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No excuse for domestic abuse

For many people, the term “domestic violence” evokes images of women being battered by men, usually within the context of a relationship. The reality is far more nuanced and complex. Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of controlling, abusive behavior within a relationship, and includes acts of psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse as well as actual physical violence. Women aged 18- 24 are likeliest to experience abuse and violence in a relationship.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, nearly 5.3 million incidents of domestic violence occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. This violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths (CDC 2003). Intimate partner violence occurs across all populations, irrespective of social, economic, religious, or cultural group. However, young women and those below the poverty line are disproportionately affected.

The financial statistics, also compiled by the CDC, are equally alarming. The costs of domestic violence against women exceed an estimated $5.8 billion every year. That figure includes nearly $4.1 billion in the direct costs of medical and mental health care and another $1.8 billion in the indirect costs of lost productivity. Victims of domestic violence lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work - the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs - and nearly 5.6 million days of household productivity each year as a result of the violence they endure.

So why don’t we hear more about an issue that is costly, pervasive and apparently endemic in our society? We don’t hear about it for all of the wrong reasons.

People think domestic violence is a private matter between two individuals in a relationship. They think that it’s none of their business. They think the victim must have done something to provoke the incident. They think the couple just needs some time to figure things out. And some of them even think it’s OK.

If you doubt that last statement, you need look no further than a survey done earlier this month by The Boston Public Health Commission. In the aftermath of the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident, they talked to 200 Boston youth about their feelings on dating violence. Forty-six percent stated that Rihanna was responsible. Fifty-two percent felt Chris Brown – the perpetrator of a brutal beating – was being unfairly treated by the media. And nearly half of the teens in that survey felt that fighting (as opposed to just arguing) was a normal part of a relationship. Those attitudes bode ill for the future.

According to Emily F. Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, and an advisor to the Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong initiative to prevent and reduce teen dating violence, “Teen dating violence victimization can be a precursor to adult violence victimization, and can increase risky behaviors during adolescence.”

As disturbing as the results above are, they are also a gift to parents, grand-parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, health care professionals, youth group leaders and more. They’ve given us all a perfect opportunity to start a critically important conversation with the young adults in our lives. It needs to be an ongoing conversation, because teaching lifelong lessons about respectful behavior in relationships is not a one-shot deal. Think the kids in your life are too young to be a part of this conversation? Think again. You’re never too young to learn that there is a right way and a wrong way to behave toward a partner in a relationship. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers learn from the adults around them. If what you’re showing them at home is how to be violent and abusive to your partner, be prepared: those lessons last a lifetime. Instead of allowing the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence to be perpetuated in our homes and families, we should be teaching our young people that there is no excuse for abuse. Ever.

Deborah Collins-Gousby is the Interim Executive Director of Casa Myrna Vazquez. Melanie Robinson Findlay is a Behavioral Health Intern at Codman Square Health Center and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, INC.