Domestic violence shelter sees victims from all classes
By JACKIE REHWALD
Aug. 18, 2017
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Though some might have been surprised to hear about a murder-suicide in an affluent Springfield subdivision last month, Lisa Farmer was not.
As director of Harmony House — Greene County's only shelter for victims of domestic violence — Farmer knows all too well that domestic violence happens in all neighborhoods. Even the rich ones.
"Rich, poor, middle class. It happens in every socioeconomic level," she told the Springfield News-Leader . "It does not discriminate based on income."
Farmer said she and other advocates have to repeat those words to people on a regular basis.
"We say it lots," she said. "I don't know if people don't hear it, or they don't get it. But domestic violence is probably happening in every single neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri."
Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott said the deaths of Robert O'Block, 66, and his girlfriend Tiffany Fleming, 27, on July 30 appear to be the result of a murder-suicide. O'Block and Fleming both suffered single gunshot wounds; investigators believe O'Block pulled the trigger. The two were in a romantic relationship.
They were found in O'Block's home, a 4,800-square-foot home appraised at more than $700,000, in a gated subdivision built around a golf course.
"I was sad that we've had yet another case of domestic violence that resulted in a homicide," Farmer said. "I was not shocked that it happened in Highland Springs. I think about the case we had three or four years ago with the physician and his wife."
"This is a horrible tragedy," she said. "But it's an opportunity to talk about it, because there are a lot of people suffering in the more affluent neighborhoods that aren't reaching out."
Fleming was a 2009 graduate of Logan-Rogersville High School, according to News-Leader archives.
The News-Leader has reached out to family members of Fleming but has received little in the way of response. Large portions of O'Block's life, however, are detailed in public records and past media coverage, as well as his book.
When domestic violence happens among the middle to upper classes, Farmer said there is often a "veil of silence" — a phrase used by advocates.
"Oftentimes the victim and/or the abuser are professionals — a physician, lawyer, church deacon, dentist, city council member," Farmer said. "There is this fear on the victim's side that if I tell someone, nobody is going to believe me."
If the victim is a professional, Farmer said there is often added embarrassment and shame, as well as worry about how it might impact his or her career if word got out.
Farmer said there is also a strong societal pressure among the affluent to keep up appearances and be the "perfect family."
Surprisingly, friends and family members can often have less empathy toward an affluent victim, she said.
"People tend to think, 'Well, look at the house she lives in. She drives this fancy car. They go on wonderful vacations. How bad can it really be?'" Farmer said. "Lots of times, there is more of this dismissive or minimizing attitude on the part of friends and family."
"And very often, even though affluent victims live this seemingly wonderful life on the exterior, they may not have any access to the resources," she continued. "Trying to leave and going through the legal system when their husband is controlling the money, but (the victim) doesn't have a deep pocketbook. Meanwhile, he can go out and hire five of the best attorneys."
Even the location of the home can work in favor of the abuser, Farmer said.
"Particularly in neighborhoods like Highland Springs, where the houses aren't one on top of the other, there truly is this veil of silence," she explained. "Somebody can be screaming and yelling for help inside their home. Who is going to hear them if they live in a gated, wooded development where everybody is on three acres?"
Farmer believes some of people's misconceptions about wealth and domestic violence might be because poorer victims are more likely to utilize social services, like calling the police or coming to a shelter.
"They don't have the resources to go out and stay in a hotel or get an apartment or leave town," Farmer said.
About six months ago, Harmony House moved out of its old, cramped facility and into a completely remodeled hotel in southeast Springfield.
The new building increased capacity at the domestic violence shelter from 110 beds to 160.
Still, even with the new shelter and improved living conditions at Harmony House, moving into a shelter filled with other victims and their children might not appeal to the affluent.
That's fine, Farmer said. Harmony House provides much more than just a safe place to sleep. Many middle- and upper-class victims rely on Harmony House's outreach program, which helps with everything from developing a safety plan to court advocacy and education.
"We have two case managers who work with people in the community. Sometimes they are victims who have left shelter and they still want support while they are transitioning back into independent living," Farmer said. "But most often they are people who either haven't left yet or they are people who have left and they want support.
"It's very common for more affluent victims to utilize those types of non-shelter programs. They do have resources, they are a working person themselves and they can afford to move out of the home and get an apartment. And they just need advocacy and support and education to sort of navigate the legal system."
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com