Over the past week, an uncomfortable subject has come up in our community. People have talked about it around the supper table, the water cooler, the radio and the courthouse square. Talking can lead to speculation, innuendo, and rumor all of which offer nothing for the greater good. However, communication can also lead to education and understanding. At this moment, in this city we share, there is an awesome opportunity before us for education and understanding.

The subject of domestic violence is not pleasant, because there is nothing pleasant about it. It is not a private matter, but a cancer to families and communities. It can happen to the rich and poor, the educated and ignorant, the religious and secular, the retched and marvelous, the married and single, the young and old, the straight and gay. It respects no social barriers or classes. It is dangerous, transferable, and common. Domestic violence should be treated always as vile and unacceptable, because it is.

To understand domestic violence, we must know what it is and what it is not. Domestic violence is a deliberate pattern of abusive tactics by one partner in an intimate relationship to obtain and maintain power and control over the other partner. Domestic violence can include physical assaults, sexual assaults, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, destruction of property, manipulation of children and economic control. It is often a hidden crime with only about one-fourth of physical abuse reported to law enforcement. Of the incidents that are reported, many victims try to prevent prosecution or minimize the offense. It is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States.

Domestic violence is not a momentary loss of temper. It is the purposeful establishment of fear and control in a relationship for the benefit of the abuser. It is a behavioral choice that only the batterer is responsible for. Domestic violence is not caused by job stress, economic stress, family stress or substance abuse. It is a tactic to exert dominance and intimidation. Domestic violence is often the result of learned behaviors which are reinforced when allowed to continue. It is a method chosen by the abuser to deal with their inadequacies and insecurities.

Statistics reveal that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their life. As a woman who has, let me enlighten you as to what that is like. First it is lonely. You try to bear it alone, chiefly because it is embarrassing. Embarrassing because it happened, because you “let” it happen, because you are in the relationship. It is lonely because you must figure out alone what to do about the problem, decide what is my limit, how do I leave, where do I go? You can talk to your family and friends, but ultimately those huge decisions are yours. Domestic violence causes the victim to question her decision making skills and judgment. It makes one wonder, “Can I trust me?” “Is something wrong with me?” It destroys self-confidence and self-worth. When someone so intimate betrays you with a slap, punch, kick or choke you feel worthless, helpless, desperate and later stupid. You feel those emotions because the relationship, when it becomes violent, takes from you what you invested trust, respect and value.

At this time, when so many are talking about it, let us look to what the collective “we” can do to address domestic violence in St. Clair County. If you are a victim or know someone who is, allow me to share a resource with you. The St. Clair County YWCA offers court advocacy and shelter to victims of domestic violence locally. The YWCA may be reached by calling 205-338-8808. There you will find compassionate, professional help. As parents we can teach our sons how to respect women by modeling respectful behaviors, and our daughters that love never hurts. Ending domestic violence starts at home. We can help neighbors and children who may be experiencing danger at home by not looking the other way or keeping dangerous secrets. Pastors can become educated on how to counsel domestic violence victims, especially so that Scripture is not seemingly used against them. There is so much that we can do together and must do, because the effect of family abuse does not stay just within families.

Editor’s Note: Carrie Leland was the founder of Pell City’s first domestic violence shelter. She is a social worker and the director of a program for women in St. Clair County at Lifeline Village. Carrie is widely respected for her expertise in women’s issues, including domestic violence.

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