Speaking Out To End The Abuse
Wednesday - October 24, 2007
Domestic violence is a bad, bad thing. We all know it, so why do we avoid talking about it? Despite Herculean efforts by advocates to educate the public, too many people are hanging on to old stereotypes that keep this social blight firmly tucked away in the closet. And that “dirty little secret” remains hidden in some of the most privileged households in our state.
This is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It’s the reason you’ve been seeing and reading a lot about it and the reason Denise Brown was in Honolulu. Brown was propelled into activism after the murder of her sister Nicole Brown Simpson. Denise says she never knew her sister was a battered wife until after the grisly killing, when she got a chance to read Nicole’s diaries. What she learned opened her eyes to the insidious reach of abuse. On the surface, her sister had everything - money, beauty, social standing and a famous husband. Of course, we now know that O.J., the beloved icon of sports and entertainment, beat and terrorized his wife for years. There came a point when Nicole realized she had to get away. The end result, as we all know, was a brutal, tragic travesty. Her murderer walks free, and that is why Denise travels around the country speaking for her silent sister.
But she does not advocate revenge. Instead, she uses her story to enlighten. I noticed when she was here that people wanted to talk to her about O.J. She listened. Answered politely. And then she steered the conversation back to the larger issue of domestic violence. Every day in this country four women die at the hands of a husband or partner. According to the American Bar Association, one third of all female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner. Nicole Brown Simpson was not, unfortunately, alone.
And yet the myths persist: The victims are poor. They are uneducated. They live in another part of town. They aren’t like me. They are losers.
But they are not. They are just like us. They are confused, conflicted, ashamed and fearful, but many also are competent, seemingly confident and smart. They are certain that if they try hard enough they can “fix” the relationship, not realizing that physical or emotional abuse is - should be - a deal breaker.
One of the things I learned from the wealth of information disseminated this month is that victims often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, even after they are no longer in danger. Athreat, or even the memory of a threat, triggers physiological changes that make it difficult to function. Heart rate, sweat glands, even speech can be affected. We think of PTSD as something suffered by soldiers who return from war. Women who have been victims of abuse have lived through war in their own homes.
We have to acknowledge that victims of domestic violence can be wealthy and beautiful and accomplished, or they can be poor and uneducated and struggling. Most of the time they are somewhere in between.
They don’t need the burden of stigma. They need help, education and resources.
The only way to eradicate the plague is to bring it out into the open, and then make it clear that abuse will not be tolerated, condoned or ignored. We have to stop thinking about it as someone else’s problem.
The most important gift you can give is support and knowledge. If you need help for yourself or for someone you know, call the Domestic Violence Action Center at 531-3771.
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