At 4 am on Nov. 2, 2013, Sydney Brooks answered a knock on her door in her bathrobe. There were two uniformed officers at her door, asking if Brooks’ daughter was Casey Wright.
“They said, ‘She’s dead.’ It was like a punch in the stomach,” Brooks says. “It was almost like being in labor again, the kind of pain and cramps going through my body.”
Wright was killed by her ex-fiance, whom Wright had left on Oct. 18, 2013. Two weeks later, though, “He convinced her to come in the house and he had bought roses and taken the petals off and strewn them through the house,” Brooks says.
The pain of domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, can last a lifetime for survivors and family. A recent advisory report found that one primary barrier survivors face in receiving support services is that Oregon does not have “a centralized, statewide response to domestic violence.”
In October, the Oregon Secretary of State and the Oregon Audits Division released a report that reviewed the state’s response to domestic violence and advised on strategies to address it. The report proposed that “Oregon could do more to coordinate strategies, share data and effect change across otherwise siloed agency and organizational responses.”
Martina Shabram, the executive director of Lane County’s Sexual Assault Support Services, has experienced this lack of coordination between agencies firsthand.
“We ended up in a universe where we have multiple different agencies that are all attempting to solve the same problem — the problems of inequity, the problems caused by oppression — and we’re all marshaling all our tools,” Shabram says. “And yet, we’re all so siloed and separated that we end up not being able to actually coordinate the kind of care and support that people really deserve.”
The report also found social services for domestic violence survivors to be under-resourced.
Of the 54 domestic violence programs in Oregon, 36 participated in the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s one-day survey. One thousand, six hundred eighty-one victims were served in a 24-hour period on Sept. 7, 2022, according to the NNEDV report. That same day, there were 234 requests for service that were unable to be met.
One program that participated in the survey was Lane County’s Hope & Safety Alliance, a nonprofit organization that has supported domestic and sexual violence survivors in Lane County for more than 40 years. Hope & Safety Alliance receives approximately 600 calls to its 24-hour crisis and support line per month, according to Executive Director Julie Weismann.
“The hose is on full blast these days, and we’re only able to serve a trickle,” Weismann says. “There just aren’t enough resources available out there.”
In 2019, the most recent year documented by the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, six of the 31 separate fatal incidents of domestic violence that year occurred in Lane County, more than in any other Oregon county.
Sarah Sabri, domestic violence prosecutor for the Oregon Department of Justice, compiled media-reported domestic violence-related homicides from 2020 to 2022, though some data may be missing due to the collection method. According to Sabri’s findings, 12 people died from 2020 to 2022 in Lane County in domestic violence incidents. That’s four people a year in just three years. Three of the 12 were intimate partners of the perpetrator.
In Wright’s case, as she slept beside her ex-fiance, Robert Cromwell, he went through her phone, saw that she had been speaking to another man and hit her in the head four times with an aluminum baseball bat.
That same baseball bat had also been a threat prior to Wright’s murder. When she left Cromwell on Oct. 18, 2013, he had put a hole in the wall and smashed a door with the weapon. Wright called her mom to come get her after Cromwell had left.
“I got there and said, ‘Casey, look what he did with the baseball bat. That could’ve been you,’” Brooks says. “And then it was her.”
Cromwell will be eligible for parole after spending time in prison for a shorter period than Wright was alive, 25 years to her 26.
It’s been a decade since Wright was murdered, and Brooks continues to speak out about the pain that Cromwell’s violence brought her and her daughter that she says “time can not heal.” She hopes that their story can inspire others in similar situations to seek assistance from local support programs.
“There’s a life beyond this person that’s shutting you down in so many other ways,” Brooks says, speaking to domestic violence survivors. “And I would tell Casey that.”
Weismann echoes this sentiment, stating the importance of domestic violence prevention early in the relationship.
“We want to educate about this so that we can stop that young person who suddenly is in a relationship that just feels wrong. They think it might be normal,” Weismann says. “We can say, ‘No, no, actually, that’s not normal.’”
However, in order to focus on prevention and outreach, local domestic violence support services need more stable funding. Currently, programs like SASS and the Hope & Safety Alliance receive much of their funds from one-time funding, which is hard to plan for, Weismann says. This unstable funding plays a key role in the state’s lack of a centralized system to address domestic violence.
“I didn’t know what my allocation would be, so I couldn’t budget it,” Weismann says. “I just now, literally today [Nov. 3], found out. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief.”
Similarly, SASS sometimes has to float funding anywhere from six to 12 months as it waits for funds to come in, Shabram says. This inability to plan ahead leads to the organizations being unable to address issues before they start.
“If we want to get to any kind of movement where we don’t have as much domestic violence, where we can try to start pushing back on the community of having this be an accepted norm, then we need to have more funding,” Weismann says.