20 questions saving thousands of domestic violence victims’ lives

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. -- A checklist is saving thousands of domestic violence victims lives in Shelby County.

Police, social workers and nurses are giving the survey to victims.

"I met him when I was 17," Gwendolyn Turner said.

It's hard to watch Turner relive the abuse.

"I was in the relationship five or six years before the first lick or slap ever came," she said.

Turner didn't grow up in a home with domestic violence, so she never knew the warning signs until it was too late.

"It got really bad. There was some hospitalization. I now have permanent black eyes. I wear makeup all the time, because of the black eyes. I only have 20 percent hearing in my right ear, because of an irreparable eardrum," Turner said.

When Turner tried to get help, Shelby County wasn't using the strategies it is now like the Danger Assessment.

"It would have made me stop and think about things," Turner said.

"You might be in greater danger than you realize," Vernetta Eddleman said.

She works at the Shelby County Family Safety Center where about 2,500 domestic violence victims get help each year.

The center started giving the danger assessment to every victim about three years ago.

It asks 20 yes-or-no questions, like does he own a gun, is he unemployed, do you have a child that's not his, or does he ever try to choke you.

The more you answer yes, the more danger you're in.

"We have an average score of 17, so they are in severe danger when they come in," Eddleman said.

You read that right. Most victims in Shelby County answered yes to 17 out of the 20 questions, meaning you need to get out, and get out fast.

"We are going to tell you that you may need to not go back home. You may need to go to a shelter, because of what it is you indicated on the test or assessment," Eddleman said.

She said the center helps high-scoring victims with an escape plan, and many times, they get police involved to issue warrants.

"It usually takes about seven times for a victim to leave an abusive situation. I think this helps them understand the severity of the abuse and get out quicker," Eddleman said.

She said the assessment is simple, but highly effective, and hundreds of cities nationwide are using it, too.

John Hopkins University Professor Jacquelyn Campbell created it.

"I first came up with it in 1985, so I have been working on it for a long time," Dr. Campbell said.

Dr. Campbell came up with the questions after talking with abused women and looking at murder cases.

She travels to different cities, including Memphis, to teach people how to use it effectively.

"I have heard from many women that it has opened their eyes to how much danger there is in their relationship," she said.

As for Turner, she got out of her abusive relationship 11 years ago, but recently filled out the assessment.

"Danger! I was in real danger. He owned a gun. I had no clue how dangerous of a person he really could have been," Turner said.

Now she's working at the Family Safety Center to make sure all victims take it, too.

"If somebody had sat me down and asked me some of those questions, the light bulb may have gone off a little sooner," she said.

There are three ways you can take the assessment:

1. Go to the Family Safety Center on Madison Avenue.

2. Download "My Plan" app. Its icon is a heart, and you have to enter a passcode to open it.

3. Take the test at dangerassessment.org/DA.aspx

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