Society should, but you could, lend a hand to a silent sufferer

Like 25 million other Americans, a woman in Guilderland watched the Grammy Awards being presented last month. But she didn’t focus so much on the stars and glitz and glamor.

What riveted her was a message from the president. Barack Obama, in a video aired during the show, said, “One in four women experience some form of domestic violence. It’s not OK and it has to stop...All of us in our lives have the power to set an example.”

This woman said she felt empowered by the president’s message and she called us.

Why our newspaper?

Ten years ago, on our blotters page where we list local arrests, we ran a report from the Guilderland Police of the arrest of her husband for assault to cause physical injury, a felony.

She called us brave and said no other media had carried news of the arrest. We responded that we were doing our job. Part of that job is gathering local arrests every week, not relying solely on police agencies to tell us what the news is in their issued press releases.

As we asked about her life now and listened to the story she had to tell, we realized it was worth sharing. It is a sad story and one that is all too common.

When a woman is in an abusive relationship, it can take years to break free because of both emotional and physical dependencies. This woman, for example, felt she had no means of supporting herself or getting medical coverage. Her son, who was disabled in the attack for which her husband was arrested, at age 21 would not be allowed in a shelter with her, she said, and he would have nowhere to go.

We checked into her account. The code enforcement officer at the time was called to her home because a stove was on the front lawn. The woman said her husband had thrown it there in a rage. The code officer vividly remembered his visit to the home.

“He shoved her right down,” he recalled of the husband. “She went into the house like a bad puppy with her tail between her legs.”

We are withholding the woman’s name at her request. Experts have told us that an abused woman is likely to suffer more harm from her abuser if she speaks out.

She has nothing to be ashamed of.

It is we, as a society, that should feel the shame. What is wrong with us if, as the president says, one in four women suffer domestic violence?

Obama talked in the Grammy Awards announcement about creating “a culture where violence isn’t tolerated, where survivors are supported,” and urged citizens to go online to and take a pledge to stop sexual assault.

That’s a good start but more is needed.

Battered women are in our midst. And we are as good at not seeing them as they are at pretending they are not being hurt.

In our country, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 — more than accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Stories about those tragedies are found all the time in front-page headlines, even when there aren’t fatalities. But where are the stories on domestic abuse?

The majority of incidents are never reported or discussed. That’s what we need to change.

Several times a month, reports of domestic violence occur among the arrests we compile for our blotters column — and we’ll continue to report on them. We’re putting this story on our front page, where the community can see it and understand how long the suffering can go on.

If you are an abused woman reading this now, we want you to know you can get help. You are not alone. A first step can be calling the Equinox hotline at 432-7865; it is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Equinox Inc. in Albany offers victims of abuse emotional support, legal advice, and a place to stay. It’s the main source for domestic violence help in Albany County.

As friends and neighbors of victims, we can be alert for signs of abuse and offer support. If you see an arrest on our blotters page from a household you know, why not alert the woman to this editorial or share the hotline number? Let her know someone cares.

Recognizing the problem is a first step, but many more steps are needed. If a husband wants to beat up his wife, it’s his business — that used to be a prevalent attitude in our society, and still dominates in some places in the world. We are all hurt by such an attitude.

Children learn from their parents, they suffer terribly, and the cycle of violence goes on. Half the men who often abuse their wives also often abuse their children. Men who have witnessed violence between their parents are three times more likely to abuse their own wives and children.

The cycle needs to be broken. The law should help with that.

A stay-away order of protection, like the one the Guilderland woman obtained, is fairly easy to get but is tough to enforce. Around-the-clock security is not an option for average citizens.

The Guilderland woman’s husband returned to the house and caused more injury. There needs to be better coordination between courts and police. Why not have paroled batterers wear monitoring devices for surveillance to be sure they don’t return to batter again?

The woman who told her story to our Guilderland reporter, Anne Hayden Harwood, stressed how isolated she was. Too often, battered women have become cut off from family and friends and they feel they have nowhere to turn for help.

Support is needed if a woman is to recover from abuse. Kim Anderson, who has researched the issue for a quarter of a century, told Hayden Harwood, “Something really essential for these women after they left these relationships was informal support systems, such as friends and family. That is probably the number-one factor in recovery...”

Sixty percent of the women she studied, who had recovered, had talked to or worked with someone at a domestic violence shelter or hotline. Support for these services is essential.

Battered women need an affordable and readily available support system. As it stands now, the victims are the ones who are penalized — many of them having to uproot their lives and hide for their safety and survival.

The silent suffering is continuing all around us. So this week we’re giving voice to one woman.

We hope she and others like her will see the beauty and bravery in their lives.

As Anderson said of the battered women she has studied,  “One of the things that has interested me the most in working with these women is that some people view them as damaged or dysfunctional, but I see them as people with amazing strength and the power to persevere.”

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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