Domestic violence can happen to anyone

Published 1:09 am Sunday, September 2, 2007

We know that it is not only the poor, the uneducated, or the underprivileged that suffer the pain of domestic violence.

We know that batterers can be successful, handsome, gifted men — even our heroes. We know that wife beating is often treated far too casually by the police. We know that domestic violence is often brushed aside as “a family matter” or “no big deal” by the men who batter, by the criminal justice system, and by the public. We know that women who appear to have ample means of escape through money, intelligence, family and friends remain trapped in violent relationships. We know that even when they do try to get free and end the relationship, the batterer often won’t let go.

The tragedy of the Simpson family has turned the public eye toward the crisis of domestic violence. America can no longer ignore the fact that domestic violence is extremely common, extremely serious and potentially deadly. People have been touched by the horror of domestic violence, both directly and indirectly.

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Perhaps the most important chance that has taken place toward stopping domestic violence is the way society views the problem. Throughout most of America’s history, the old adage “A man’s home is his castle” reflected the attitude that the home was sacrosanct, not to be invaded or disturbed. Women were expected to solve the problem themselves or simply keep it behind closed doors.

Domestic violence is being seen more clearly as a serious social problem and the notion that the home is surrounded by a “zone of privacy” that shields it from the scrutiny of the outside world is gradually changing. Psychologists, social workers and law enforcement officials are beginning to view family violence as something that can be treated and explained but never tolerated. The prevailing sense among professionals and the general public alike is that domestic violence is everybody’s problem.

Domestic violence must be treated as a crime. The abuser should be arrested and removed from the home immediately, and spend at least one night in jail. For many, therapy of some kind often helps, but most counselors agree that abusive men must first experience some real consequences if treatment is to be effective. They need a powerful, immediate demonstration by law enforcement that their behavior is criminal, unacceptable and intolerable. Victims must receive immediate support and information, as well as continuing service, no matter where they turn first for help.

There are two different schools of thought within the domestic violence community as to which of these two vital responses should get priority. Should the first order of business be to punish and restrain the abuser, or to help the victim? Everyone seems to agree that both of these matters must be addressed in any successful program. Those that work the best seem to give nearly equal attention to both concerns, often through coordinated systems that use the same facilities to accomplish both goals. Things are changing, but it took us a long time to get here, and there is every sign that our work is just beginning.

At Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Complex’s Alcohol & Drug Office, we have solutions for problems with substance abuse and anger. For more information contact me at LAC, CADC, 200 S. Wall St., Natchez, MS 39121, 601-446-6635.

Carolene Britt is a counselor at SMMHC’s Alcohol and Drug Office.