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HOW TO GET HELP

CALL: Domestic violence hotline at 423-755-2700, answered 24/7

VISIT: The Family Justice Center at 5705 Uptain Road; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Source: Family Justice Center

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Gerald Thompson, 35

A few days before Halloween, a woman called 911, screaming that her husband was choking her.

The deputies who pulled up to the house in Harrison, Tenn., knew what to expect — they'd been at the home before for domestic violence.

The woman told deputies her husband, Gerald Thompson, threw her down two sets of stairs, rammed a knee into her chest, pinned her to the ground and tried to wrestle away her phone as she dialed 911.

That night, Hamilton County sheriff's deputies arrested Thompson, 35, and charged him with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping and interference with emergency calls.

But 50 days later, and just 12 hours before Thompson was scheduled to appear in court, he called his wife from jail and told her not to show up.

He said if she failed to come to court three times, the charges against him would be dismissed, records show. He urged her to ignore the subpoena she'd received.

His wife listened.

She didn't show, and the next morning a judge moved the case against Thompson back until January.

It's a common scenario, domestic violence experts say. Victims of domestic violence often refuse to testify against their abusers or help authorities prosecute the cases, said Valerie Radu, executive director of the Family Justice Center.

She estimated that as many as 40 percent of domestic violence cases in Hamilton County are dismissed when victims refuse to cooperate.

"It's part of the cycle of power and control and that emotional abuse," she said. "Witness intimidation is part of it, but then there is economic control — it's all about one person having 100 percent control over the other person, the decisions they make and how they go through their life, and making them very dependent."

On average, a victim of domestic violence will try seven times to leave an abuser before finally cutting ties permanently, she said.

"And each time gets more dangerous," she said.

Thompson was charged with domestic assault against his wife in 2014, records show, but those charges were later dismissed at the request of the district attorney.

Studies show that most women do want to see their abusers prosecuted and put in jail, but those who don't most often cite fear of the abuser as the reason to avoid prosecution, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

A quarter of the women who opposed prosecution also reported that their abusers specifically threatened them about it, the report found, and some women reported that they were afraid of the process of testifying.

Radu said court and victim advocates can help walk victims of abuse through the prosecution process.

"One of our goals is to reduce victim intimidation and to increase the number of people who come and follow through on their cases," she said. "But it's hard. You have to get in the middle of that cycle of power and control to offer the victim the services that are out there. It's tricky."

In Thompson's case, it was a court domestic violence advocate who alerted prosecutors and deputies to Thompson's intimidating phone call. He was charged with coercion of a witness on Saturday, after a deputy listened to the recorded call.

Thompson is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County General Sessions Court on that new charge on Jan. 24.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.

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