Stella Hargrove recalled the first time she talked publicly three years ago about her “secret” relationship during a domestic violence event in Fairmount Heights.
Hargrove said ex-husband, an Army sergeant who played basketball with his commanding officer, berate her verbally and even strangled her in fits of rage.
The town council member from Fairmount Heights felt relieved when other women said her story influenced them to express their feelings to her on how they also endured physical and mental abuse.
Hargrove’s made five public appearances that include testifying last year in Annapolis to persuade Maryland lawmakers to strengthen a strangulation law now categorized as a first-degree felony that went into effect this month. A person accused of that crime faces up to 25 years in prison, versus the previous penalty of a maximum of 10 years in prison and crime considered a second-degree assault, a misdemeanor.
“I knew by keeping silent, it wasn’t helping anyone and I needed to speak out,” said Hargove, who has three sons ages 34, 24 and 13. “I met my [ex-husband] in the Army. I had the strength to leave, but it wasn’t easy.”
Hargrove’s story highlights how one in every four women and one in every 10 men endure sexual and physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but unfortunately the crime has increased by 10 percent in Prince George’s County because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the county ranked in the top three statewide amongst jurisdictions with domestic-violence related fatalities.
Sharon Rogers, a forensic nursing coordinator at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, said 22 strangulations have been treated at the hospital this year. In comparison, only six incidents last years.
Some nonprofit organizations which focus on ways to combat domestic violence offered some advice.
Arleen Joell, founder and CEO of Community Advocates of Family and Youth in Capitol Heights, said expanding the definition of domestic violence to include teenagers, the elderly and same-sex couples.
She said it’s become a part of the African American culture to remain silent outside the house because “what goes on in this home, stays in this home. That mantra has to die.”
Joell showed a puzzle during a domestic violence virtual workshop Thursday, Oct. 15 on the five types of intimate partner violence: physical, sexual, economic, psychological and spiritual.
Spiritual intimidation could be not allowing a spouse to attend church and abuser quotes Bible scriptures to maintain control of a relationship.If someone sees an incident, or suspect a family member or friend needs some help, a few suggestions include:
• Let a person know you believe him or her;
• Be supportive and nonjudgmental;
• Help create a safety plan; and
• Know a resource – CACY, Family Justice Center in Upper Marlboro, statewide resource at “211,” or 1-800-799-7233.
County Council Vice Chair Rodney Streeter (D-District 7) of Hillcrest Heights, who helped organize the workshop with Progressive Life Center of Landover, asked what happens if a person doesn’t want any assistance and puts a person at greater risk.
“You do put [victims] at risk,” Joell said. “At the same time, I know somewhere out there somebody knows what’s going on. We have to be able to help people [get] out of their situations.”