Submitted by DVSN
We want to believe that domestic violence will never affect us or anyone we know, and that controlling relationships are a fact of life for “other people.” After all, discussions of domestic violence are often relegated to health classrooms, women’s rights summits, and public service announcements. But the reality is that domestic violence occurs everywhere.
Individuals and families living with abuse feel deep shame, debilitating isolation, and paralyzing fear. They despair that no one will believe them, and no one can help them. Psychological and emotional abuse, degrading verbal abuse, sexual abuse, threats against family and pets, financial control, constant surveillance, cyber stalking, intimidation, and separation from all supports create an immobilizing terror. Challenging an abusive partner often leads to increasingly debasing and brutal control. In more extreme cases, it results in death.
In Bedford, in the last year, the Domestic Violence Services Network (DVSN) followed up on 71 police-involved domestic violence incidents and reached out to over 100 Bedford families living with domestic abuse. Within the past 12 months, Bedford Police made 14 arrests due to domestic situations, from restraining order violations to strangulation and intimidation. And, currently, there are 65 active restraining orders on file at the Bedford Police Station.
DVSN partners with the Bedford police and 11 other police departments in the surrounding communities providing a coordinated community response to domestic violence. Together they help break the cycle of abuse, connect families with community resources, assess risk, and help victims plan for safety. They start to break down the isolation that victims face and let them share their stories with trained advocates, who give them non-judgmental affirmation and support on a confidential basis.
Members of the partner police departments also participate in 40-hour advocate training that DVSN offers twice a year. To date, 6 Bedford police officers and 2 dispatchers have participated in the training sessions, increasing their understanding of controlling relationships and learning how to be more responsive to the needs of victims.
DVSN advocates also work at the Concord District Court, offering support and assistance to persons seeking restraining orders, helping them fill out the forms, work on safety planning, and supporting them as they face their abusers in what is frequently an intimidating forum.
New risk assessment forms based on research identifying high risk factors that can lead to domestic homicide are used by the Bedford Police Department to bring greater scrutiny and services to victims living in potentially lethal situations. High risk factors, such as repeated abuse, threats with a weapon, threats to kill the victim and/or the children, and strangulation, are among the indicators tracked by these forms. These risk assessment forms in conjunction with comprehensive evidence and injury worksheets help focus more resources on high risk offenders and provide more complete evidence for dangerousness hearings and future prosecutions. In Bedford, there have been as many as 9 high-risk cases being monitored at one time.
You can help eliminate the shame of domestic abuse by making it a topic of discussion. Take the time to learn about this complex, hidden problem. Be part of the solution. If you think someone might be a victim, ask how they are. Listen without blaming or judging. Acknowledge the fear and paralyzing control. Explain that no one deserves to be emotionally or physically hurt, shamed, or demeaned. Be a good listener, but don’t try to “fix it” or tell them what they “should” do. Help them plan for safety. Refer them to help. Offer them DVSN’s toll free confidential help line—888-399-6111; the National DV Hotline: 800-799-7233; Minuteman Senior Services: 888-222-6171; and for teens: www.loveisnotabuse.com or www.loveisrespect.org.
And, please, don’t forget the children. Children are the silent witnesses. They are aware of the tension in the household. They see the broken dishes, the holes in the wall, the humiliating behavior, the bruises. They hear angry voices, demeaning comments, ugly slurs, uncontrollable sobbing. They often feel responsible, guilty, and helpless. The abuse of one parent by the other overwhelms their world. Children who are usually social and vibrant can become withdrawn. A quiet child can turn aggressive. A good student may lose interest in school or start to act out. In most cases, witnessing this type of abuse has long-term effects on their understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. For them, home is the scariest place to be.
Bring domestic violence out of the shadows. Help it lose the shame and the barriers to disclosure. Encourage sermons, presentations, workshops, and discussion groups. Make the topic accessible and safe to examine. Help ensure that all our homes are places of nurturance, joy, and love for all seasons.
Learn more about the dynamics of domestic abuse. Volunteer to be come a DVSN advocate. Consider supporting DVSN with a financial donation. Bring your friends to our “Monte Carlo Night” fundraiser on May 7. Visit www. www.dvsn.org for more information and to reserve your tickets. Please join us and help us help families living with abuse.