Wed07302014

Community

Domestic violence: It happens even in the nice neighborhoods

The general perception is that domestic violence doesn’t happen in more affluent areas, or even if it does, then a woman should have the means to deal with it herself, using her own resources.

But in an abusive relationship, she may not have access to those resources, even if she works outside the home.

Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It’s an equal-opportunity abuser, penetrating every sector of society, regardless of social class, income, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or culture. And it’s not “just” about bruises and broken bones. It’s about leaving emotional scars that can last a lifetime.

In our area, with its relatively affluent population, domestic violence presents its own set of challenges. Abusers in our community have the money, power, influence and technical savvy to make it very hard for a woman to leave safely, reach a fair settlement, keep custody of her children and maintain her standard of living.

And then there is the denial and huge social stigma attached to abuse in our area. How can an educated, intelligent, professional woman, successful in so many areas of her life, also be a victim of abuse? And what about the need/desire to protect her partner’s public image, career and social standing – all of which will then often be used to discredit her later?

With all these challenges and obstacles, the question then becomes not why does she stay, but how does she ever get the courage and strength to leave? Especially when she is already worn down after years of physical, emotional and financial abuse.

And who is going to believe her? She can hardly believe it herself. An affluent abuser’s public image is so often above reproach and completely at odds with his private behavior. How can a doctor, professor, teacher or public servant also be an abuser? It’s almost inconceivable. And that’s what the affluent abuser relies on: the triumph of his public image over any evidence to the contrary.

How can a woman take on this kind of powerful opponent alone, especially when her abuser is surrounded by a “dream team” of powerful allies? She may also be struggling with the physical, emotional and psychological effects of abuse, which he will use to prove her “crazy” or “incompetent” as a parent so he can win custody and avoid paying child support.

But if she can also build a team, a strong network of support, she builds new possibilities, new hope.

In terms of social change, women have come a long way. But in terms of living a life of equality and freedom from abuse, we haven’t arrived yet. We still have a long road to travel. It’s the 21st century and we still haven’t figured out yet how to keep women and children safe in their own homes – even when they are estates on multiacre properties. That in itself can present a problem, because one of the abuser’s most common tactics is isolation.

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The first step in this particular journey is naming the problem, raising awareness about it, shining a light on one of polite society’s darker secrets. The next step is gathering support to protect our women and children. The final destination? Freedom. Domestic violence is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a human-rights issue. Isn’t it the right of every woman – and every child – to be free and safe in their own home?

No matter how much it costs or how many acres it’s on, oppression, psychological torture and physical abuse still cause the same amount of pain and suffering.

It’s time we did something about it together, to create a safer, healthier environment for our families and ultimately for our community.

Let’s begin by talking about it. I welcome your comments and feedback.

Ruth Patrick is a domestic violence consultant with the Los Altos Community Foundation’s nonprofit Women-of-Means Support Network, Silicon Valley.

If you are in an unhealthy relationship or know someone who is, you can find resources and support through the network.

For more information, call 996-2200 or visit losaltoscf.org/womensv.

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