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Blood on the carpet: Safe Faith United tackles domestic violence in Southern Nevada

<p>Rebeca Ferreira standing next to her gallery of domestic violence. PHOTO: STEPHANIE GONZALES.</p>

Rebeca Ferreira standing next to her gallery of domestic violence. PHOTO: STEPHANIE GONZALES.

Rebeca Ferreira sat behind executive desk and under a row of diplomas and graduation pictures. The founder of Safe Faith United, a small nonprofit that battles domestic violence, does her own filing, which consists of a simple — and stark — color-coded reminder of the stakes of her trade.

“Red folders are for homicide,” she said as she tossed a file onto a pile of paperwork. Inside, the red folder was littered with sticky notes and funeral receipts. About a month ago, Ferreira had to help the family bury Beverly McFarlane, who was allegedly killed by her husband, Anthony Tyron. According to her mother, Beverly endured a two-day beating and one week in intensive care before she finally succumbed to her brain injury.

“He hit her over the head with a vacuum cleaner,” said Bernice McFarlane. “He threatened to hit her over the head with a bat, but her daughter heard and hid the bat so he couldn’t do it.”

When she was in the hospital, Beverly McFarlane briefly regained consciousness, but had no idea who or where she was. Still, Bernice said, her eyes darted around the room as if in a panic.

“It was like she was afraid her husband was going to come back and hurt her again,” she said.

Tyron hasn’t been arrested, Bernice said. She and other family members are trying to raise awareness of the case so Tyron is brought to justice, since it’s too late to save her daughter. Bernice believes Tyron is still living somewhere in the valley.

McFarlane endured years of abuse before her death, Ferreira said. But she put up with the punches and stayed in the relationship, a situation that is alarmingly common all over the state. For the third year in a row, Nevada came in number one in the number of women murdered by men, according to the Violence Policy Center. In this year’s study, which used figures from 2010, we didn’t just top the list — we blew out the competition, with a rate of 2.62 per 100,000, compared to 1.94 for second-place South Carolina.

The Violence Policy Center used the statistic of women murdered by men as a stand-in for domestic violence, since agencies don’t always distinguish between domestic violence and other homicides. However, the vast majority of women who are murdered are killed by someone they know, and 95 percent of victims of domestic violence are women, Ferreira said.

For Ferreira, that means the red folders keep piling up. But those aren’t the only evidence of this brutal statistic. The walls of her office are covered with gruesome reminders of this private crime: close-up photographs of gunshot wounds and disfigured faces. The black eyes are shocking, but not as gut-wrenching as three somber children in front of their mother’s casket.

Ferreira created Safe Faith United in 2008, after working for the North Las Vegas Police Department as a translator and victim advocate. She had worked with domestic violence victims in the past, and she knew there were agencies who would help women in danger find a place to hide. She wanted to create a place where they could speak out. Since then, Ferreira has been the voice of domestic violence victims in Southern Nevada. She speaks for those like McFarlane, who have been silenced forever, and she gives a platform to people like Maria Gomez, who nearly lost her hands in a machete attack perpetrated by her ex-boyfriend, and who recently died of cancer.

Ferreira wants to raise awareness, and get more women out of violent relationships before she has to help with funeral arrangements. It’s hard to pinpoint a sociological reason for Nevada’s domestic violence problem, Ferreira said, but on a practical level, she thinks it’s a matter of resources.

“Nothing is enough,” she said. “It’s the same as the war on cancer. How much money will they have to spend to eradicate cancer? Domestic violence is a plague. It is a cancer on society.”

According to Metro, that plague seemed to subside a little bit last year. The number of domestic violence homicides in Clark County fell from 37 in 2010 to 22 last year. Police responded to more than 59,000 domestic violence calls last year and the year before, said Officer Marcus Martin. Metro credits the decrease in homicides to a more aggressive lethality assessment program that helps determine which victims are most likely to be killed by their partners.

Ferreira is not as optimistic, and noted that the number of homicides has fluctuated from a high of 40 to a low of 17. Often, there’s no obvious reason for an increase or decrease. If the number of homicides stays down for several years, then she will believe the community is making progress.

In the meantime, she will keep helping women to speak up and stay alive, so their lives don’t become a collection of items bound for the red folder. A wedding picture from McFarlane’s file shows the couple on their wedding day, beaming with happiness. But a handwritten note on the back belies the giddy smiles. In smudged cursive below the date, Beverly McFarlane wrote a note.

“I love my husband but he doesn’t love me. He beats me up. Why? Why? Why?”

She never got an answer.