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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2011

Violence, ignored, hurts everyone

By Jo E. Prout

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I know that because of the Restroom Rap fliers pasted all over my local community college campus. Purple ribbons and purple magnets, purple fliers printed with hotlines for help, purple everywhere. Did you see them?

According to those fliers, New York is the only state with a department devoted to domestic violence awareness — the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “Domestic violence is a crime, not a shame.” Remember that slogan?

I remembered. I remembered the mom of one of my daughter’s classmates wearing sunglasses because she walked into a door. I’m clutzy enough that I could believe that, once.

I remembered how the family dropped out of a mutual activity because her husband wanted them to spend time together, instead. I’m tired enough and busy enough that I could believe that, too. Isn’t everyone jealous of his or her own down time?

Still, I wondered about them when those sunglasses and the heavy make-up appeared, again, along with the broken nose. I casually mentioned her busted face to a few people.

“Do you think there’s anything wrong?” Yes, that was I, passing the buck, hoping someone would tell me that I was mistaken and put my mind at ease, or take responsibility and do something. They didn’t, though. They lobbed that hot potato right back to me with murmurs of uncertainty and shakes of their heads.

I didn’t see the mom, again, for a long time, but I kept an eye out for her daughter. She seemed healthy, happy, unaffected. Surely her teachers would notice if she weren’t? They’re trained to recognize abuse, aren’t they?

I didn’t see her mom, again, until this year’s Halloween parade. I barely recognized her. Were her eyes always that drawn, or was she sporting another set of black eyes, nearly healed?

As much as I dreaded the thought of interfering with a family — and causing red tape nightmares, a lack of privacy, and pain for everyone involved — those purple Restroom Rap fliers kept flashing into my head. I headed straight for the school nurse’s office to try to pass that buck, again.

Our nurse said that she rarely sees the mother and hadn’t noticed anything wrong. Because I am not a “mandated” reporter of abuse, like school personnel, the nurse couldn’t call the hotline based on what I said. She suggested that I call our county social services department or go online to find a hotline to make an anonymous call. The nurse said that she’d ask the daughter’s teacher to watch her for anything unusual. 

That lousy responsibility got lobbed back to me, again! But, I’d gone this far; I supposed I could make an anonymous call.

Except, of course, that I couldn’t find the hotline number on the county website. I found a national hotline, and finally found a county number. The number was for women in crisis, only, and not for suspicious worriers like me.

The woman who answered my call told me that, if I had witnessed the abuse of a child or abuse in front of a child, I could call child protective services (Oh! Another family nightmare just waiting to unfold!) or the police. She warned me that a call to the police could escalate the violence and put my “friend” in more danger. She suggested that I give my “friend” the hotline number and let her know that help was available.

In effect, my “friend” will have to help herself, if, indeed, she needs any help.

Cursing the phone did me as much good as calling the hotline had. I don’t want to be involved. I don’t want to talk to her.

I just don’t want her to get beaten up. Why can’t someone who is not me, but someone in authority to reassure her of what’s what, ask the woman if she needs help? Why does the state push “awareness” if there is nothing to do about it once we’re “aware?”

The OPDV website, www.opdv.state.ny.us, gave me one answer, but I didn’t like it.

According to the website, so-called helpers like me must “let go of any expectations you have that there is a ‘quick fix’ to domestic violence or to the obstacles an abused woman faces. Understand that not doing anything may very well be the safest thing she can do at any given time.” 

I was only able to read that after cutting and blindly pasting the information into a document file, as the updated state website tried to crash my older computer. Computer use by victims is iffy, anyway, and not suggested by some county sites. Computer histories can be dangerous for victims, the sites said. Most suggested using the 24-hour phone hotline at 1-800-942-6906.

According to the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, www.nyscadv.org, millions of women are abused by their partners every year, and not all acts of domestic violence are violations of the law. Up to 95 percent of domestic violence victims are women, although men can also experience domestic violence, according to the website.

The NYSCADV website has links to local agencies by county, for women wishing to create a safety plan to escape domestic abuse.

Most county websites linked to the NYSCADV site suggest that women or men in immediate danger should call 911 for emergency services.

For those who are not in immediate danger, local counties offer assistance like emergency shelter, legal services, emergency funds from the local department of social services, and counseling.

The OPDV site suggests that those with suspicions of abuse ask the person in question, express concern, listen, support, and offer help.

“You are the expert of your own life and the only one who will know what is right and safe for you to do,” the NYSCADV website states for victims of domestic abuse. “Please remember that no one deserves to be abused. You are not alone and there is support and assistance for you!”

I will remember, and I hope others will, too, to pull out the purple and share the hope that a hotline and a safety plan can provide.

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