WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men, that’s according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

First Step has helped an estimated 100,000 people in their 45 years in Wichita Falls.

“My boyfriend and I did not have a healthy relationship,” a survivor of domestic violence said. “There was one day that we had gotten into an argument and he started to hit me. I left, called the First Step hotline, and was able to stay in a safe house.”

“After a few days, I decided to go back. Less than a month later, there was another argument,” the survivor said. “This time, however, was different. We started arguing, he pushed me onto the couch and started hitting me. He fractured my hip, as well as a few bones in my face. He also put his hands on my throat, and I couldn’t breathe.”

That is just one of those stories that ended with the abuser going to prison and the victim moving to another state to be with family.

But not everyone is as lucky to escape, as 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, according to the NCADV.

First Step Executive Director Michelle Turnbow said domestic violence is a major issue, not just nationally, but also here locally.

“During the pandemic, there was a 7% increase in domestic violence to the nation,” Turnbow said. “In our county alone, we here at First Step saw a 40% increase in requests for services. Our shelter holds 32 beds, and it’s stayed full.”

One question First Step gets a lot is ‘Why doesn’t the victim just leave?’ Turnbow said it’s not that easy.

“It’s not always safe for someone to leave,” Turnbow said. “Also, if no one in your community believes you, there’s no support financially or to rebuild. It’s very hard to do so. So, you are kind of kicked back over and over. That’s the reason it takes about seven times, on average, for someone to actually leave.”

In fact, of the total domestic violence homicides, about 75% of the victims were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended, according to Domestic Abuse Shelter.

So, to help end this issue, the community has to work together, and Turnbow said there are key signs of domestic violence everyone should be looking for.

“If you notice a lot of bruises or you notice a lot of marks, I would question,” Turnbow said. “I would ask those questions. If someone is isolated, they are starting to become isolated from their family and friends. They may feel scared or anxious.”

In the end, Turnbow wants everyone to know they are not alone. There are people there for them to help, with the ultimate goal of getting them out of their horrible situation and into a better life.

If you or someone you know is going through a situation like this, they can always call First Step for help or click here.