The Times West Virginian

October 7, 2012

Much-too-common domestic violence sparks vicious cycle that must be stopped

Times West Virginian

— Every seven minutes.

That’s the frequency of calls to the domestic violence hotlines.

But it’s not the most alarming statistic.

Boys who witness domestic violence in their homes are twice as like to grow up to be the abuser. And girls who witness these acts are likely to end up in similar relationships when they become women and mothers.

One in every four women in West Virginia has been or will be the victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women — more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined. And every day an average of three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.

It’s a crime that targets young and old, rich and poor, every social class, men and women.

It’s not just the abuser’s target who is a victim. More than 3 million children witness domestic violence each year in the U.S., and studies suggest witnessing violence as a child can lead to depression, trauma-related symptoms and low self-esteem as adults.

And it’s a vicious cycle that we must stop.

As National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October serves as a chance to shed light on the key issues surrounding domestic violence, its victims and legislation aimed at protecting those in harm’s way.

For the person being abused, seeking help is often the first — and most crucial — step toward safety. The following agencies can help: the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233); Common Ground Sanctuary (800-231-1127); and Haven (877-922-1274).

Help is also available in West Virginia thanks to a bill referred to as Celena’s Law, which creates the misdemeanor crime of unlawful restraint. It was signed into law last year. In addition to protecting victims of domestic violence, it provides law-enforcement officers with an additional tool to combat the damage caused by abusers.

Conviction brings up to a year in jail and a $500 fine, or both.

“October is a month to remember and celebrate the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence,” said Athena Stima, adult/children’s case manager and volunteer coordinator at HOPE Inc., the local domestic violence shelter. “It is also the month to reinforce the community’s awareness of domestic violence and to provide education on its prevention.”

HOPE offers emergency shelter, supportive services, advocacy, professional counseling, community education, children’s programs, volunteer opportunities, support groups and a 24- hour hotline.

We need to recognize how serious and widespread this problem is, not just in October, but year-round. We need to support legislation that protects victims and expands definitions of abuse, as well as increase the penalties for offenders. We need to volunteer and financially support programs and shelters like HOPE, a United Way agency, as they battle to break the cycle of domestic violence each and every day.

We strongly encourage those who are affected by domestic violence as well as those who wish to volunteer their time to call the HOPE Inc. hotline at 304-367-1100.

We can make a difference in the lives of women and children who are afraid, hurting and who need help more than we will ever know. We can teach that love is patient and love is kind. It doesn’t use fists or threats or angry words that hurt.

We’ll offer one more statistic. In the time it took you to read this piece, 17 calls were made to a domestic violence hotline.