“Sometimes we think that domestic violence only involves intimate partners, however, it can transcend to the community,” said Dr. Ana Nogales, clinical director and founder of the “Casa de la Familia” organization, pointing to the recently lived tragedy in a San Bernardino school. Cedric Anderson shot his wife — a special education teacher — while she was teaching in the classroom.
Karen Elaine Smith, the aggressor, and an 8-year-old student died. The aggressor had a record of domestic violence.
“In this case, we witnessed a situation which confirms that domestic violence not only leads to an altercation between two partners, but can harm innocent children. We need to be alert, and not tolerate abuse at home or in the community,” added Nogales, also an author of various books on the subject.
Domestic violence is the main cause of wounds and death among women, more than automobile accidents, muggings and rapes combined. Every nine seconds a woman in this country is attacked, according to the United States Justice Department. And this serious situation is worldwide.
“According to the United Nations, among the registered homicides within the familiar scope, 79 percent of victims are women, that is to say, they are the ones at the highest risk within the home,” said sociologist Silvia Santos, who works in the Social Security Institute in Uruguay, and conducts gender and domestic violence investigations in Latin America.
“Domestic abuse is based on gender violence, as well as in other types of violence that society chooses to ignore. For example, street bullying, or within the work environment are behaviors that society overlooks, but they who bully grow accustomed to seeing women as their property or as objects with which they can do whatever they wish. These are aspects that contribute to a degrading or discriminatory treatment which in a lesser or greater measure, take away liberty,” Santos said.
The sociologist added that in cases of domestic violence it is difficult to intervene because they occur within the intimacy of the home — a space governed by norms and respect of privacy of the family life. At the same time, because the victim and the aggressor live under the same roof, this links them not only sentimentally but also economically and legally.
Are you in an abusive relationship?
The first step to end such a regrettable situation is to accept that one is a victim of violence, Nogales said. “Many women feel that if their partner has hit them only a few times, or if he tends to threaten them without actually causing physical abuse, it does not constitute an abusive relationship. Neither of these assumptions is correct.”
On the same subject, Margaret Smith, a retired psychologist who worked with survivors in New Jersey for more than 30 years, says that domestic violence is not only about insults, receiving blows, being pushed or having hair pulled.
“Domestic violence is also about being forced to have sexual relations; to maintain control of the household income; to forbid one’s partner to attend school, to work or to visit family and friends. This could damage the wellbeing of all family members.”
Smith adds that usually the offender begins by isolating his partner and manipulating her, and when the victim has been emotionally and spiritually dominated, the physical abuse follows. “In my practice I have seen that a woman puts up with this type of treatment possibly because she has seen it in her home growing up; and this is serious because her daughters will also be vulnerable and choose an abusing spouse. They will adapt to their father’s violence without being aware of it,” she said.
A victim of domestic violence’s self-esteem deteriorates to the point of making it impossible for her to become independent, she said.
“When she realizes that it is not her fault and that she deserves to live safely and in peace, she needs to immediately ask for help. She must not remain in that situation for another minute.”
According to Smith, abusers tend to be insecure and look to exercise power and control on someone they consider more vulnerable. Perhaps they have also learned this behavior from their own parents or close acquaintances. She stresses that domestic violence does not respect education, economic level, race or age.
“Sons and daughters under the care of an abused woman are direct victims of that violence, since they suffer physical and emotional consequences. Sadly, they mold their personality in an environment where the mother submits to the violent behavior of the male, which has consequences on their social interaction,” Santos said.
In search of healing
Domestic violence affects the entire family and the community of all ages. “There is research indicating that people exposed to violence at an early age — including in utero — causes a change in brain chemistry which affects us profoundly,” said Shirley Alvarado, community relations chairman of “Peace Over Violence,” an agency that serves pro-bono victims of both sexual and domestic violence. Included in their services is the oldest crisis telephone line in the nation, which is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day.
“Our work’s focus is to know ‘what happened to you, how do you feel and how can we help you.’ We try to provide tools and resources for healing little by little, and through the process we heal ourselves as a community. We have seen that when survivors unite they become stronger.”
In L.A. County, “Peace Over Violence” also offers emergency services in places where victims go to ask for help. Once the emergency is evaluated, counselors who have been trained and certified by the state give counseling and legal support.
Their other function is to offer preventive education and for this it works with the L.A. School District and others.
“In the schools we teach about the meaning of healthy relationships without violence,” said Alvarado, and added that it is one of the only organizations of this type that trains women in personal defense techniques.
In the same way, it advocates for legislation that help assault and domestic violence survivors obtain the justice that they deserve.
We assist survivors without legal status to get migratory relief through the ‘U’ Visa,” said Alvarado. This visa requires for the police or another type of authority to certify that the solicitor is in fact a victim.
According to the interviewed, there is currently a lot of fear and intimidation in the migrant community, and one of the most affected are the undocumented victims of abuse. But she says that nobody should be afraid of reporting violence to the authorities.
“Although we live painful experiences, as human beings we have the power to recover and we can heal.” And Alvarado concluded by saying that as a community we need to find ways to prevent acts like the one that occurred in San Bernardino.