Among with other social and health public awareness and support campaigns, October is designated as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.” But it’s important to recognize that domestic violence is a year-round concern for our community and state – and work to reduce the incidence of such violence, as well as to support its victims should be a year round effort.
Of all the statistical data lists putting Louisiana at or near the bottom of state rankings, we shold be working to put our state at the bottom of the Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) annual report “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2012 Homicide Data.” The VPC report is released annually to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month; this year’s report reviewed 2012 data.
The report’s state rankings rank Louisiana fourth in the nation for 2012 with 45 females murdered (rate of 1.92 per100,000 females murdered by men in Louisiana). And 37 of these women were murdered by someone they knew; over half the victims were wives, ex-wives, common law wives or girlfriends.
Here in northwest Louisiana we are familiar with the devastating and heartbreaking homicide aspect of the domestic violence scale. Homicides are at the extreme end of the continuum which ranges from physical abuse, to sexual abuse, to property abuse, to emotional abuse.
Years ago when writing on this subject, I visited with retired police captain Gary Pittman who then led the Shreveport Police Department’s domestic violence intervention program. Pittman recalled then Governor Mike Foster’s designation of October 2001 as Domestic Violence Awareness Month – which followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – and brought to all of us the reality of the potential for terrorism in our lives.
“But what if the fear (of terrorism) came from between the four walls where your live – from the one you loved,” asked Pittman.
Domestic violence isn’t limited to that “family problem” a good many of us would like to believe. Annually, domestic violence in the US costs an estimated $8.3 billion — $5.8 billion of that number is seen in higher medical costs, the remaining $2.5 billion is in lost productivity, according to a 2013 Forbes article.
A few more stats: Between 3-4 million women are battered annually; over 90 percent of domestic violence victims are women; domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women; women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know than a stranger; and domestic violence is one of the most under reported crimes.
And then there’s the tragic legacy: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “witnessing intimate partner violence as a child or adolescent, or experiencing violence from caregivers as a child, increases one’s risk for both perpetuating intimate partner violence and becoming a victim of intimate partner violence.”
We give it one month of “awareness.” For ever so many, domestic violence is that earlier noted “family problem,” that’s often followed by the question, “why doesn’t she just leave.”
The big question is one of “where to go?” Leave her home and go to a shelter – likely with her children. Expect her abuser to come looking for her. Expect more abuse.
We should wonder why our societal and criminal justice sanctions are less enforced for a perpetrator who beats the hell out of the person he’s supposed to love and cherish – instead of the perp who beats the hell out of a stranger.
Domestic violence is not a “family problem;” it’s our own insidious societal terrorism problem. Reducing this problem will take more than awareness, and shelters, and family violence centers. It requires an understanding of the issue by all affected and involved – and strong justice for women and children living this terror every day.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org