Everyone has a role to play in addressing domestic violence

I continue to be amazed by the pervasiveness of domestic violence in our American culture. It is overwhelming and shocking to know that one in every four women will experience some form of domestic violence. Children who witness violence between their parents have the strongest risk factors of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

This is unacceptable in a great nation - and despite greater recognition of the issue over the last 30 years with the passage of laws and protocols keyed to protecting victims - there are still millions of women and children living in terror and in the shadows. There are the three women killed every day in the United States due to domestic violence, yet domestic violence remains among the most underreported crimes.

It affects women in every socioeconomic, educational and age category, but what is most dispiriting is that our young women are at greatest risk. One out of five teenage girls will experience dating violence, while young women in their 20s face the highest incidences of nonfatal intimate-partner violence.

As a divorce lawyer for more than 30 years in southeastern Connecticut, I saw the problem first hand, most awfully and dramatically in the murder of a client at the hands of her husband during their divorce case. The murder of Rose Conrad on Labor Day, 2004, was the catalyst for my creation of the Rose Conrad Memorial Fund in her memory with the mission of bringing awareness, education and action on domestic violence prevention to the public and criminal justice system and allied professionals in law and medicine.

Because it is such a pervasive problem, most of us will at some point encounter a woman at risk in an abusive relationship. What responsibility do we have as family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, supervisors and clergy to speak up and try to help these victims of abuse? Could the deaths of Rose and other victims have been prevented if others knew and intervened? Family members and friends and associates will often say that they knew that something was going on. Yet they remained silent, often saying they felt powerless to help.

Often people just don't know what to do or where to start. They fear getting involved, afraid their interventions might make the situation worse. People feel relationships are private. Sometimes they fear the abuser may harm them.

Most importantly, people don't have the information and education to know what to say or do to make the situation safer and better for the victim.

Being in an abusive relationship can be the most isolating of experiences. The abuse breaks the spirit and damages the soul. What a woman at risk needs most from us is that we listen and be supportive; that we not judge her, but support her.

She is often overwhelmed by fear and by conflicting emotions, often believing that she is at fault, filled with shame and embarrassment, feeling powerless to control her future. We must listen, believe what she tells us, reassure her that the abuse is not her fault and that we are there for her.

An abuse victim needs to know that she is not alone, that there are resources in the community and individuals ready and willing to help her be safe. Planning for safety is critical, because the risk of being killed by a partner increases when a woman leaves the relationship. Help her research and contact the resources, crisis phone lines and women's center - such as Safe Futures in our community - that can help her plan.

So if you suspect that someone you know and love is being abused, reach out, ask her about it, support her, and help her find the resources in the community that will make her and her children safe.

In 2012, The Rose Conrad Memorial Fund of Safe Futures, in partnership with Hadassah American Affairs of Eastern Connecticut, created the "Power of Purple Campaign" to bring more awareness, education and action on domestic violence to the public and to responders.

On April 10, 7 p.m. at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, there will be a community awareness-raising event presented by The Power of Purple: Theater for Social Change. The program will include a live performance of a one-act play about domestic violence, followed by an expert panel and audience discussion and interaction.

Purple is the color of domestic violence. The Power of Purple Campaign strives to put purple on the map of our consciousness so it will be a recognizable symbol of the education and action needed to end domestic violence. We owe it to the victims and to our children's futures to learn how to "Reach Out and Save a Life."

Sheila Horvitz is a retired Norwich attorney.

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