October is "Domestic Violence Awareness Month," which should give pause to the nation's population to consider the impact that this kind of violence has on individuals, communities and the country has a whole.
The first consideration, of course, is the human suffering that results from domestic violence. Women and children are most often cited as the typical victims of domestic violence, but adult males are not spared from being victimized. Of course, statistics indicate that women are particularly subject to violence in the home. Children suffer as well but there are also specific laws that are designed to address the special circumstances of persons under 18 years of age. For the purpose of this column, women are the main focus of discussion. Domestic Violence Awareness Month was first observed in 1987 in order to formally recognize the problem, heighten awareness and educate the public about this epidemic. Some years ago, President George W. Bush made the following statement: "As a Nation, we must prioritize addressing the problem of domestic violence in our communities every day of the year."
In addition to the physical and emotional damage suffered by the victims, the entire community loses when women are battered. Oftentimes, the victim cannot go to work because of physical pain or embarrassment of visible bruises and other injuries. This can lead to reduced productivity and even job loss. The costs of medically and psychologically treating victims is considerable, and for those who cannot pay, the larger population absorbs these costs. Victims often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with living in ongoing domestic violence situations which is yet another reason for the people of this nation to take this issue very seriously.
Between one and four million women "suffer a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period," according to one study I read. Even the high-end estimate of four million probably substantially under-represents just how big the problem really is. In law enforcement, conventional wisdom is that domestic violence incidents are severely under-reported, which means that the problem cannot be properly dealt with by the legal system or the mental health and medical communities. One difficulty with assessing the full scope of the problem is there are large numbers of women who do not report the violators out of fear of retribution. Many tolerate the assaults because they are financially dependent on their partner, or they may be afraid of having to go out on their own. Domestic violence results in physical injuries, many women are killed by out-of-control partners and the survivors usually suffer serious, long-term emotional and mental problems.
National Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides us with a special opportunity to emphasize that domestic violence is a crime, to warn abusers that they will be prosecuted, and to offer victims more aid and support. We can and must radically reduce and work to eliminate this scourge from our land. To succeed, this effort must be echoed by officials from every segment of the criminal justice system, federal, state, and local. Community leaders, health care professionals, teachers, employers and the media should continue to combat this serious problem with resolve and determination.
Domestic violence is not a race-based problem. It crosses all racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic lines. One thing is for sure, it is the law of the United States and all states of the union that makes domestic violence a serious crime. It appears that different countries have varying standards when it comes to domestic violence. The United States, itself, has only in the past several decades taken a strict stance against it, after years of treating domestic violence with tacit acceptance by the authorities. That is no longer the case, and Domestic Violence Awareness Month reminds everyone that women are not to be abused (95 percent of victims are women).
For battered immigrants, the problem can be even more daunting. If the victim does not speak English, or is otherwise intimidated by the thought of dealing with the authorities, they may find themselves unable to escape the violence. Many injured women do not contact the authorities because they feel they will not believe their stories.
Another point to consider is that how a society treats women and children, and how abusers are handled says much about how civilized that society really is. We like to think that our nation is among the most civilized in the world, but we are far from being able to claim that we are even close to achieving perfection. We have a long way to go and until such time that all persons find the abuse of women and children as being reprehensible, we cannot be too smug about where we really stand in the world in this regard.
The human suffering and economic impacts of domestic violence is almost incalculable, but we all know that it is a serious and pervasive problem in this society. It must be stopped, and the abusers given no leniency. I can assure the people of our community that our law enforcement officers take a zero tolerance stance against those who commit domestic violence. Those who assault or injure their partners will go to jail and face rigorous prosecution. If you are a victim, trust the system and call the police. For the violators, get involved in counseling and do whatever else is necessary to stop the cycle.