My wife and I had never been exposed to domestic violence until our older daughter entered a relationship several years ago with a young man who abused her verbally and sometimes physically.
While the relationship thankfully ended, my daughter still quietly carries emotional scars. She has ocaisionally spotted this man, and the mere sight of him has made her anxious. She's walked away before he could see her.
When she's described spotting him somewhere, pain is etched in her face, and I've actually felt her processing some of the past abuse. The reality is that once a person has experienced domestic violence, the memories and the images never go away.
In a proclamation this month recognizing the 25th anniversary of National Domestic Violence Month, President Obama said, "Despite considerable progress in reducing domestic violence, an average of three women in the United States lose their lives every day as a result of these unconscionable acts. And while women between the ages of 16 and 24 are among the most vulnerable to intimate-partner violence, domestic violence affects people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation , race or religion.
"While government must do its part, all Americans can play a role in ending domestic violence," the proclamaytion continues. "Each of us can promote healthy relationships, speak out when we see injustice in our communities, stand with survivors we know, and change attitudes that perpetuate the cycle of abuse. We must also ensure that survivors of domestic violence know they are not alone and that there are resources available to them."
Ensuring that survivors of domestic violence know they're not alone is crucial in battling this chronic problem. We all need to be sensitive to individuals we think are going through this ordeal.
While my wife and I noticed subtle, sometimes negative changes in our daughter's behavior while she was in the abusive relationship, we also knew that we had to choose our words very carefully. I found that each time I tried to confront the issues, gently or firmly, we argued. It was almost as if our daughter seemed blind or in denial about what was happening.
Nevertheless, my wife and I assured her that we were always there for her, and we told her that when she was ready, we could talk.
Sadly, it took four years of that roller-coaster ride before she was ready to end the relationship and talk.
And then we worried that this man might return and hurt her again. We even suggested an order of protection, but she didn't feel the situation warranted it.
Sadly, like so many other victims of domestic violence, she was reluctant to take extreme measures. Too many victims have ended up in hospitals or on obituary pages.
According to recent statistics, a woman is abused every 10 seconds in the U.S.; 605 women are abused every hour; 14,520 every day; and 5.3 million are abused every year. According to a Michigan news website, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women -- more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.
Thankfully, many states, including Connecticut, are passing tougher domestic-violence laws. Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told the Hartford Courant in a Sept. 30 report, "The latest reforms show legislators are continuing to keep a focus on the issue of domestic violence and how to best protect victims ... These are things that are really going to make a change in the lives of these victims."
These new state reforms include: extending restraining orders from six months to a year (many states have extended restraining orders up to five years); broadening the definition of family violence; allowing copies of protective orders to be sent to schools or colleges as further protection of children in abusive families; focusing on victim safety and the safety of those close to victims when bail is considered for abusers; and enabling victims to more easily report threats sent electronically.
On reflection, I consider our daughter among the more fortunate victims. She finally recognized all the signs, realized that no one had the right to control her life and that she would try never again to become involved long term with that kind of man.
Most importantly, our daughter has learned through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence learned that "abuse is never, ever your fault."
Further, the coalition advises victims, "You have the right to feel safe in your relationship and to live your life free from violence."
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.