Though high-profile cases – such as a pair of shootings that left two local women dead last month – make headlines from time to time, domestic violence occurs largely under society’s radar.
“I think it’s still a hidden crime,” said Sharon Lindsay, the domestic violence coordinator for the Chesterfield County Police Department. For the most part, instances of domestic violence still happen behind closed doors, she said, and most victims are still reluctant to reach out for services.
Yet, “these are sometimes life-threatening situations and they can escalate so quickly,” said Lindsay, who has a master’s degree in social work. “They are just dangerous, volatile situations where people sometimes act impulsively and in ways that are hard to predict.”
Two such situations spiraled out of control on Wednesday, June 23.
Misty D. Bessette, 25, was killed during a domestic-related shooting at her home in the 6300 block of Seti Court in the Kings Forest subdivision, according to information from police.
Police arrived at the scene at about 7 p.m. and found Bessette dead from an apparent gunshot would. Her 17-year-old boyfriend has been charged with second degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, police said.
Little more than an hour later, Richard E. Parker, 56, shot and killed his wife, Cindy, 45, at Pietro’s Italian Restaurant on Jefferson Davis Highway, according to police. Parker also shot Michael Dudley, an 18-year-old Thomas Dale High School graduate who attempted to intervene in the domestic dispute.
Parker is charged with second degree murder, malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Domestic violence “doesn’t start off with someone threatening someone with a gun,” Lindsay said. Sometimes, it begins by the abuser taking more and more control of the victim, she said.
“A lot of the work that I do is people call me about a loved one,” Lindsay said, and she appreciates those opportunities to share information about the dynamics of domestic violence with someone who can share it with the victim. “People are much more likely to respond to a loved one. … That can go a long way toward preventing acts of abuse from happening.”
There are a number of warning signs of abuse, she said.
“I think anytime you see one person exerting what you would consider an unusual amount of control or monitoring … that’s definitely a red flag,” she said. “Anytime you think that somebody is afraid of their partner, that’s a red flag.”
Injuries that don’t make sense should also be cause for concern, she said, and “children are a great indicator of what seems to be going on.” Stalking and monitoring through cell phones is also a problem; Lindsay said she’s met with victims whose phones wouldn’t stop ringing because the abuser was calling to find out where they were.
The risk of domestic violence increases when one partner is trying to leave the relationship, she said.
“Many of our police calls are third-party calls,” she said. People can be more proactive, and, if they suspect abuse, ask a friend or loved one about the signs they’re seeing, she said.
“If they’re witnessing a situation going on right now, call 9-1-1,” she said. If they hear about a situation after the fact, they should call a non-emergency number. And they don’t have to call the police, she said. They can call a number of hotlines and talk to civilians who are trained and understand the resources available to victims of domestic abuse, she said.
“Whoever is connected should call,” she said. Many people aren’t aware of resources available for victims, such as free weekly support groups in English and Spanish, or other information, such as the fact that someone can take out a protective order against a person without getting that person arrested for domestic assault, she said.
YWCA Women’s Advocacy Program 804-643-0888
The James House 804-458-2840
Virginia Family Violence Hotline 800-838-8238