Plunk aiding abused women: Domestic violence in McNairy County

By Andrew Alexander

Plunk aiding abused women:  Domestic violence in McNairy County

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One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Domestic Violence Research Center.

West Tennessee Legal Services’ list of warnings against domestic violence displays many forms of abuse ranging from sexual and physical violence to economic control, verbal abuse, isolation, intimidation, and many more.

LaFran Plunk, paralegal representing West Tennessee Legal Services, renders services to underprivileged women who are victims of domestic violence.

“Every 60 seconds a woman is brutally beaten in this country,” said Plunk.

Plunk serves six Southwest Tennessee counties including McNairy, Hardin, Chester, Hardemen, Decatur, and occasionally Madison, with cases of abuse.

Abused women are sent to Plunk by churches, the Sheriff’s Department, city police officers, other social agencies, and a lot of women that come to her are self-referrals as well.

Plunk’s job is to insure the safety of the victim first and foremost, and then make sure the
victim has had the proper medical treatment and has reported the incident to the proper authorities before beginning the victim’s assessment process.

Plunk said that listening intently to a victim is one of the most important parts of her job.

“I’ve learned that when they come in it’s best to just let them sit and talk and rant and rave, or vent...just whatever they need to do,” said Plunk.

During those discussions, Plunk notes certain issues that stand out to her, and when the victim has finished, she presents them with a questionnaire and walks them through the traumatic events they have been suspect to.

Plunk knows there are obstacles within this process as well, claiming that she has to be able to decipher if a victim is trying to abuse the system to gain an advantage in a custody battle.

“You have to listen very carefully,” said Plunk. “If you do this long enough you understand what to look for and what not to look for.”

Once the assessment process is finished Plunk begins to make arrangements for the victim to be given provisions, shelter, and additional medical attention if necessary, and she does this through organizations like the Women’s Resource and Rape Assistance Program, or WRAP.

WRAP, according to Plunk, is an organization that counsels abused women and children, with the aid of the Carl Perkins Center. WRAP also provides court accompaniment and confidential shelters for abuse victims.

When Plunk is certain the victim is safe she begins building a case against the abuser and in doing so will file an order of protection for the victim.

An order of protection is not the same as a restraining order in the sense that the order of protection is a document signed by a judge stating that the abuser will face criminal charges for violating the order.

“If the abuser is caught with a weapon under the order of protection, then the abuser will be charged with a criminal act,” said Plunk. “If the abuser contacts her, threatens her, follows her, or has someone else follow her, then the abuser will be in violation of the order of protection.”

According to Plunk, if the abuser violates the order of protection they will be prosecuted by the state and will face jail time and heavy fines.

“Once the abuser is served the order of protection it can be very scary and very dangerous for the victim because the abuser is going to go off like a rocket,” said Plunk.

Though Plunk does not represent the women in court that come to her for help, she does prepare them for court and accompanies victims to add to their feeling of security.

“I’ve actually carried them into the courtroom before we go to court and let them get a feel for the court room,” said Plunk. “I run through the process with them by telling them what to expect, where to stand, and make sure they understand that I’m going to be there, a bailiff will be there, and other police officers will be there.”

 Plunk says that it is essential for the victim to know that the abuser is not going to be able to get to them in the courtroom and that she has actually had to restrain an abuser from trying to attack the victim in the courtroom.

Plunk’s job is not only to educate the victims of the kinds of abuse they have endured but to occasionally educate police officers and community members that cannot recognize the signs of abuse.

“I do an educational program for beauty school students to teach them how to look for signs of abuse,” said Plunk. “We teach those students how to make safe referrals for those they feel have been victimized.”

Plunk stresses the need for domestic violence awareness in McNairy County.

“I’ve been told that we don’t have domestic violence in McNairy County,” said Plunk. “I think a lot of people’s conception in the community is that they (victims) like the abuse because they stay in it, and that’s just not true.”

Attributing the majority of abuse cases she sees to methamphetamine and alcohol abuse, Plunk says that the problem is very real in McNairy County.

“When I first started this job 15 years ago you might have seen a slap or a black eye,” said Plunk. “Now, their bodies are mutilated, they’re sexually assaulted with objects, and they have been beaten to a pulp.” 

According to Plunk, on a weekly to monthly basis, she sees women that are injured to the point where they were left disabled.

“Our women are much like a Marine soldier,” said Plunk. “They are here to survive. They are survivors.”

Sadly, the funding for Plunk’s agency has been cut by the Department of Justice by a sum of $1.2 million, according to Plunk.

“It will be significant, so we just pray that we’ll still be able to take care of the women,” Plunk said, “but a lot of services will be cut.”

Despite the horrors domestic violence presents to the community, there are some stories of hope for women in abusive relationships.

The majority of Plunk’s work is confidential to secure the safety of the victims, but one positive incident she shared told the story of a woman that had come to her after being brutally raped and beaten.

After Plunk went through the process of securing the woman and the legal obligations had been taken care of, the young lady went back to school and earned a degree in law in Texas.

“She became one of the most successful prosecuting attorneys in the state of Texas,” said Plunk. “That is righteous! She is able to know what to say to a victim of abuse, and she can say, ‘I’ve been there.’”

Plunks overall goal is to let abused women know that they are not alone out there.

“This is not their problem, it is the abuser’s problem. Justice is blind sometimes,” said Plunk, “but that doesn’t mean that everybody is blind to the issues in which they are living. There are agencies out there that want to help, and it doesn’t bother me to get messy to take care of my women.”

What you can do?

If you are a victim of domestic violence contact LaFran Plunk at West Tennessee Legal Services at (731)645-7963, or contact McNairy County’s WRAP Services at (731)645-4357.