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GUEST OPINION: Let's end domestic violence

Perhaps the greatest example of realism in reality television's "Housewives of Orange County" was the episode in which housewife Taylor Armstrong conceals a black eye which apparently goes unnoticed in the script of this "tell all" show.

Covering up the true cause of one's injuries by fabricating their origin is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence and something that emergency medical personnel see played out in hospitals all over the country. Furthermore, victims often downplay the events which result in personal injury, taking responsibility for aggravating their abuser. Given that October is recognized as Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, this is the time to consider that one in four families are affected by domestic violence.

I'm often asked "why do victims stay or return to their abusers"?

The fact is that the deck is stacked against the victim when confronted with leaving. The victim isn't the one breaking the law or causing the harm and yet to leave in many instances is to become homeless. To choose to leave impacts the lives of their children; where will they live, will they continue to attend their school, see their friends and relatives?

Some of the barriers we find in victims choosing not to leave are fear, shame and embarrassment. Domestic violence victims don't want the relationship to end; they want the abuse to end. Choosing to make a change, they ask themselves, will they take my children away, will I be deported, can I afford to go it alone with my kids, or will I need to go back for financial reasons? These are not easy questions to resolve.

Another thing we know about the victims of domestic violence is that they are strong. The abuser needs them to be strong and to believe things can change. If the victim were weak they wouldn't hang in there and keep trying. The abuser chips away at the victim's self esteem over time using a model of power and control. The key here is that when victim leaves, they have the opportunity to heal and to regain their personal strength. They have the chance to become the strong person and parent we know they can be outside of this relationship.

One of the things I ponder is why in a culture of such educational and financial advantage, so rich with resources, do we continue to deal with the pervasive crime which is domestic violence? The answer is not easy to accept. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It affects the lives of the rich and the poor, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. It is based on a model of power and control played out behind closed doors. It is the leading cause of injury to local women. It has devastating effects on families from all walks of life, every sexual orientation and in all types of relationships. Whether dating, living together or married; everyone is potentially vulnerable to this insidious social disease. From teenagers to seniors, it affects all of us.

Healthy, balanced relationships are not easy to achieve, but knowing the signs of controlling behaviors is a good first step. And more importantly, if you have a sense that there is someone in your life who is being victimized in this way, please help them reach out for help by calling YWCA Sonoma County at 546-1234.

Since 1976, we've been here supporting those in crisis, by providing shelter, counseling and advocacy. Our crisis hotline received over 3,000 calls last year alone. We intend to remain here for a good long time, as long as there are families in need. We will be here to offer support and a way out.

Our mission is to end domestic violence in Sonoma County.

(Madeleine Keegan O'Connell is executive director of YWCA Sonoma County.)


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