Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart knows exactly when he became passionate about speaking out against domestic and relationship violence – 8:50 a.m., May 12, 2001.
He had experienced such violence before, growing up in a home with an abusive stepfather, and he has witnessed it frequently during his career in law enforcement.
But the deadly consequences became personal when his older sister, Laura Moore, was shot to death seven years ago by her estranged husband, Rinehart told a group of Ohio State University students Feb. 4 during a panel discussion sponsored by the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence.
The event kicked off the campus’s "It’s Abuse" awareness campaign.
"If there is any kind of a threat, treat it as a life or death situation because, sooner of later, it will be," warned Rinehart.
He has spoken to numerous groups and published a pamphlet on relationship violence following the tragic loss of his sister, and has been interviewed by Dan Rather on CBS News.
The problem is pervasive, and is not limited to any segment of society, including affluent suburbs, according to Rinehart, who worked in Gahanna before coming to Bexley last year.
Only two nights before, Rinehart said he spoke with a young woman in his own neighborhood who was receiving hundreds of menacing text messages a day from an ex-boyfriend. The most recent one included a threat to kill her.
"Law enforcement officers know that stalkers don’t back it off, they crank it up, until they get the response they want," Rinehart said.
College campuses aren’t immune, either. One in five women will experience abuse during their college careers. And three-quarters of OSU students report that they know someone in an abusive relationship.
How do these relationships start and why do they persist?
As Rinehart noted, the cycle of family violence and abuse can continue for generations.
Danielle, a student on the panel who asked that her last name not be used, started a relationship with an older guy at 14, to escape the sexual abuse she was subjected to by her father and stepfather.
He tried to isolate her from friends and family, even objecting when she spoke to her brothers. Then the verbal abuse started, calling her "whore" and "fat."
Danielle tried to laugh this off, telling herself that he was just kidding around. Then came the physical abuse, resulting in a dislocated arm. She lied at the emergency room, saying that she had fallen down the stairs.
After five years of this treatment, Danielle had her "moment of clarity" when she realized that she needed to get out of this relationship. She has become an advocate for women in similar situations.
Another panelist, who asked that her name not be used, pointed out that abuse doesn’t have to be physical to leave deep scars.
"It’s not just about hitting. It’s about being manipulated and controlled," she said.
Rinehart was able to break the cycle in his own life through the discipline he learned in the National Guard. His sister carried more emotinal baggage from their dysfunctional home life, and was in her third marriage at the time of her death.
She had been trying to assert her independence by earning her GED, finding a good job to support her two daughters and even buying a home.
But the husband had taken her and the girls to rural Alabama, away from the protection of family in Columbus.
She had filed for divorce and he had been stalking her before breaking into the house and shooting her three times in front of her daughters, then 14 and 16. He turned the gun on them before fleeing.
He is now in prison, Rinehart said.
"One of their most powerful tools is isolation," explained Shruti Patel, with the Campus Advocates.
The first thing to do if you suspect you are in an abusive relationship is to tell someone, according to Patel.
Campus Advocates is a place to find support and the resources to end such a relationship, she added.
"Trust your gut" if it is saying you might be in danger, Rinehart advised. "If there is any hint that this person thinks you are his personal property, break it off."
Rinehart placed most of the blame – and a large part of the responsibility for stopping this violence – on men, pointing out that 95 percent of the victims are women.
"It’s our problem. It’s our behavior that causes so much harm and death," the chief told the young men in the audience.
The following are resources for the victims of violent or abusive relationships:
24-hour Rape Helpline – 267-7020
Choices 24-hour hotline – 224-4663
Columbus Police Sexual Abuse Squad – 645-4701
Columbus Police Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit – 645-6232
OSU Student Advocacy Center – 292-6101