Break the Cycle: Survivor transforms Newport News Police Department response to domestic violence

Domestic Violence Awareness

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 10 On Your Side is committed to “Break the Cycle” of domestic violence. Every Wednesday in October 2020 we will tell the stories of domestic violence survivors and victims.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The trauma of a toxic relationship takes a toll.

“I was in a very toxic and violent relationship for years,” Neisha Himes said. “I was broken. I was a shell of myself. There were so many times when I didn’t know if I was going to make it another day. There were even more times when I didn’t want to make it another day.”

But it was that traumatic experience that shaped Himes into a champion for domestic violence survivors in Newport News.

“Abuse is about power and control. When you are a victim of domestic violence, you feel like you have no power, you have no control, and you have no voice,” Himes said.

Himes is using her voice to transform how the Newport News Police Department interacts with domestic violence survivors. She recently joined the NNPD’s new domestic violence team as an outreach liaison. The team is taking a unique approach to empowering survivors with immediate support, like help with protective orders, documenting abuse, and safety planning.

“Instead of saying, ‘just leave,’ how about we say, ‘what are the barriers preventing you from getting to safety, and how can we help you overcome them?’ It’s just the different ways you approach a victim in helping them out of their situation,” Himes said.

Cheryl Chaves is also on the team, serving as a specialist. She brings two decades of experience with child abuse cases in Newport News.

The full-time advocates started working exclusively with domestic violence survivors in April, during the pandemic and a time when 911 calls for help increased significantly, NNPD Chief Steve Drew said.

The team trained new recruits and created small pamphlets for officers to discreetly give to people in need. Himes and Chavers work alongside the NNPD’s special victim’s unit, and officers often call them when they are at the scene of a domestic violence incident. The very next day, the team reaches out to the survivor.

“There is a voice on the other end that is calling them and letting them know there is hope, you did not deserve what happened to you. I’m here to walk with you along this journey,” Chavers said.

The team is also tasked with changing how the community or family members treat abuse victims.

“If we can help the community understand domestic violence, why it’s so hard to leave, what are some of the barriers that this individual may be experiencing,” Chavers said. “We can help the community send the same message, then we can help them on their journey to hope and healing.”

Drew was inspired to bring resources in-house in 2019 after the NNPD investigated a domestic violence case that resulted in a woman being hospitalized.

“I was angry when I saw the impact on that lady’s life. The physical abuse that she had, the condition that she was in in the hospital. It really pushed me over the edge,” Drew said.

Drew said the overall crime rate is down in Newport New, except when it comes to domestic violence. Twenty-eight people have died as a result of domestic violence in Newport News since 2010, and police responded to more than 740 domestic-related assaults between Jan. 1, 2020 and Sept. 6, 2020, according to the NNPD. In April, Drew told 10 On Your Side that the department was responding to between 20 and 25 domestic violence calls a day. At the time, it was their top call for service.

With the high need for services in Newport News, Drew said that Chavers and Himes are game-changers.

“Cheryl and Niesha have made a direct impact on how we service victims and how we try to stop repeat offenses,” he said.

Himes wants people in an abusive relationship to see her story as an example of triumph over trauma.

“For every time that you were told that you were worthless, that you wouldn’t amount to anything, and that your voice didn’t matter — that you will overcome,” she said.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, you can reach out to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hotline. Call 800-838-8238, text 804-793-9999, or send a chat.

10 On Your Side has also put together a list of local and national resources for domestic violence survivors and their families.

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