A story of abuse and violence in mid-Missouri
When she was six months old, Cherie Doyen’s father yanked her out of her crib, shook her violently and beat her. She was abused physically, emotionally and sexually throughout her childhood. When she was 16, she stood up to her father, and the physical abuse stopped, but the emotional abuse continued long after Doyen left her home at 23.
“I’ll just be frank, I almost lost my life numerous times in that home,” Doyen said.
She was severely affected by physical and emotional trauma. In addition, Doyen’s family never taught her to care for herself. She still struggles to prioritize her physical well being, sometimes forgetting she needs to eat.
The failure of her family, Doyen says, is largely responsible for her malaise. She was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, amnesia, chronic pain and fatigue, among other illnesses.
“Abuse comes with a cascade of chronic things. I had a doctor say to me, ‘I can’t even tell you what is wrong,’” Doyen said. “It was so many things. It was like my body was shorting out.”
Doyen suffered through years of getting nowhere with doctors and therapists — through marriage, raising two children and divorce. Desperate for guidance, she bought a ticket to see Deepak Chopra speak in Kansas City. Doyen followed the guru for the next year. She learned the practice of meditation and mindfulness. It was then — decades after the abuse — that Doyen first saw a way out of her suffering.
Cherie Doyen is now helping others cope with abuse, as a mindfulness coach and through the support group she runs, Women Rising. At Women Rising, women meet to discuss struggles and successes, and to offer support. Doyen leads the group on a guided meditation. The meditation and the conversation are meant to release survivors from what Doyen calls their “story,” the mostly-false narrative they have built to cope with the reality of the abuse.
“As long as we’re standing in truth it’s kind of like a spider web,” Doyen said. “You know how a spider web has like the stronger strings that hold everything up? That’s truth. And as long as you’re standing in truth, you’re on solid ground. As soon as you step over into the story you’re going to have anxiety, you’re gonna feel overwhelmed, because nothing is there holding you up.”
The process comes from Doyen’s own experience escaping suffering. She wrapped her childhood in stories to explain the abuse. Doyen could not escape her abusers, so she focused on survival.
Doyen wants survivors to find the truth in the tangled web of story. It is important to let go of the story, she said, and for survivors to be empowered to not let others control their mental well being.
Doyen has been unofficially hosting groups and coaching mindfulness since she traveled with Chopra 12 years ago. After publishing a book based on her childhood experiences titled “Junebug” in 2013, she started expanding.
Doyen is transforming the salon she has run in Columbia since 1995, The Loft, into a dedicated space for Women Rising. In addition to the weekly circle she hosts for Women Rising, Cherie now sees clients individually. She is also planning to start a few more focused circles for women in college, mothers, and survivors of sexual assault.
“I move them out of suffering and stagnation into life,” Doyen said. “And it’s a beautiful process to watch, as people get out of their story that keeps them trapped in their pool or pond of suffering, when we realize that’s just story and we could walk on this tightrope of truth right out of it.”
Doyen feels a special connection working with women sharing the path away from suffering. And she says the experience she gains from empowering women to walk that path guides her own journey.
“I walk away from each session with something coming out of my mouth that I needed to hear for myself,” she said. “I leave feeling incredibly uplifted like I just had a cup of coffee.”
Across Missouri people like Cherie Doyen face abuse from their families. In 2013, a total of 78,206 referrals to services were given for survivors of child abuse and neglect in Missouri, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
According to the Missouri Kids Count Data Book of 2016, Boone County currently ranks 9th in the state for child well-being out of 114 counties. The county ranks 5th for reported incidents of domestic violence.
1,620 incidents were reported in 2015, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Boone County’s number of reported cases of domestic violence is at least three times that of any of its surrounding counties. The next highest number for surrounding counties was in Audrain County, with 528 reported incidents.
The number of reported incidents is not representative of the total scope of domestic violence in Boone County, said Randy Nichols, a detective on Columbia’s Domestic Violence Enforcement Unit. Because not everyone reports abuse, and because the same abuser can be reported multiple times, it is hard to determine the actual rate of abuse.
Nichols is one of two Columbia Police Department detectives assigned to DOVE, a multi-faceted unit that works on cases of intimate partner violence. In addition to the two CPD detectives, DOVE is also made up of two prosecutors, a Boone County Sheriff’s Department detective, probation officers, the local counseling center and an advocate from True North, the local domestic violence shelter.
Each facet of DOVE has a different mission. For the law enforcement side of DOVE, the goal is to “put the guy in jail,” Nichols said.
He said that DOVE recognizes the realistic barriers in prosecuting cases of domestic violence; some women don’t wish for the abuser to be arrested because of the realities of their relationship.
“You call people, and you can hear it in their voice,” Nichols said. “They’re like, ‘I’m done with this guy, but we’ve got kids,’... And they can’t just leave, there’s nowhere for them to go; they’re just regular people.”
It used to be that women stayed at home with the kids and the men worked. Now, Nichols said, the reverse is true, but it still results in making a hard choice.
“[Typically,] she works a couple of jobs and he stays home and watches the kids,” Nichols said. “So if he’s not there to babysit, she’ll have to quit work or whatever. So it’s kind of weighing options.”
True North Fiscal Manager Jennifer Graves said that there are many barriers women face when obtaining help, especially those who live in the more rural parts of Boone County.
“We had one victim kept prisoner,” Graves said, because of the victim’s location.
Not all victims have access to a car or are within walking distance of Columbia. In other cases, she said, the victim’s abuser might be “best buddies” with or related to the local sheriff making reporting abuse impossible.
For those that are able to seek help, Graves said, True North offers emergency shelter to women and children; if they aren’t able to accommodate victims, True North can refer them to other shelters. But in most cases, Graves said, there isn’t usually a lack of space.
“It is rare that we have to turn away people,” she said.
Domestic Violence Resources
For the legal side of DOVE, prosecuting the abuser can be difficult, especially if there aren’t any witnesses. Not all victims wish to testify, making a conviction hard to secure. Those who are convicted usually end up with a lesser charge, such as peace disturbance, which results in supervised probation and counseling.
“Everything’s set for the suspect,” Nichols said. “There’s no really protecting the victim in any of this.”
Unlike the police department, whose end goal is to prosecute the abuser, True North’s first priority is ensuring the immediate safety of its clients. Their next focus is long-term stability.
Graves said that case managers sit down with victims and create a plan to help get the victims back on their feet and lead a successful, independent life.
Nichols said that he understands it’s not always practical for the victim in an abusive relationship to immediately try to leave. But he suggests that they at least tell someone about the abuse so there is a record of the history of abuse.
Graves said that in addition to victims reaching out to seek help, the community as a whole is responsible for reaching out to victims.
She believes part of the reason Boone County’s number of reported cases is high is due in part to the growth of Boone County in the last few years, and also because more people are aware of the services offered to victims.
There’s no single fix to abuse, Nichols said.
“If jail’s bad enough, then they won’t want to go back,” Nichols said.
For those with no history of domestic violence, Nichols said, sometimes a stint in jail works. But he said that many men don’t care about the threat of going to jail. Because of this, it’s probable that many abusers will reoffend.
Sending abusers to a counseling program or sentencing them to probation doesn’t always help, either, Nichols said.
To Cherie Doyen, helping women end their story of abuse is key to helping victims heal and to prevent abuse from continuing in a cyclic fashion. She said that working to help women heal is a mission that she doesn’t envision ending soon.
“I just want people to understand that things can be different,” Doyen said.
Brendan Crowley is a junior from Hillsborough, New Jersey studying journalism at MU. He is an avid listener of NPR, and hopes to work as a newspaper and radio reporter.
Claire Mitzel is a sophomore from Virginia majoring in investigative journalism and political science at MU. She wishes to pursue a career as an investigative journalist for a national newspaper. When she's not doing journalism, you can find her reading a book, hiking or talking about Abraham Lincoln.
Sierra Morris is a junior from Chicago, Illinois majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish at MU. In Morris’ free time she enjoys listening to music, trying out new recipes,and making crafts.