Finding the root cause of domestic violence

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“The physical abuse I experienced at the hands of my husband was horrific; from shoving to sexual assault… My husband controlled my money and took my car keys. He harrassed me at work until I lost my job. He threatened my friends until they stopped calling I knew I had to get out”

– Sheila, A survivor of domestic violence from Maine.

In Maine, from 1996 to 2006, more than 50 percent of the homicides were related to domestic violence. It is the leading cause of violent death for Maine women. This tragic reality touches everyone’s lives. In the wake of the recent domestic violence-related homicide in Fairfield, it’s important to know how to help a family member, co-worker, friend, or neighbor involved in a violent relationship.

Although everyone can play a vital role in ending domestic violence, it’s important to remember that one person is responsible for domestic homicides and assaults: batterers who abuse their spouses or dating partners.

Batterers exert power and control by taking any necessary actions to control their spouse, their household, or children. Batterers use a variety of tactics to gain power: belittling; exhibiting jealousy and rage if socializing with others, including family; sometimes keeping them from working outside the home and limiting access to financial resources.

For many, like Sheila, abuse can result in isolation from friends, family and social services; and often creates economic dependency on the batterer. In deciding to leave their violent partners, some victims face many barriers and struggle to find resources (i.e. finances, affordable housing, transportation).

The ultimate difficulty is where to go, how to get there, how to survive and stay safe.

With the help of friends, family and Maine’s complex system of services and laws, many survivors like Sheila are able to escape the abuse: “With help [from the local domestic violence project], I was able to keep my kids safe, budget for a fixed income and enroll in college,” Sheila said. “Today, I am back on my feetand have a wonderful job that allows me to ‘give back.’ I have regained the self-confidence that my husband took from me and more.”

Sheila’s and other survivors’ stories provide hope and inspiration. Yet, many are unable to safely escape domestic violence and need access to more comprehensive services and community support.

Individuals can provide such support by educating themselves about domestic violence. First and foremost, you can make a difference by being a role model. Whether it’s modeling a healthy relationship, educating yourself or making sound choices when you see abuse, you have the ability to have a profound impact on others around you.

If you see or hear a battering incident occurring, call 9-1-1. If you are concerned about someone else and want more information on how to be helpful, call the statewide toll free helpline: 1-866-834-HELP (4357). When someone shares their experience with domestic abuse: express concern; listen; support and respect their choices; and offer resources and information.

The following are a few helpful responses:

“I’m afraid for your safety.”

“I’m here for you, if you ever want to talk.”

“You don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Your local domestic violence project will be able to give you ideas and support. You can reach them 24 hours a day by calling 1-866-834-HELP (4357).”

In 2002, despite federal cuts and increasing demands for services, state funding to domestic violence and sexual assault organizations was reduced. In spite of this challenge, these organizations continue to provide comprehensive services, yet struggle to offer new prevention and education outreach programs to meet increasing demands.

It’s imperative a current legislative initiative to restore funding, “An Act to Prevent Violence Against Maine Families and to Provide Adequate Intervention in Cases of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault,” is therefore promoted.

Furthermore, we need to continue educating each other, and asking why someone chooses to murder someone they supposedly love. What is it in our society that allows men to use violence against women, and how can we change it? We need to address the root causes of this violence.

Domestic violence will not end until every life is valued.

Nicky Blanchard is the public awareness and prevention coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence in Bangor.

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