LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It’s a battle commonly fought in private and, unfortunately, leading to death in the Las Vegas valley: domestic violence.
Though statistics show DV reports are shrinking, officials said those numbers are deceiving.
Currently in Nevada, one in every four women and one in every seven men experience it in their lifetime, according to The Shade Tree, the state’s only 24/7 emergency shelter catered specifically to DV and human trafficking victims. Shakina Johnson is part of that statistic.
A “hostage” in her own home was how she described the past three years of her life, before moving to Nevada earlier this year from across the country.
“I had my door kicked in, I got a broken collar bone and my jaw realigned,” Johnson said through tears on The Shade Tree campus Thursday evening. “I was awakened by my service dog licking me in the face, and I was in a pool of blood.”
Beaten to the bone, emotionally and financially manipulated, and cut off from the world, she said she fought in silence for too long. She found the strength to get out of her abusive relationship after a brief stint in jail, which she said stemmed from the relationship, through a program within custody.
But it wasn’t easy, and she acknowledges the complicated thought process of potentially thousands of people who remain in their DV situation.
“I have PTSD, and my heart is compassionate to help others, and I don’t wish that hurt or harm or danger on my worst enemy, because nobody can fathom that type of pain,” Johnson said through tears while she spoke to 8 News Now. “I had to love myself, and the self of me they didn’t take is the self of me that pushed me forward to be the best that I can be.”
In Clark County alone, 16,030 DV cases were reported in 2022, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Though it’s an over 36 percent decrease from last year and the lowest since at least 2019, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reports 20 DV incidents ending in murder this year. It’s tied for the leading cause of murders in its jurisdiction so far in 2022.
Additionally, the reported number of DV disputes is “skewed” according to The Shade Tree CEO Linda Perez, who is a 10-year veteran of DV and human trafficking support and a survivor herself. Other survivors, she said, do not speak up about the abuse they experience and sometimes endure it for years or, in extreme circumstances until it kills them.
“Domestic violence isn’t just about physical abuse. It’s mental, it’s emotional, verbal, financial,” Perez said on The Shade Tree campus Thursday evening. “They’re in a relationship where that’s supposed to be the person that protects them and loves them… You could be this amazing strong woman, but when you’re emotionally abused, all of that goes away.”
But the shame and embarrassment that prevents some victims from speaking out are not loud enough to drown out the memories of those who lost their lives from DV.
Nearly 50 of the Shade Tree staff and clients gathered on the campus Thursday afternoon for its third annual candlelight vigil, intended to honor those who did not make it out in time and those who did that are now working to help others move on.
Paper bags with the names of people killed in DV relationships lined the path to an altar where Johnson and Perez shared personal anecdotes of their abuse or those they once knew.
Afterward, staff and clients held flameless candles while crowding the corner of Owens Avenue and Main Street. Purple ribbons were tied along the shelter’s perimeter fencing to symbolize the loved ones lost in recent years.
Taking the first step is the hardest part of escaping, said Perez. She wants those reading or watching this story who may identify as a DV victim to know help is available, once they ask for help.
“I want to say that you’re not alone, that there is a resource, that there is no judgment or shame. Reach out to us. Please call us. Even if you’re not ready to come into the shelter, start those conversations with us,” she said. “Let us start safety planning. Ask us questions. Just call us to ask for information and we will be here when you’re ready.”
The Shade Tree’s emergency crisis hotline is available at 1-855-385-0072. All other interests in the shelter can be addressed on its website.