Early prevention methods are key

Karen Earl is the executive director of the Jenesse Center in Los Angeles, which provides victims of domestic violence with support to assist them in addressing their crisis and changing the patterns of their lives. It offers vocational education programs, mental health services, legal services and other services designed to build skills. 

There was a recent high-profile murder-suicide when a pro athlete killed the mother of his little child and then took his own life. The discussion afterward quickly devolved into talk about gun violence. As is often the case with these too-familiar tragedies, there is almost never a reference to preventive or intervention resources.

Stories about domestic violence usually begin or end with the concept that it’s an isolated incident and that the rest of us are safe. We also tend to focus on the manner or the weapon, rather than on the result: Another woman has been killed by someone she trusted.

Women and girls are more likely to be victimized by someone that they have a relationship with. According to some statistics, 40%-70% of murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.

Here are some other sobering statistics from the Dept. of Justice:

  • Females age 12 or older experienced 552,000 nonfatal violent attacks by an intimate partner in 2008 (the most recent year for which figures are available).
  • Women experience about 4.8 million physical assaults and rapes by their intimate partners each year.
  • Children were living in the home in 38% of the domestic violence incidents against women and 21% of the incidents against men.

Back to the question of murder-suicides, the DOJ offers these facts:

  • Most murder-suicides involve a firearm.
  • 94% of offenders are male.
  • 74% of victims are intimate partners.
  • 75% of murder-suicides occur in the home.
  • Most murder-suicides with multiple victims are by male family members.
  • Fathers who kill children usually kill their children’s mothers, but the reverse is not the case.

These are harsh, ugly facts. But we sometimes couch them in socially palatable phrases like “domestic dispute” or “the couple got into an altercation.”

Many of these violent acts are played out before family members, co-workers, clergy, neighbors or child-care administrators who have some knowledge of a family’s pattern of abuse. Domestic violence may take on several forms, including physical and emotional, but the perpetrator’s intended outcome is always the same: to keep the victim or victims living in fear.

And what is the solution? It is to end the cycle of domestic violence through education, public awareness and outreach initiatives.

That’s why Jenesse Center was established in 1980. We are a non-profit organization to provide policy and advocacy training to individuals, families, children and youth — and to the community at large. The center is one of the first organizations in the U.S. founded by African-American women to do crisis intervention with families affected by domestic violence.

In the aftermath of violence, the public attention goes to the perpetrator, with a desire to see that justice is served. But little attention is given to the victims.

Yes, they often need a shelter. But we believe the solution involves more than that. That’s why we offer legal assistance (including restraining-order preparation and accompaniment), vocational services and training, mental health counseling and services, and a special program for children and youth who have experienced violence.

Education in communities with significant incidences of domestic violence is one major key to identifying the triggers, and ending the cycle of violence.

Since our inception, we noted children, boys and girls, as equal victims of domestic violence and have spent more than thirty years.

After 30 years, we have discovered what everyone needs to understand: The key is working with children, boys and girls, since early prevention methods are key. We believe that domestic violence is learned behavior, and can be unlearned if prevention efforts are taught. As we champion the rights of women and girls, we do not do so at the expense of men and boys. We work with young boys and young male teens on alternative solutions to violence. We teach men how to respond if she gets “in his face.” We listen to young men tell tales of having seen the women in their lives victimized and have learned much of the behavior from what was present in their lives as children.

Violence is not something that involves snap decisions and quick answers. It requires a commitment of people to intervene when they see the problem. And it requires the victims, their families and others in the community to work at ending the cycle — and to create a world that’s full of hope and free from domestic violence.