Halting domestic violence requires more than trivial politics
The news of the past several weeks has put a bright spotlight on the critically important topic of domestic violence. This is a serious issue that requires serious conversations, not sarcastic or irrational comments made through letters to the editor or the “You Said It” column.
I am always concerned when individuals minimize or rationalize the seriousness of domestic violence. Domestic violence is real and much more common than people recognize and extremely dangerous to individuals, children and the moral fabric of our community.
A couple of important stats to frame this discussion: Nationally, one in four females will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and, locally, Mesa County led the state with the highest rate of domestic violence fatalities in 2009 and 2010.
As Hilltop’s CEO, I focus my organization on doing the right thing and making a difference in people’s lives. Hilltop is a primary provider of, and leader for, domestic violence services through both the Latimer House in Grand Junction and Tri-County Resources in the Delta and Montrose areas. We are witnesses to the seriousness of domestic violence on a daily basis.
Our 24-hour crisis lines are kept busy with nearly 2,800 calls per year — that’s more than 7.5 calls per day. These are individuals calling for strategies and support, or they are in need of an immediate safety plan as they struggle with domestic-violence issues.
Our safe houses, which provide emergency shelter for those in the most dire of situations, were utilized by 350 individuals in 2012. These are individuals needing to leave nearly everything behind to provide immediate safety for themselves and their children. These are the harsh realities of domestic violence.
Domestic violence has no demographic boundaries and can affect people from any socio-economic level, race, religious background, political preference, educational level, professional position or gender. As a community, we must open our eyes to this reality, be vigilant and realize that domestic violence can occur anywhere.
Many agencies are working together to combat violence in the home, but it is still not enough. The police and sheriff’s departments continue to have their call logs dominated by reports of domestic violence. In addition, our legal system is continually faced with new cases.
What is truly needed is a cultural shift: a community that shines a light on this often-hidden situation and educates our children (boys and girls) on the cost of violence. A community working together with the goal that domestic violence will not be tolerated is the only way we can hope to alter this cycle of abuse.
Latimer House continues to try to raise awareness about the realities of domestic violence. Educational programs like the “Extraordinary Women” fundraiser, the “Real Men Speak Out” campaign and the “Men in Heels” race are all efforts to raise awareness and funds to eliminate domestic violence in our community.
But equally important is the message that those affected by domestic violence are not alone. Too many suffer in silence, afraid to come forward because they will be humiliated or blamed for their situations, a stigma only reinforced by recent comments and the trivialization of domestic violence under the guise of political debate. These individuals need our support so they can find the strength to come forward and access the help they so desperately need.
Why is this so important to me? Because someone needs to try to remove domestic violence from the three-ring circus we call local politics. Long after this headline-grabbing situation fades from our minds, the reality of domestic violence will still live on for far too many individuals.
But most importantly, I go home to my two teenage daughters every night, and I am concerned about the message I’m giving them. They need to realize that tolerating or using verbal, emotional or physical violence is never OK. No one should be exposed to control or abuse. Understanding that, early in life, is critical to breaking the cycle of violence in a community. That is part of the legacy I choose to leave for my children, my organization and my community.
Please join me in this challenging endeavor of breaking the cycle of violence. Stand up to domestic violence. Support your local domestic violence providers through donations, volunteerism and advocacy. But most importantly, educate yourself on the facts, share what you learn with your friends and family and use this unfortunate situation as the catalyst for change in our community.
Mike Stahl is the CEO for Hilltop Community Resources.