By Julia Hernandez Hill
If you look up domestic violence fatalities online, an enormous amount of statistics and stories pop up. You can find statistics for Yolo County, California or the United States. The numbers are staggering, and even though one in four women (as well as a considerable number of men) will be a victim of domestic violence sometime in their lifetime, society either doesn’t comprehend what those numbers mean or it doesn’t seem to care.
But we have to start caring. These statistics are stories of actual victims, of real people who were killed at the hands of an intimate partner, and they are stories that need to be shared and brought to the attention of the entire community.
Some examples of real victims:
* Jackie was at home with her 2-year old son when her estranged husband, David, showed up. David was under court order to stay away from her — an order he’d violated only the night before. Police say Jackie called 911 about 11 a.m. Saturday to report that her husband was again at the house and was making threats. Soon after that 911 call, David began to beat Jackie, and then dragged her downstairs into the basement where he shot and killed her.
* Mary tried to break up with her boyfriend of three years, Paul. He was charged with bludgeoning her to death with a mallet and some heavy candlesticks. An autopsy found that Mary had been struck 17 times.
* A 13-year-old boy knocked on his neighbor’s door late at night to say his father had just shot his mother. He then ran back home to get his two younger brothers while the neighbor called 911. When the boys returned a few minutes later, the oldest told the neighbor his father had also shot himself. After deputies arrived and carefully entered the double-wide trailer, they found the bloodied bodies of Matthew and his wife Sharon on the floor inside.
These are just three of thousands of tragic stories that happen daily across America. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, no matter their income, education, gender or race. We have to do something to stop the violence from happening.
During October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we must remember the victims and try to understand their situations.
Typically, we first become aware of victims at the misdemeanor level because a push or a shove from a husband or boyfriend did not result in significant injuries. This is the first opportunity for the community to send a message to the offender that violent behavior will not be tolerated. Otherwise the violence will escalate, and we’ll ultimately see the victim with black eyes, broken bones or even dead.
Victims need to know they will be protected by the justice system and the community, and their abusers need to know they will be punished.
Domestic violence will not stop until the community tells batterers there is zero tolerance for that behavior and lets victims know that being hit or hurt by your partner is nothing to be ashamed of. Victims need to feel that they can find help for themselves and especially for their children.
Share this information with anyone who you think needs the help:
* What should you do to protect yourself before you file for divorce or initiate a breakup? You need to create an exit strategy. If there are children involved, it is even more critical to take precautions. Trust your gut and your instincts when you feel unsafe.
* Be sure you have a safe place to stay for a few weeks after you deliver the news about breaking up. Consider getting out ahead of time so you don’t have to return to the home you share. It may be wise to stay with a relative or a friend, out of town or somewhere your husband or boyfriend doesn’t know about. At the least, consider changing all of the locks on your residence if you don’t live together.
* Deliver the news in a public place. If there are witnesses around, the individual is far less likely to fly into a rage and harm you. If you’ve made sure you have a safe place for you and your children to go, you’re putting time and distance on your side until the other person can cool down.
* Be especially careful going to and from your place of work. Ask someone to escort you in and out of the building. Choose a different way to get to work or a different form of transportation. If you have time off available, consider using it.
* Should you get a restraining order first? Restraining orders are just pieces of paper; they will not magically protect you from someone so angry he or she would consider seriously harming you. Don’t count on one to keep you safe. However, once you have initiated the breakup, a restraining order may provide law enforcement an additional tool to help you. Most states offer different types of restraining orders. In California, there are four types to protect victims and their families.
* Finally, if you believe the situation has the potential to become extremely threatening or violent, consider putting yourself and your children into a shelter. Contact the Yolo County Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center at www.sadvc.org or 530-662-1133. If at anytime you feel unsafe, call 911, stop a police officer on the street or go to the nearest police station.
— Julia Hernandez Hill has been a victim advocate for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office for the past 13 years.