Bobbi McDaniel Shares the Stats on Domestic Violence

Bobbi McDaniel was sitting in a session of Leadership Jonesboro when she learned this statistic: one in three women have experienced or will experience some form of domestic violence. “There were nine women around the table, which meant that statistically three of us were or would become victims,” she recalls. “And as I looked around the table, I realized that I knew for a fact that two of the women in the room had been victims. This was a group of professional, educated women, and that statistic was holding true. I was stunned.

“A few weeks later, I called the Women’s Crisis Center of Northeast Arkansas to volunteer,” she continues. “A week before Christmas, they called to tell me that a woman and her toddler had just showed up at the shelter and needed clothes and Christmas gifts. As I was shopping for them, I looked down at my daughter — who was probably a year old at the time — and it hit me just how difficult it must have been for that woman to leave her husband at that time of year and what horrible things that child had seen in her short life. After that, I became more and more involved with the shelter and domestic violence issues.”

Lending Her Voice

Born in Honolulu, Bobbi moved to Georgia with her family when she was 5 years old. After graduating from North Georgia College, she went to work for Dow Chemical in Louisville, Ky. She married and moved to Jonesboro, where she worked for the family KFC business with her husband.

After she divorced, Bobbi stayed in Jonesboro, raising her children — C.J. (13) and Alex (11) — and volunteering in the community. She met Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in 2008, and they married in 2009. She and her children now live in Little Rock. Dustin’s daughter Emma (11) lives in Jonesboro with her mother, but she visits every other weekend.

Between Dustin’s work commitments and the kids’ schedules, life is quite busy for the McDaniel family. Not too busy, however, for Bobbi to continue her important volunteer work with women’s shelters. She’s now extremely active with the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence — a nonprofit that serves as an umbrella for the 32 women’s shelters in Arkansas to ensure they are meeting federal standards. The coalition also provides continuing education for counselors and works on legislative issues affecting domestic violence victims.

“For me, the biggest thing is that these are women who have lost their voice,” says Bobbi. “I do this because I want them to find their voice again and be able to stand up for themselves.”

But it’s not just about the women. Census data from shelters across the state indicate that at least two-thirds of people who enter shelters are children. “We want to help women regain their lives, but equally important is providing care, counseling and security to the children who are witnessing or unfortunately often times having to endure the abuse,” says Bobbi. “The children get caught in the middle, trying to protect mom or placate dad. The mental and emotional side of it for the kids is just so hard.”

Behind Shelter doors

The shelters in Arkansas provide housing for women and children and counseling and legal advocacy for any woman who needs it — regardless of whether or not she is living in a shelter. Staff help women obtain protective orders and support them through the court process if they choose to press charges. Women also receive assistance in finding employment, housing, training — whatever is needed to help them have a fresh start.

Shelters are typically in an undisclosed location, and every effort is made to ensure secrecy and security. “You still have men out there trying to find their wives or girlfriends,” explains Bobbi. “These are usually very suave guys. They know what they’re doing. They don’t hit on the first date. They wait until women are invested in the relationship. They’re smooth talkers. We had an instance in Jonesboro where the man showed up at the police station and almost had them convinced that they should return his children to him.”

Sadly, statistics show that it takes a woman an average of seven attemps to leave an abusive relationship before she is successful. “It’s a slow process,” Bobbi says. “It doesn’t happen overnight, even though those of us who work with victims wish it would. I mean, she loves him. Her life is built around this relationship. And likely by the time the relationship becomes physically abusive, he’s already done plenty of damage to her self-worth through verbal and emotional abuse. If there are children involved, he has that leverage over her, threatening to take the children if she leaves him. It’s incredibly complicated.”

Having a Ball

Every October, the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence hosts the Amethyst Ball to shed light on the issue and raise critical funds for shelters and services.

“In the 1980s, women’s shelters could exist on federal funds. Plus, domestic violence was such a hush-hush topic — women really didn’t want to talk about it and they were afraid to talk about it,” says Bobbi. “But federal funding has been reduced significantly over time. An annual event helps keep the focus on the mission of the coalition and the needs of the shelters.”

At the ball, the coalition presents the Domestic Peace Award. This year, the honor goes to former Razorback D.J. Williams, his mother and his sisters. Vicky Williams fled Texas with her three children in 1999 to escape from years of domestic violence. With the assistance of Women and Children First, one of two shelters in Little Rock, the Williams family was able to embark on safe, productive lives.

Dustin and Bobbi were the recipients of the Domestic Peace Award in 2010, recognized for her work with the Women’s Crisis Center and his work on the “End the Silence, Stop the Violence” campaign, which put signs with tear-off cards in all Walmart women’s dressing rooms and bathrooms (often the only two places battered women can find privacy). In fact, you might say that domestic violence brought the two together.

“It’s true in a way,” Bobbi laughs. “He was a policeman in Jonesboro before he was attorney general. When a foundation asked him for a recommendation of a nonprofit to support in Jonesboro, Dustin recommended the Women’s Crisis Center. He knew from experience that it is a place law enforcement can count on to shelter women in desperate need at any time of day or night. We met when he came to help present the check to the center. We had our first date just a few weeks later. The rest is history!”

While the McDaniel’s story has a happy ending, Bobbi is full of tragic stories of women who never got that chance. “The one thing I want to make sure everyone understands is that this is not a socioeconomic issue,” she stresses. “There are women next door to you no matter where you live who are enduring nightmare situations. It can — and does — happen more often than most people realize.”

Staggering State Statistics

In 2011:

• 2,461 women entered domestic violence shelters
• 1,950 children entered shelters
• 8,940 crisis calls were placed
• 15,243 information calls were received

*Provided by the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Inspired to help? Good. Contact one of the local women’s shelters to find out what their needs are. There are two in Little Rock:

The Dorcas House Women and Children First
Dorcas Van Gilst, 374-4022 Gigi Peters, 376-3219

If you or anyone you know is in danger, call the statewide hotline immediately at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Related Articles