defines intimate partner violence as abuse or aggression that occurs in a romantic relationship. “Intimate partner” refers to both current and former spouses or dating partners. Intimate partner violence includes many types of behavior such as physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological agression.
The definition of intimate partner homicide that was detailed in the fatality report stated, “An ongoing pattern of abusive behavior that can include physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological aggression (including coercive control) by a former or current intimate partner that is motivated by the offender’s desire for power and use of control over the victim, where the relationship ends in homicide of a victim by an offender.”
“I think the Remembrance Event is the most powerful event,” Jacob said. “This event honors those women who could not get out of their situation safely, but it also reminds us that there are thousands of women and men who are currently going through this.”
Victim’s Assistance Unit, SafeHaven work to prevent domestic violence
The Texas Council on Family Violence estimates that one in three Texans will be a victim of domestic violence during their lifetime. Intimate partner violence is just one facet of domestic violence, Jacob said.
“We work with all victims of violent crime at the police department,” Hopson said. “Domestic violence victims make up a majority of that.”
About three years ago, the Fort Worth Police Department’s Victim Assistance Unit created the Northwest Partner Violence Project.
The program responds to any call to the police where a domestic disturbance is reported, Hopson said. Melissa Padilla, the victim assistance specialist working on the project, reaches out the callers to schedule an in-home meeting with a neighborhood patrol officer.
The goal of this meeting is to safely plan, educate and provide services related to intimate partner violence, Hopson added. Overall, the police department seeks to reach the population that called the police for safety, even if an offense did not occur.
The Northwest Partner Violence Project originally was created using grant funds, but the city absorbed the program into the latest Crime Control and Prevention District budget, Hopson said. The program currently focuses on the 76106 ZIP code, which was labeled as a hotspot at the time of the program’s creation, but there are hopes to expand the program to the entire city.
So far, community members have responded positively to the program, Hopson said.
“The Victim Assistance Unit focuses on what the victim needs at that moment. We are never really done because there really isn’t a closure time,” Hopson said. “We always leave it open so victims know they can always call us and we don’t judge if they’re not ready to leave the relationship.”
On average, a domestic violence victim leaves seven times before leaving the violent situation for good, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“It’s important to note that leaving is a process, and the victim may not be ready yet,” Jacob said. “It also may not be safe to leave. Some people may think once you leave the relationship, the danger stops – that’s not true.”
The 2021 fatality review report detailed that 72% of the women had already ended their relationships at the time of the homicide.
“Victims need to remember that there are resources out there and there are people out there to help you every step of the way,” Hopson said. “Domestic violence is never the victim’s fault.”
Most of the clients at SafeHaven range between the ages of 25 and 45, Jacob said. But domestic violence affects every age range, and SafeHaven provides a wide array of resources for all clients.
“We have the hotline, we provide shelter for people who require a safe and anonymous place to hide, we provide counseling services, case management, legal services, therapy for children and a robust prevention program,” Jacob said.
While intimate partner homicides have decreased since 2020, they’re still happening, and Garnett, Jacob and Hopson all emphasized the importance of knowing the resources that are available for people who need them.
“Domestic violence is never OK,” Garnett said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s male to female or female to male – the victims in the Remembrance Event are someone’s mom, sister, aunt or child. We have to get their names out there and let the community know domestic violence still happens, but there are resources.”
Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.