The arrest of musician Chris Brown for allegedly beating his girlfriend, R & B star Rihanna, has shined a necessary spotlight on the issue of domestic violence. The national media has responded to the incident with a firestorm of coverage, some stories focusing on the glamorous romance gone awry and some much more appropriately reporting on topics like how to help victims of abuse. It’s too bad it takes a high-profile case like this to get the attention of the media and the public. Domestic abuse is too pervasive to ever be a dormant issue.
Statistics show that as many as 1 in 3 women will experience abuse during their lifetime. A number of years ago, I spent several years working in the development department of Raphael House of Portland, a non-profit agency that helps women and children fleeing domestic violence. My hardworking co-workers, and often the women themselves, taught me a great deal about the issues faced by people escaping abuse.
“Why doesn’t she just leave?” is one of the most commonly asked questions. The answer is: Sometimes she stays because she fears for her own life or for the safety of her children. Experts say the risk of serious injury or death is higher as a woman is attempting to leave. Earlier this month, a Beaverton man was arrested and accused of murdering his wife after she announced she was leaving, according to news reports. If abuse is about power and control, nothing makes an abuser feel that he’s lost control more than when his partner is leaving.
Women need safe, confidential shelters to help them break free of the cycle of violence. They also need friends, family members, co-workers and other people in their lives who will let them know that help is available and help them access resources. Of course, men are also victims of domestic violence, but much less frequently than women, studies show. There are far fewer resources available for male victims of abuse, a topic that deserves more attention.
During those years when I worked daily on this issue, I would frequently hear another question: “How can I help?” Domestic violence agencies need support in the form of volunteers, funding and in-kind donations of clothing, bedding, food and supplies. Yet, there are many other ways to help create an environment where domestic violence will not be tolerated.
People who want to make a difference can start by educating themselves. Websites like www.endabuse.org, the website of Family Violence Prevention Fund, offer excellent information.
Also, speak up if you witness abuse. If you fear for your own safety, call 9-1-1, rather than confronting the abuser. Talk about healthy relationships with others in your life, especially young people who are especially vulnerable to abuse. Finally, be a model of the good behavior you expect of others.
### Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism classes at the University of Portland.