March is Women’s History Month, and the contributions of countless women to the advancement of humankind deserve recognition. However, there are many unsung heroes who fight on behalf of women who can not fight for themselves. For reasons known only to those individuals that domestic violence victims look to for help, these survivors often do not receive the compassion, understanding and assistance they deserve. Here is the story of one woman whose bravery, persistence and determination have made a difference.
Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, seventeen year old Tamara Sweet’s world spiraled into unreality when she fell asleep at the wheel and flipped her car six times. She then hung upside down forty-five minutes while rescue workers extricated her from the wreck. In the hospital she was treated for a broken neck and collarbone, as well as brain damaging skull lacerations. They had to rebuild her left thumb and elbow. Despite a doctor’s prediction that she would never regain her full faculties, Tamara recovered her ability to speak, walking again after only weeks in rehab.
The kind of trauma Tamara underwent happens to few people in their lifetime. Unfortunately for Tamara, lightning stuck not once, but twice.
In 2010, Tamara’s boyfriend, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who suffered from PTSD, attacked her after she pushed him into a pool during an argument. She describes how he seemed to leap out of the water and clamp his hands around her throat. She feared for her life as he dragged her by the arm. Finally, he strangled her again, threw her into the pool by her neck and left her unconscious. She awoke face down in the water.
Surviving the attack was only the beginning of a nightmare that lasted several months. The officers who responded to Tamara’s 9-1-1 call could see no visible evidence of the assault. This is true of many choking episodes. Even though she could barely speak on the 9-1-1 call and her ankle was obviously injured, no one called for an ambulance. The next morning Tamara went to the hospital. She reported the details of the assault to the doctors, but they failed to order diagnostic testing.
Without correct information documented on the original police report, or doctor’s evidence showing the extent of her injuries, Tamara’s attacker was released from custody the following day. He violated a no contact order when he e-mailed her asking for his things to be brought to the hotel he was staying in. Tamara then called the Domestic Violence Response line on the card she’d been given by a female officer who’d responded to her original 9-1-1 call.
On the other end of the call was Cyndi Young, an agent with Florida’s Brevard County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) Special Victims Unit. She helped Tamara compile enough information to convince the DA to prosecute, and her attacker served time in jail.
One aspect of gathering evidence was that three months after the attack, Tamara finally underwent MRI’s on her neck and shoulder. It amazed everyone that she’d been able to function all that time since she’d again suffered a dissociated clavicle, this time to the right side, and a broken neck. Once more Tamara recovered.
But that wasn’t the end of Tamara’s involvement. In 2015 she accepted an invitation from BCSO to share her experience on a video about surviving strangulation. Not wanting other women to suffer what she’d gone through, such as the insufficient police report and lack of immediate medical attention and treatment, she agreed.
The BCSO training video seeks to raise awareness about domestic violence strangulation. These are some facts brought out in the video, which can be viewed here:
1. Strangulation is one of the deadliest acts of domestic violence.
2. Victims of prior non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely to become a victim of homicide.
3. Strangulation is lethal and subtle. Victims really do underestimate the danger of their situation.
4. The more often strangulation is used to control a partner, the more likely the partner will suffer brain damage.
Because of Tamara’s courageous fight for justice, and with Cyndi’s help, domestic violence responders in the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office are now trained on what to look for in strangulation assaults. Officers, medical personnel and other partners in the Domestic Violence Response Team view Tamara’s video as part of a Domestic Violence Strangulation Prevention initiative.