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For Too Many Women, Home Is a Place of Assault and Pain

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Gina Gutierrez is public relations and volunteer director of the Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence

When you think of the perfect home, what comes to mind? Unconditional love, a nurturing environment, a safe and secure place.

Unfortunately, this American dream does not always exist. There is a flip side, a domestic nightmare in which violence occurs with unsettling frequency.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, as many as 4 million American women reported being physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends last year. Of women who are murdered in this country, one-third are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

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In 1999, 6,084 domestic violence-related calls were reported in Ventura County, 2,729 of them involving weapons. And yet, domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes.

Women are the victims in 95% of reported domestic violence incidents. For women living in these situations, home is where they are physically, verbally and sexually assaulted. They are beaten down not just by hands but by words. And many people say: “It’s a private matter, a family matter. It’s none of our business.”

They are wrong. Domestic violence is our business. If we remain silent, our silence will breed even more fear and continue creating a community in which abuse is considered acceptable.

During this Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence joins the Ventura County Domestic Violence Task Force, law enforcement and public officials in efforts to educate people about this deadly social epidemic that plagues our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends.

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This campaign reinforces the fact that violence in homes contributes to violence in our streets; therefore, we must take action by educating ourselves and others.

The coalition works with task force members including the Ventura County District Attorney’s office and its Victim Services Division, the Family Violence Prevention Coalition, Interface Children Family Services, Point Mugu / Port Hueneme Naval Base Victim Advocates and others. There are also groups, such as the Ventura County Medical Assn. and Partners for Peace, physicians concerned about ending violence. These agencies assist survivors and their families through intervention and prevention efforts.

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The business community also contributes by providing information such as safety plans to customers. Marshall’s Department Stores, Longs Drug Stores, Total Woman health spa and Camarillo Premium Outlets are distributing the pocket-size cards to customers during October.

We can all save a life. If you hear screaming or know of someone being beaten, call 911. Give the victim information about the help that is available. Victims often do not realize that there are thousands of others in the same situation. They feel isolated. Give the victim a hotline number. Let that person know that no one deserves to be hit.

Women have choices to leave or stay. But if there are children involved, the children have little choice but to live in a volatile home where they are affected by violence. Children in abusive homes are six times more likely to commit suicide, 24 times more likely to commit sexual assault, 60 times more likely to engage in delinquent behavior and 1,000 times more likely to become abusers or victims of abuse when they become adults, according to research presented at the Shattered Trust Conference in San Diego in 1997.

The coalition understands that we also need to reach the abusers. Through the county probation office, the coalition runs a comprehensive batterers treatment program in which those convicted of spousal abuse are required to attend 52 group sessions. Participants discuss power and control, anger management and communication between partners.

Other programs target other audiences. For young people, we have anger management and parenting classes and a mentor program for those at risk. We do community presentations to schools, groups, and clubs.

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The coalition realizes that battering is a learned behavior and therefore that it can be unlearned. We need to send the message that abuse will not be tolerated and that there are nonviolent mechanisms to express anger. We believe that prevention is key to our mission of creating a violence-free community.

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month is recognized in October but the message of the coalition and its partners echoes throughout the year: Domestic violence is everyone’s business. We can take a stand through education, awareness and action.

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Resources

For more information on Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities, call the Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence at 983-6014.

Here are more important numbers:

* Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-hour crisis hotline (800) 300-2181

* Interface Children Family Services 24-hour crisis hotline (800) 339-9597

* Ventura County District Attorney Victim Services (805) 654-3622

* Ventura County Child / Adult Protective Services (805) 654-3200

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