In the Suburbs / Domestic-violence awareness should be year-round
Published 8:50 pm, Wednesday, October 19, 2011
October is Domestic Violence Month, but the reality is that domestic violence month lasts all year. The problem never goes away. And despite greater public exposure, awareness-building events and educational programs, this problem remains top of mind.
While domestic violence may be more closeted in communities like Fairfield, there's litle reason to believe it's less frequent here than nationally -- about once every nine minutes.
A friend and former police officer has spoken in generalities with me and my wife -- a social worker and expert in domestic-violence prevention -- about incidents for which he was dispatched across our town. He said the wealthiest neighborhoods were hardly immune and sometimes he had to intervene more actively.
We weren't surprised. As a matter of fact, my wife recalled a book she had purchased several years ago called "The Best of Us," which focused on domestic abuse in more affluent communities. She was stunned by some of the accounts, and many of the victims were the spouses of high-powered executives.
Since the landmark case in Connecticut back in the 1990s when a battered woman was left permanently disabled because law enforcement would not intervene, the state has become more educated about this issue and has instituted tough legislation to ensure that another tragedy like this won't occur.
But sadly, domestic violence continues and has migrated from home to workplace and into academic environments. It destroys families and all too often leaves death in its wake.
Just last week, a man in Seal Beach, Calif., killed his ex-wife and seven other innocent victims over child custody issues. My out-of-state sister-in-law's cousin had taken out a restraining order against her ex husband, but he still tracked her down at her workplace and killed her in a parking lot. She left behind a toddler.
Many years ago, our older daughter dated a man with a violent streak, and it took her four years to extricate herself from the relationship. To this day, on the rare occasions when she sees this man from a far distance -- he still lives in the area -- she is rattled beyond words and cannot get to her car fast enough. The memories still turn her inside out.
What makes another human being believe he or she is entitled to batter another? There are no easy answers. But my wife, who has designed and implemented domestic violence prevention programs, suggests tthere are behavior patterns that develop early in a relationship that should give a partner cause for concern. And many of these patterns seem harmless enough at the beginning.
She suggests that a partner may try to control his or her partner's choice of friends, especially if the friends are co-workers. There might be criticism that a female partner's clothing is too suggestive or a concern that a partner is flirting overtly to make the other partner jealous. A partner may have angry outbursts for no reason, leaving the other partner wondering what he or she may have done wrong. But in each of these cases, control is the root of the problem.
Other telltale signs that the relationship may become abusive, particularly if the abuser is male , are smooth-talking men who sweep their partners off their feet only to trap them with emotional controls or men who begin to show anger, jealousy or other bad behavior soon after a dating relationship begins.
My wife just returned from a behavioral health conference where one of the speakers focused on the habits of abusers and "psychopathic abusers," which is a new term for me. The speaker indicated that abusers can, at the least, show victims some empathy while psychopathic abusers cannot. Abusers will often apologize after acting out, and they can change with help. But a psychopathic abuser will consistently remain emotionally aloof, socially isolated and won't look his victim in the eye.
What concerns me the most about domestic violence today is that it appears to begin at much earlier ages than I can remember. In various presentations I've heard, abuse is beginning as early as ninth grade among teens who are beginning relationships. By the time many of these teens are into heavy dating, they are also into heavy battering and often their victims are in more danger than they realize.
In many Connecticut high schools, counselors are being trained how to handle these situations. But my wife has found that the answers to rehabilitation still begin with the abuser acknowledging that there is a problem and getting into a program to learn how to handle relationships and manage anger.
As interested citizens, friends and relatives, the best things we can do are to recognize that the disease of domestic violence is not going away and that we need to be sensitive about it 365 days a year.
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.