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US: Land of free, home of battered?
Tue, 08 Mar 2011 08:20:49 GMT
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With a trembling hand, Gloria poured herself another mug of strong, black Guatemalan coffee and inspected her state-of-the-art kitchen. She had just finished sweeping up the breakfast crockery that Tyler had smashed in a fit of rage this morning and her kitchen floor was, once again, immaculate.

If only her face could be restored so easily. She gingerly touched her already-swelling right eye. The bruise was going to be a real 'shiner'.

What excuse could she give her neighbors and family this time? she wondered. She couldn't very well say she'd run into a door again. No one would believe her.
A wracking sob convulsed her frail body as she gazed out the bay window onto the landscaped lawn. Unsteadily, she lifted the coffee mug to her lips and sipped the scalding brew. Only a few short years ago, her marriage had seemed so wonderful - a true Cinderella story. How could something so good have gone so wrong?

She had been a poor Latina from East Los Angeles, taking a couple of night classes at a local community college and working days as a supermarket cashier when she had met Tyler. The affluent businessman was the personification of the modern American 'Prince Charming.' And charming is what Tyler had been, sweeping her off her feet with flattery, attention and gifts, marrying her and installing her in a custom-built, designer home in La Joya, California, overlooking the Pacific.

The dream had shattered two years into their marriage -- the first time Tyler had hit her. Since then, the beatings had intensified. She supposed she had gotten off lightly this morning. All she had ended up with was a black eye. Last time around, it had been a fractured rib.

Though her sister, who had some idea of what was going on despite Gloria's best efforts to cover it, had tried to persuade her to leave Tyler, it really wasn't an option. With only a couple of semester hours of community college and no training to speak of, how could she support herself and her small daughter - especially, considering the present tough job market? Better to just leave things as they were and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, Gloria's situation is not unique. Thousands of American women - Hispanic, White, Asian and Black - poor, middle class, and wealthy, uneducated and well-educated, have found themselves in similar circumstances. Domestic abuse recognizes no socio-economic, educational, or racial boundaries -- and it is more widely spread in America than most realize. A UN study on the status of women conducted in 2000 found that somewhere in the United States, a woman is battered every 15 seconds - usually by her intimate partner. The findings of a 2006 Allstate Foundation national poll on domestic violence reinforce this claim. Nearly three out of every four of the Americans surveyed said they personally knew someone, who was - or had been -- a victim of domestic violence.

That is most likely just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Factbook, published by the US Department of Justice, only about half of the incidents of domestic violence that actually occur are reported to the police. And it might be mentioned that numbers of cases, which began as beatings, have ended in murder.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains that approximately 1,500 American women are killed each year by their husbands or boyfriends and approximately 2 million American men a year beat their partners. Once again, those beatings are only the ones reported to the police. If we were to go by the Department of Justice estimates, the number would be at least twice as high.

Moreover, recent reports, conducted across the country have found that the problem is growing. Hotline calls, domestic shelter visits and reports of domestic related crimes are all on the rise. Take the state of Florida, for instance. According to a 2009 report, the state's domestic violence centers had within the previous months witnessed a 40 percent jump in demand - a situation that Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon called “the worst I've seen in years.”

And then, there's Texas. The New Beginning Center (for victims of domestic violence,) which is located in the greater Dallas - Fort Worth area saw a 60 percent increase in calls to its hotline in 2010, causing Executive Director Jennifer Morrison to comment, "I have worked in this field for a number of years and this is the first time any of us have seen this." Morrison also admitted that the organization's shelter facility was filled to capacity and had been for a year - which is a catch-22, because a study on the recent surge in domestic-violence homicides in Massachusetts found that one of the key factors in domestic violence was “limited access to services for victims.” The same study discovered that the other important factor in domestic abuse was “unemployment for batterers,” which may partly explain the present surge in such incidents - the ongoing economic crisis, which has caused numbers of Americans to lose their jobs.
However, as earlier statistics indicate, we cannot place all the blame for the phenomenon on the economic situation - only the recent surge.

But why do American women remain in such relationships? Many of them are trapped and literally have nowhere to go - even those, who have jobs. According to Karen Oehme, director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies at Florida State University, it is not uncommon for abusers to keep their victims economically enslaved, seizing their paychecks and denying them all access to money. And then there are other women, like Gloria, who are insufficiently educated and trained to be able to 'make it on their own' in today's tough job market.

On top of that, there is the danger of leaving, itself. For a woman to leave a pathologically jealous and possessive husband is akin to waving a red cape in front of a charging bull. Women who actually do leave, are often stalked, threatened and sometimes killed by their angry ex-partners.
But when we speak of domestic abuse, we're not only talking about women. Children are victims of it, as well. A 1998 study by A. E. Appel and G. W. Holden found a direct link between spouse abuse and child abuse.

The American Psychology Association concurs. In a report titled, Violence and the Family: Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, it revealed that 40 to 60 percent of men who abuse women, abuse their children, as well. The report also stated that 3 million American children are exposed to domestic violence in their homes each year.

These findings are backed by the US Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention which maintains that “there is an overlap of 30 to 60 percent between violence against children and violence against women in the same families,” concluding that “the (American) home can be a dangerous place.”
Indeed. According to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 1,730 American children died due to abuse-related factors in 2008, alone.

Even more disturbing have been the findings of recent studies, which indicate that child abuse, like other forms of domestic violence, is on the upswing, increasing dramatically since the beginning of the present economic recession.

Then there is abuse of the elderly -- or what the British call 'granny-bashing' -- which is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. According to estimates by the American Psychological Association, approximately 2.1 million elderly Americans are abused each year. However, senior advocacy groups place the actual number much higher, maintaining that many cases (according to some experts, 84 percent,) are never reported.

Elder abuse in America was recently brought to the attention of the public by the 90-year-old actor, Mickey Rooney, who appearing before a Senate committee, admitted to having been abused by a member of his own family. According to Rooney, his stepson had abused him for years, withholding medicine and food and denying him “the ability to make even the most basic decisions about my life.” A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), which appeared that same day, corroborated Rooney's allegations. The report maintained that much elder abuse in the United States is done by members of the victim's own family.

But what about the abusers -- what kind of man would abuse his wife, children and elderly parents? And why is domestic abuse so prevalent these days in the United States?

Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, maintains that many men batter due to their own feelings of inadequacy. They feel helpless and powerless so they beat in order to achieve a sense of power and control over their own lives and those of their victims. In fact, that is probably one reason why the economic crisis - which has caused millions of Americans to feel out-of-control- has exacerbated the problem.

Studies have also found a link between domestic violence and substance (alcohol or drug) abuse. Research indicates that violent men are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than nonviolent men and substance abuse increases the likelihood of domestic violence - not only when the men are intoxicated, but when they are sober, as well.
Whatever the cause, domestic violence does exist in the United States and is increasing at an alarming rate. It should therefore be addressed before it claims the lives of more innocent victims.

TG/MB
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