Domestic violence vastly underreported, expert says

Police say Michael Lutz attacked these two women with a knife early Thursday morning.

The head of a Missouri domestic violence shelter said abusive relationships like the one that left two Jefferson City women with knife wounds Thursday affect thousands each year.

Barbara Hodges, the executive director of Columbia's True North shelter for domestic violence victims, told KRCG 13 her facility alone works with more than 700 victims each year, all from mid-Missouri. She said such cases are very hard to prosecute, particularly when the victims do not file charges. According to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, more than 42,000 people received some kind of treatment related to domestic violence.

Jefferson City police say Michael Lutz, 32, attacked his girlfriend with a knife early Thursday morning after accusing her of stealing from him while he was in prison. She says he slashed her across the throat during the fight. Tammy Case, a friend of Lutz's girlfriend, told KRCG 13 Lutz had arranged to meet his girlfriend at a particular place when he got out of jail and attacked her there. The fight wound up at Case's house, where Case was stabbed in the back while prying Lutz's girlfriend out of his arms. Case said she and her boyfriend could barely keep Lutz out of the house.

Lutz's girlfriend told KRCG 13 she had been with Lutz since she was 14.

"People wanna know somethin'? This is what you get when you stay with abusive people," she said, pointing at her throat wound. "You get your throat slashed. For any women out there, I would suggest you get away from an abusive person. You get killed."

Lutz is currently facing one count each of first-degree domestic assault, second-degree assault and armed criminal action. Bond is set at $150,000.

Hodges said abusers typically micromanage their victims' lives. She said they frequently dictate what their victims can wear, where they can go and who they can talk to. In addition, Hodges said abusers often try to convince their victims that everything that is happening to them is the victim's fault. Moreover, she said abusive relationships usually start out quite the opposite. In most cases, she said such relationships are initially "overly loving." Even when the relationship becomes abusive, she said the abuser often does not engage in such behavior all the time.

"If there's a lot of psychological manipulation going on, he will attempt to convince her that it is her behavior. If she would just do this, if she would just do that, then he wouldn't have to," she said.

As a result, the victim winds up on what Hodges described as an emotional roller-coaster, constantly trying to win back the person they once knew.

Hodges said victims' body language can indicate something is wrong. If the person is very quiet around their partner or seems to look to them for guidance or permission before speaking, Hodges said that may be a sign there are control issues present. Long sleeves worn in the summer could be covering up signs of physical violence. Unusual isolation from friends or family can point to an abusive relationship as well.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are resources available throughout mid-Missouri. Hodges' Columbia-based True North can be reached at 1 (800) 548-2480. The Jefferson City Rape & Abuse Crisis Service can be reached at 1 (800) 303-0013. Fulton has the Coalition Against Rape & Domestic Violence, which can be reached at 1 (866) 642-4422. Further to the north, Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services can be reached at 1 (800) 246-2280. All of these centers offer services including counseling, legal assistance and temporary shelter if necessary. There is also a National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233.