Thursday, January 25, 2007

Broken Trust

Domestic abuse. There are many connotations for the term, and just as much stigma. The general perception of domestic abuse is that of a battered woman, typically lower class, in a physically abusive relationship with a black eye as evidence. This is a misconception, reinforced by both society and our own attitudes on what constitutes abuse and the typical person involved. Separate from the physicality is the psychological nature of abuse. In and of themselves, mental and emotional abuse is a common occurrence that typically goes unnoticed – and cuts across all levels of status. In general, domestic abuse is about totalitarian control over another person – typically a female – and the harm inflicted upon them, no matter the form it takes.

Due to its nature, the situation is a catch-22 for both police and victim. Far too often, police are unable to do anything beyond situational assessment and control due to a lack of evidence of abuse – both past and present – especially if the abuse is more psychological than physical. On the flipside, victims are fearful to prosecute their abusers – only compounding the problem even more – as studies have shown that such actions have resulted in further, and more fatal, abuse. As a result, victims, through no fault of their own, literally handcuff police in arresting alleged abusers without prior complaints or legal action.

The problem is not an urban one, as studies and figures show. It occurs in the suburbs of cities across the country just as often as in their core. Such a phenomenon has gone unnoticed due to many factors, but two stand out:  the lack of education counteracting the myths of domestic abuse and the lack of support in countering the abuse throughout the suburbs of America. Many feel abuse could not happen in neighborhoods where affluence and prosperity is key. These same reasons against its occurrence are also the reasons for its unheralded regard – the abused housewife and corporate mother alike do not want to jeopardize their affluent and prosperous lifestyle by addressing their abusive relationship.

The question of responsibility is an easy one to answer. Certainly, victims are not accountable for the actions of their abusers. The problem is the nature of the relationship – victims feel responsible because of the abuse. Believing everything to be their fault, they blame themselves for it – which in turn is reinforced by their abuser. It is nothing short of domestic terrorism that thrives on fear and control – a difficult cycle to break, but one that must be broken either by the victim or on their behalf. It is the only way to hold abusers accountable for their actions. All concerned parties must make tough choices to end domestic abuse; support, protection, enforcement, and most importantly, accountability are all necessary for those choices to occur. It takes courage, but it also just takes a phone call – to anyone or by anyone. Otherwise, victims will continue to be victims, and abusers will continue to abuse. 

©2007 Steve Sagarra