Van Beek: When violence resides at home

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Who would think that home violence is so prevalent that it has a full month of recognition? The number of cases is rising across the nation and is becoming much too common in our otherwise tranquil community.

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is on the rise. When a loved one becomes violent it is not only physically dangerous, it injures our heart and soul, destroying self-worth. When the abuse is directed at children the damage is life-altering, often creating psychological barriers to future success and happiness.

With a recent intimate partner violence case making the news and ending in death, we would like to think that it could never happen to us or anyone we know. Yet, all victims are someone’s child, sister, neighbor, coworker or that person standing next to you at the grocery store.

Gabby Petito received national attention because of her presence on social media, documenting her journey across country with her boyfriend, where they looked like a loving couple on a fun adventure. Viewers were envious. Yet, her death has been ruled a homicide and her boyfriend has gone missing. Understand, this scenario is not unique — many other victims suffer in silence with little exposure to their plight.

We have an image in our mind of what a violent partner or parent looks like. Certainly, it couldn’t be our friendly doctor, boutique owner, teacher, attorney, community leader, restaurant chef, architect or accountant. Yes, these may not be the stereotypical images of an abuser, but violence knows no economic, cultural or professional boundaries. Sadly, it occurs almost evenly across the board. It’s about power and control, with violence being the common mechanism for victim restraint.

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Intimate partner violence abuse has been suffered by many, from children to seniors; some well-known. Halle Berry spoke of being hit so hard that she is permanently deaf in her right ear. Whitney Houston disclosed that she would regularly hit her husband, even though people assumed it was the other way around.

Phil Hartman of “Saturday Night Live“ was in a stormy relationship that ended in his wife shooting him to death. Tina Turner said she suffered beatings, cigarette burns and violent rape from her husband for 16 years. Other famous persons who have spoken of their abuse include Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Oprah Winfrey, Drew Barrymore, Maya Angelou, Christina Aguilera, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Christina Crawford (daughter of Joan) and many others. We cannot emphasize enough that abusive violence crosses all demographics.

As law enforcement, we are called in at times of desperation, heightened emotion and danger. We must evaluate the situation quickly and determine truth, trying to assess if what is being said is accurate or coerced. To give a better understanding of the intensity law enforcement faces in these dangerous incidents, here is an unfortunately typical, but hypothetical scenario:

A call comes in. There is a scream on the other end. “Help, hurry!” The phone drops, shouting and crying can be heard on the other end. The phone is grabbed, and an address is given, followed by a simple desperate, “please” and the call ends.

We don’t know what’s happening, but every second counts. We arrive and can hear yelling from the street. We bang on the door to be heard, uncertain if we will need to break in. The voices stop. A man answers the door. We inform him that we are there in response to a call. We are told that everything is fine, they were just arguing, and they’ll keep it down.

We explain that before leaving, we must enter to make sure everyone is all right. We notice that one of the man’s hands is behind his back. A woman is curled up on the floor crying. Over in the corner is a young child, face swollen, tears in his eyes, holding his ears, rocking back and forth. We don’t know what the man is holding, the woman looks beaten up, we are not sure of the child’s condition, and we don’t know who else is in the house. Is this domestic abuse or a break-in?

A group of victim’s advocates have put together the following suggestions. Increasing safety from an abusive partner must include preparation. Here are some things to consider:

  • During arguments, move to low-risk areas, avoiding rooms with no outside access and those that may contain potential weapons, such as the kitchen, bathroom or garage
  • Establish a code word to use with family or friends to signal for help
  • Set up an alternative exit (back door or window) if you must leave immediately
  • Keep copies of your keys (home, car, office, safety deposit box, etc.) in a safe but hidden place outside the home
  • Make copies of important documents (drivers license, insurance card, passport, birth certificate, green card, medical records, court documents, rental/mortgage agreements, etc.) and leave them with a friend
  • If possible, keep extra clothing, medication, money and other essentials with a trusted source
  • If leaving is imminent, remove from the home items of sentimental value along with valuables like jewelry
  • If possible, open a private savings account for access to emergency cash
  • Prearrange where you will go in a sudden emergency, or have the local shelter’s number on hand: 970-949-7086
  • Call your local advocate at 970-328-8544
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-SAFE

Increased tension, followed by abuse, then apologies, is a repeating cycle that may be difficult to terminate, but you have people around you willing to help. We are here for you. Please call. You deserve better. Living in safety is a right, not a luxury.

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