The issue of domestic violence has become a national talking point, thanks to the actions of a few high-profile athletes.

Most notably, the National Football League’s Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely after the release of a video showing him punching and knocking out his current wife inside a Las Vegas hotel elevator.

The issue of domestic violence has become a national talking point, thanks to the actions of a few high-profile athletes.

Most notably, the National Football League’s Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely after the release of a video showing him punching and knocking out his current wife inside an Atlantic City, N.J. hotel elevator.

Before the video was released, the league had controversially suspended Rice for only two games.

Mystie Smith, executive director at Project SAFE, a Shawnee nonprofit aiming to both assist victims and educate the public on domestic violence, said the added attention has been a good thing.

“We definitely welcome any light that can be shed on this situation because this gave America an inside look at what goes on behind closed doors every day,” Smith said.

Smith said domestic violence especially is a problem in Oklahoma and Pottawatomie County.

Project SAFE, 1813 North Harrison Street, assisted more than 500 women and children last year. A report by the Violence Policy Center listed Oklahoma third on a list of most women killed by men.

Jordan Lovelace, adult advocate at Project SAFE, said the people they see through their service are just a fraction of the true number of victims in the area.

“It’s probably a bigger problem in Pottawatomie County than anyone realizes,” Lovelace said. “I think we’re very separated and segregated from it a lot. It’s something that’s very hush-hush and swept under the rug.”

A variety of factors go into why a victim might not want to report abuse, Smith said.

Sometimes it can be embarrassing to admit there’s a problem or it’s just too hard to talk about. In some instances, Smith said people think it’s just the way normal relationships work.

“People who grow up in families where that has occurred, that seems more normal to them and they might not even realize they don’t have to live this way,” she said.

To many victims, the issue seems so complex that ending the relationship might cause more problems than it solves. There may be children to consider or the abused may be dependent on their spouse financially or in some other way.

“Sometimes you can’t just get out,” Smith said. “There’s a whole lot involved.”

Lovelace said it often takes seven to 11 times for a woman to quit a violent relationship before she decides to leave for good.

“We have to keep that in mind when we have women going through this cycle, because we understand that it is a cycle,” she said.

Project SAFE takes a “trauma-informed approach” in dealing with victims, Smith said. This means they realize the person they’re assisting has been traumatized and may not be thinking clearly or making decisions in the same way that other people do.

Smith said their advocates try to be there to listen and don’t try to force people into taking steps they aren’t ready for. They’re not there to heap shame on the victim.

“What we really want them to know it that there are people here who care and can facilitate for them so that they feel like they have an option to leave,” she said.

Smith encourages victims to call a 24-hour hotline for immediate assistance. The number is 1-800-821-9953.

Lovelace said that people from all backgrounds can be victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. It affects people of all incomes, ethnic groups and genders.

“It is everywhere,” she said. “It does not discriminate at all.”