Friday, October 1, 2010

Rewrite the story of domestic violence


Widely publicized cases of domestic violence cases reported among the Hollywood elite remind us that abuse crosses all socio-economic boundaries and reaches even the brightest stars.

In August, comedy star Charlie Sheen pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on Christmas Day 2009 against his wife, Brooke Mueller. She told police Sheen had pinned her to the bed, gripped her neck with one hand and held a knife above her with the other.

In February 2009, recording artist Chris Brown was arrested for allegedly beating and threatening his then girlfriend, Grammy award-winning recording artist Rihanna. He later pleaded guilty to felony assault.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Awareness and education are critical to prevention, empowering victims to rebuild safe lives and to ending the devastating cycle of abuse. The cycle of abuse, while rooted in the home, is a learned behavior that ultimately extends into the entire community. Children who grow up in a violent home learn that violence is "normal," likely repeating the cycle in their own adult homes.

Domestic violence is the No. 1 cause of homelessness for women, children and teens. Children are likely to be physically assaulted in 86 percent of homes with partner violence. Blaine County has about 5,000 children under age 18. Statistically, 22 percent are likely to be living with domestic violence. In Idaho, there were an estimated 60,000 cases of family violence last year.

In the U.S., $3 billion to $5 billion are spent annually on medical expenses related to family violence. Businesses forfeit $100 million in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism and non-productivity.

Domestic violence is any violence or threat of violence between two people (regardless of gender), including dating relationships, previous or current relationships, parenting teens, couples living together or separately and family members. Under Idaho law, spousal abuse and dating violence are crimes.

In its 20th year, Hailey-based The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault exists to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault in our communities through education, shelter and supportive services. Last year, the Advocates received 32 requests for assistance each day and provided over 2,500 nights of shelter to 40 women and 32 children.

We can each play a role in preventing domestic violence and helping people build safe lives. Approach gender violence as an issue involving men and women of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. If a brother, friend, classmate or teammate is abusing his female partner, or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general, urge him to seek help by consulting a friend, parent, professor or counselor. Don't remain silent.

Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help now.

Be an ally to women and efforts working to end all forms of gender violence. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay bashing. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don't involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer with gender-violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men's programs. Lead by example. Call the Advocates' 24-hour hotline, 788-6070 or toll free (888) 676-0066.

We urge you to join us in rewriting the story of domestic violence.

Ken Brannon, Steve England, Paul Hansen and Neil Morrow are members of the Advocates' board of directors.

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