Tuesday, October 20, 2009

News That Matters - October 20, 2009 - Domestic Violence

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Good Tuesday Morning,

A not-so-funny thing happened on my way to a town board meeting last night.

Michele Renee asked me to stop in at a candlelight vigil for the victims of Domestic Violence hosted by the Putnam/Westchester Women's Resource Center.

I joined County DA Adam Levy, Carmel council candidate Greg Ellner, Sheriff Don Smith, Senator Vincent Leibell and 50 other citizens on the steps of the County courthouse where the event began. Traffic slowed while the Sheriff led those in attendance in a prayer. A young man played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes then led us slowly up Route 52 and down Fair Street, candles a-glow, where we gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

Knowing I was now late for the Town Board meeting I had planned to attend, I kept my eyes on the clock ready to head out as soon as there was a break in the presentations that would allow me to escape politely. But once Sarah, a DV survivor, began to speak there was no leaving.

Sarah told the crowd about her experience trying to live her life with an abusive spouse and the Kafkaesque existence that followed: being shuttled with her young child and dogs from this house to that, her run-in with Child Protective Services, her endless filing of police reports, her tenuous relationship with her employer as she left work for court,  constantly running to court, how her orders of protection were rarely enforced as neighbors and friends called her - rather than the police - to alert her to her partner's whereabouts. The audience sat riveted to their seats listening to this genuine nightmare-tale.

Following Sarah's story was a presentation of two stories from the recently performed "Rug Room Monologues" put on by the Carmel High School drama group two weekends ago that featured a story from a young woman about physical and verbal abuse and another about trying to hold a life together through it all. The monologues were moving and the audience sat silently listening to words we hoped we would never have to hear especially voiced by those so young.

Then came the reading of names of those who have been killed through acts of domestic violence.

Look, DV is one of those 'silent crimes' we only hear about when something over-the-top happens like a murder or a beating that requires hospitalization or we end up with a dead child. But there's more to it than that and  it's more insidious - and more common - than you might think. I'm willing to bet we all know someone who has been victimized but has never reported nor done anything about it.

It's not just about physical violence: The woman who controls her husband by constantly telling him he's not as good as other men, doesn't earn enough to maintain her desired lifestyle, that she'd leave him and take everything if they didn't have children. The man who incessantly belittles his son for not being good enough in sports or for his sexual orientation. These things hurt people. It stunts their personal growth and destroys their self-worth and in the end we all end up paying the price.

It's not just the poor. It's everyone across the entire demographic spectrum of earnings, race, religion and age. Elder abuse is a serious - and growing - problem in the United States as the stress of taking care of an elderly parent or relation becomes more common. A Scarsdale lawyer is just as apt as is a laborer from Lake Peekskill.

It's not just women who are being abused. Men are just as susceptible to abuse from their female or male partners. We don't hardly ever hear about it because our culture does not allow men to be victimized by women but it happens more than you think and it's just as insidious, just as dangerous and just as bad.

It's not just married couples. It's families: the bully sibling. The controlling mother or father or in-law. It's dating couples and co-habitating couples of any age. And by extension, it's any inter-personal relationship; Your friends are just as apt to use physical or emotional coercion as are members of your family.

Have you ever been pushed or hit by a partner? Have they ever threatened suicide, personal injury or abandonment to get what they want? Has anyone ever controlled your paycheck insisting they know better? Has anyone ever prevented you - by physical or emotional means - from seeing friends or family? Has a partner ever texted or phoned or emailed you 10, 20 or more times in an hour to get your attention for no apparent reason?

But if its violence you want: A woman is more likely to be killed by someone she knows than a man is killed by a stranger. About one-in-three women are abused by a boyfriend or spouse. While alcohol or drug abuse may seem the obvious cause of abuse, there are no numbers to correlate that: Abuse happens whether altered or not.

One in ten teens report being verbally abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend to an extreme, four in ten, physically.

In 2008, Domestic Violence hot lines in New York fielded over 18,000 calls. These are the people who called for help. We don't know how many never call but the numbers suggest it's significantly more. And the state's domestic violence prevention website handled almost 700,000 requests for information last year alone.

As the economic downturn affects us more and more each day and the stress of just paying the bills becomes more acute, we know that cases of DV are going to increase. Keep your eyes open. The charming man or woman your son or daughter is with *is capable* of acts of DV regardless of their outward appearance. If you feel at all threatened by someone you are with, take a step back and think: are they trying to control me through emotional means? Is your rough-play mutual and well intentioned or is it an outlet for anger and frustration or control?

If you've been victimized the bravest thing you can do is seek help, clarification or information. No one needs to be treated this way, you most of all.

This coming Friday evening, October 23, the Women's Resource Center is holding it's annual fundraiser, "Singing For Our Lives" at the Town Crier Cafe in Pawling. Tickets are $35, $40 at the door. More information can be found here. (PDF)


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