Thursday, April 19, 2007

Surge of deaths due to domestic violence

File rash of kids' deaths under domestic violence
Thomas, Darlene. Lexington Herald-Leader, April 16, 2007, pg. A6.

Each of the violent deaths and serious assaults that occurred the past few weeks was domestic violence. Not a domestic dispute, not a relationship gone sour, but real individuals trapped by coercive, controlling and violent conduct.

When a domestic-violence death occurs, it often evokes strong emotions. We ask why she didn't leave. How could a man hurt his own child? Why would any human being want to hurt the people or person they say they love?

Arrests have been made in the recent episodes of violence, but in our quest to fully understand how this continues to occur, we must look beyond the physical perpetrator and wonder: Where were the neighbors, the police, social services, the shelter, the courts, the schools, the church?

Questioning systems designed to help protect adult and child victims is important; questions make sure that we stay diligent to our missions and never take for granted the capacity for harm to occur.

But these systems can only operate from the information they are given. Judges, police officers, teachers, social workers and domestic-violence program advocates are here to help, to assess, assist and provide options and choices, but the system cannot do it alone.

Domestic violence is a community issue, not an individual issue. Domestic violence does not discriminate, therefore no one is immune. Understanding that the impact of family violence touches schools, college campuses, workplaces, our places of faith, neighborhoods and families is imperative if we are to address the issue holistically.

When considering breaking the cycle of violence, families experience a wide range of feelings, including embarrassment, humiliation, fear, isolation and abandonment. As a community, we can begin to address those feelings by:

* Becoming aware of the problem and sending clear messages that we do not condone or tolerate family violence.

* Encouraging the media to report information about where victims can go and who they can contact for support.

* Encouraging businesses to include domestic violence protocols in their risk-management policies to help protect victims and other employees.

* Openly discussing the issue of family violence from our pulpits, classrooms, board rooms and women's and men's associations, affirming to victims and perpetrators that the "secret" no longer holds power.

* Supporting service providers and researchers who are trying to help families in need through donations and volunteerism.

* Partnering with school officials to address potential gaps in monitoring home schooling, especially if the family has been identified as high-risk.

* Encouraging friends, family and neighbors to report suspected abuse.

People ask, "Where were they?" I challenge with the question, "Where are we?"

-Darlene Thomas
Executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program
Lexington, Kentucky


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