by
Jonathan W. Blodgett
Essex District Attorney

Our success in eradicating violence from our homes begins with establishing a common understanding about the nature of domestic violence, a crime which affects one in four women in this country. In observance of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the 15-year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, it is incumbent on all of us to dispel the myths of domestic violence - that a victim who stays deserves it, that it only happens in low-income homes, that it is a private family matter, that the abuser simply needs to learn how to control their anger. These myths not only serve to perpetuate attitudes that justify abuse and blame the victim but also act as a barrier to victims getting the help they need and to holding abusers accountable for their actions.

We know that domestic violence occurs in households of all kinds and to people of all ages. We know that children who witness violence in their home are more prone to social, emotional and behavioral problems that can manifest itself as violent acts toward others. We know that programs that address a batterers' controlling abusive behavior are more effective than those that imply the problem has to do with controlling anger. And finally, we know that no one, under any circumstance, deserves to be hit, punched, kicked, threatened, strangled or killed.

One troubling common misconception is that victims of abuse who do not leave their abusers are somehow responsible for subsequent abuse. Until this misconception is addressed, the responsibility for the abuse will not rest squarely where it belongs - with the abuser. In fact, a review of cases and research studies show that victims have valid reasons to stay with their abusers including: the abuser will injure or kill them, their children, their pets or family members; they will be unable to support themselves and their children and be forced to live in a shelter or possibly on the street; they will be deported; their family and friends will not understand and support them; they took a vow to love, honor and obey. Research further shows that the most dangerous time for a victim is when the victim decides to leave their abuser. We can look to recent cases within this county to prove this fact.

There are many ways in which the law enforcement community and victim service organizations collaborate to hold batterers accountable and at the same time provide wrap around services to victims to help keep them safe. They include Domestic Violence High Risk Teams, professional education through community roundtables, teen dating violence programs in schools and general public awareness. As financial resources for services dwindle, it is more important now than ever before for the public to learn about domestic violence, and for you to help victims by offering them support, understanding, and respect, and by volunteering at your local victim service program. Blaming the victim further alienates and isolates them from seeking the help that they need and deserve. We must all place blame where it should be placed - on the abuser - not on the victim. By working together, this epidemic can be eradicated in our lifetime.