Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence hurts com­mu­ni­ties as well as fam­i­lies

The Community Connection - - OPINION -

The hor­rors of mass shoot­ings, the ap­palling al­le­ga­tions from Hol­ly­wood, and the protests and di­vi­sive­ness in our na­tion make the head­lines and lead the news.

Folks shake their heads in dis­be­lief, sad­dened but re­lieved that the vi­o­lence and the sex­ual as­saults are some­where else. These tragedies are not in “my neigh­bor­hood, not in my town.”

While those dev­as­tat­ing sin­gle acts are not lo­cal, an­other in­sid­i­ous threat ex­ists within our com­mu­ni­ties: Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Gun vi­o­lence, threats, rape and sex as­sault as weapons to con­trol women and men and chil­dren are in ev­ery neigh­bor­hood. Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence goes on be­hind closed doors as crimes that in­clude rape of a part­ner, phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse of chil­dren, and vi­o­lence by one fam­ily mem­ber against an­other. Vi­o­lence can es­ca­late without any­one out­side the fam­ily knowing it ex­ists.

In­deed, the #metoo move­ment to raise aware­ness of rape crimes did not start with a tweet by ac­tress Alyssa Mi­lano urg­ing peo­ple to speak out and pro­duce “a sense of the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem.” Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports this week, it started with ac­tivist Tarana Burke as a move­ment to draw at­ten­tion to rape crimes, in­spired by a child’s story of do­mes­tic sex­ual as­sault by her mother’s live-in boyfriend.

Ask any lo­cal po­lice de­part­ment: Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence calls are among the worst they wit­ness and at the top of the list for sit­u­a­tions that put po­lice at risk. The num­bers are stag­ger­ing: — More than 1 in 3 women have ex­pe­ri­enced rape, phys­i­cal vi­o­lence or stalk­ing by an in­ti­mate part­ner in their life­time.

— About 7 mil­lion women are raped or phys­i­cally as­saulted by a cur­rent or for­mer in­ti­mate part­ner each year.

— One in five women and one in 77 men has ex­pe­ri­enced rape in his or her life­time.

Na­tion­wide, an av­er­age of three women are killed by a cur­rent or for­mer in­ti­mate part­ner ev­ery day. In three weeks time, that amounts to a greater death toll than the Las Ve­gas shoot­ing.

Those sta­tis­tics are from the Na­tional Net­work to End Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence, which is a spon­sor of Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Aware­ness Month ev­ery Oc­to­ber.

The pur­pose of set­ting aside this month is to raise aware­ness of the crimes, of­ten against women and chil­dren, that go on within fam­i­lies and in dat­ing re­la­tion­ships.

Chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble as both vic­tims of and wit­nesses to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, with ap­prox­i­mately 15.5 mil­lion chil­dren ex­posed to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion on the Net­work web­site. The costs — to em­ploy­ers, law en­force­ment, vic­tims ser­vices providers and en­tire com­mu­ni­ties — is as­tro­nom­i­cal.

Aware­ness can not only help pre­vent crimes from es­ca­lat­ing by re­port­ing them but can also boost ser­vices to the vic­tims and wit­nesses of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Lo­cally, the re­sponse by law en­force­ment and courts is ex­em­plary.

Many po­lice de­part­ments in this re­gion are trained in in­ter­ven­tion. Vic­tim ser­vices’ providers such as the Women’s Cen­ter of Mont­gomery, The Crime Vic­tims’ Cen­ter of Ch­ester County, Lau­rel House, and Mis­sion Kids Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter of­fer sup­port to vic­tims.

A re­cent cer­e­mony in Nor­ris­town high­lighted the work of The Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Le­gal Net­work of Mont­gomery County, es­tab­lished in 1986 by pro­fes­sion­als from law en­force­ment, the ju­di­ciary and vic­tims’ ser­vices agen­cies for the pur­pose of shar­ing re­sources and ex­per­tise to serve do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims more ef­fec­tively.

County Judge Kelly C. Wall, ad­min­is­tra­tive judge of the county’s fam­ily court di­vi­sion, was hon­ored at the cer­e­mony for her “out­stand­ing ef­forts in the fight against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.”

“I wish that there was not a need for this ef­fort to ex­ist,” said Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sion­ers Chair­woman Va­lerie Arkoosh, “but we know that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence has been with us for­ever and will prob­a­bly, sadly, con­tinue to be with us for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

While we worry about the next mass shoot­ing or the next me­dia mogul’s trans­gres­sions, vi­o­lence continues to claim vic­tims in our own com­mu­ni­ties.

Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Aware­ness Month is a move­ment to open closed doors.

“... Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence does not oc­cur in one hor­rific tragedy,” Judge Wall said at the re­cent cer­e­mony, “it oc­curs vic­tim by vic­tim on a daily ba­sis.”

Stop­ping it be­gins with aware­ness.

Ig­nor­ing it would be the real tragedy of our times.

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