Advocate: Confront abusers, not just victims

Lawrence Pierce
People supporting a "Week without Violence" attended an anti-domestic violence rally Thursday afternoon at the corner of Kanawha Boulevard and Ruffner Avenue on Charleston's East End.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While domestic violence continues to be a problem in West Virginia and nationwide, an advocate says more focus needs to be put on confronting perpetrators, not just victims."I would really like to see a shift off of victims and really look at perpetrators, batterers, and say, 'Your behavior is unacceptable,'" said Tonia Thomas, team coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition against Domestic Violence. "They have friends and family and co-workers too. I think that's where the impact is going to be made in our state."People don't have to physically witness the abuse to know that it's happening, she said."We usually know what's going on," Thomas said. "We need to call out the person using the abuse and say, 'Hey, what you're doing is unacceptable,'" Thomas said.She added, "I don't mean physically engage, [I mean] really hold people accountable for what they're doing and say this isn't cool with me."Often, domestic violence prevention focuses on the victims and what they need to do, she said."All the expectations are placed on victims," Thomas said. "When we focus solely on victims, we tend to let the perpetrator off the hook. We don't tell them, 'This is what we need to do.'"On a single day in West Virginia in 2012, the state's 14 domestic violence programs served 324 victims, according to a survey by the National Network to End Domestic Violence. The 324 included 143 victims who sought refuge at an emergency shelter and 181 adults and children who received other help, including counseling, legal advocacy and children's support groups. The YWCA of Charleston has several events and observances planned throughout October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.Those events included a peaceful rally on Kanawha Boulevard Thursday afternoon and will include a candlelight vigil at the Clay County Courthouse Tuesday.A study released in September ranks West Virginia eighth in the nation for states where men murder women, according to a report released recently by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy agency. Most of those homicides were domestic violence-related, according to the study.The study, "When Men Murder Women," analyzes 2011 national data (the latest information available) and reports on females who were murdered by males in single victim/ single offender incidents. The state's female homicide rate was 1.70 per 100,000 women, according to the report.
Pam Gillenwater, director of the YWCA's Resolve Family Abuse Program, said domestic violence is a problem that spills out into the street."Many victims, not all, turn to substance abuse for suffering emotional trauma," Gillenwater said.It can affect workplaces when perpetrators come to their victims' job sites, she said.
Gillenwater said people view women as property and often don't intervene when they see men abusing them, even in public.An informal survey of a group of men in a mostly court-ordered batterers prevention group run by the YWCA found that most would not confront a man who hit his wife or girlfriend while they sat at a mall food court, Gillenwater said. Some said they would perhaps get the attention of a security guard. The same group of men said they would intervene if a stranger struck a woman in public."I would say, remember that every female is someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's friend," she said. "People have a different perspective when you put it to them like that."While the informal survey was done among batterers, Gillenwater said much of the public has a similar attitude. Victims will often say that their abuser has hit them in public and people around them did nothing to stop it, she said.People who suspect that their friend or family member is being abused can help by listening to the victim, Thomas said. They should keep offering support to victims, even if they stay with their abusers. People sometimes get frustrated with victims who don't immediately leave and with those who go back, she said."That's such a mistake," Thomas said. "Victims go back for a lot of reasons."
She added that people can help by connecting victims to the various programs in West Virginia that are set up to help. "There are still folks out there who don't realize there are domestic violence programs," Thomas said.The YWCA offers a 24/7 domestic violence crisis line at 800-681-8663 or 304-340-3549. There's also a National Domestic Violence Hotline that can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE. For more information about the Resolve Family Abuse Program, call the office at 304-340-3549.Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.
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