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Close to Home: Domestic violence: A 'dirty little secret'

  • Santa Rosa Junior College student Leandra Kenly walks past a display of flags put up in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in front of Emeritus Hall on Elliot Avenue at Santa Rosa Junior College. Eight hundred and seventy three purple flags were placed in the grass with each flag representing one domestic violence related report received by the Santa Rosa Police Department in the year 2000.

    10/20/2001:B2-B: Santa Rosa Junior College student Leandra Kenly walks past a sea of small purple flags in front of Emeritus Hall on Elliot Avenue at Santa Rosa Junior College. The flags were put up this week by the YWCA of Sonoma County in observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each of the 873 flags represents one domestic violence-related report received last year by Santa Rosa police. (stand-alone photo)

Domestic violence is apparently the dirty little secret that few people want to talk about. Why? The sad answer is that it affects one out of every four families in America. That means many of us know someone for whom domestic violence is reality.

One of the great misconceptions about domestic violence is that it only happens to poor people. Not true. It also happens to wealthy doctors and attorneys, women and men, people of all ages and ethnicities. It happens to straight people and gay people.

In domestic violence cases, everyone loses — the victims and their families and the perpetrators. Often children are involved. If reported, women are fearful that they will have to give up their child. Even without children, the psychological tie to the abuser makes it almost impossible to leave. Experts tell us that it is incredibly difficult to break the cycle of violence.

About five years ago, someone contacted Congregation Shomrei Torah's Social Action Committee to see if we would host a communitywide event on domestic violence. We had more than 300 people in attendance — standing room only. There were many speakers, including members of the Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council, law enforcement, agencies and organizations that assist in helping victims. Literature was handed out. Promises to "do better" were made. And that was that.

Last year, our committee hosted a mini film series about social action and human rights issues. One of the most successful was based on a film called "Crime After Crime: The Fight to Free Debbie Peagler," a woman in Los Angeles who was involved in a domestic-violence murder case. One of the speakers was Joshua Safran, an attorney who spent years fighting to free her.

It turns out Safran grew up with a hippie mother in California who was a victim of domestic violence. He wrote a book about his experiences: "Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid."

Safran is returning to share his story in an evening called: "The Triumph over Domestic Violence." He will join a panel of Sonoma County experts to share their perspectives on the subject. The panel includes Wes Winter, the executive director of the Family Justice Center; Gloria Eurotas, the director of victim's services in the District Attorney's Office; Sheriff's Sgt. Ruben Martinez, a detective in the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Unit; and Dawn Silviera, the shelter manager for YWCA Sonoma County. A question and answer session will follow.

The session begins at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. It is free.

Some ask why it's important to keep trying to focus the light on domestic violence or other social action and human rights issues. Perhaps the answer is simply, if it saves one person or two families, it must be worth it. In Hebrew, the words "tikkun olam" translates to "heal or repair the world," suggesting it is humanity's shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. This goes back to the early days of Rabbinic Judaism.

<i>Larry Carlin is a member of Shomrei Torah's Social Action Committee, a former member of the Sonoma County Human Rights Commission and Sonoma State's Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide.</i>


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