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Darrell Huckaby - 04/29/09

We have a lot of weeks set aside for various causes and events. We have National Nurses Week and National Education Week and World Health Week and ... well, you get the picture. Sometimes the weeks offer real opportunities to show appreciation for a group of people or become aware of a certain cause and sometimes Hallmark sells a lot of greeting cards.

April 27-May 1 is Victims' Rights Week, and it ain't about selling greeting cards.

"Victims' rights?" I can hear you thinking all the way over here. "What brought that about?"

A little fact sheet about domestic abuse brought it about, along with a conversation I had a few weeks back with State Court Judge Nancy Bills, who has been a longtime advocate of the rights of victims, particularly the victims of domestic abuse. I'll get to the facts in a bit, but in an age when certain entities seem to go out of their way to make sure that criminals' rights are protected it is nice to be reminded that victims have rights, too - including the right not to become victims.

I asked Judge Bills, who is a cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia and the University of Georgia Law School, how she became involved in this cause. It turns out that after receiving her degree and being admitted to the Georgia Bar, Judge Bills worked for 10 years as an assistant district attorney in Rockdale County. During that time, she told me, every murder case she prosecuted - every one - was related to family violence. Family violence. Spouses abusing spouses. Parents abusing children. Family violence. Every murder case.

And now, as a sitting judge, a full 50 percent of the criminal cases she hears involve family violence. And it is a cycle. Violence begets violence - and the cycle has to be stopped. Before it can be stopped the public has to be made aware that it is OK to talk about it when one is a victim of abuse. In fact, it is not only OK, it is imperative.

But the sad truth is that people don't talk about it. They hide it. They pretend it is not happening. They cover up their bruises and make up stories about the black eyes and other injuries. Sometimes - many times - they even blame themselves for instigating the abusive behavior. And although the door swings both ways, most of the victims of domestic abuse - not all, but most - involve wives or girlfriends suffering at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends.

Thus the next connection. Nancy Bills has daughters. I have daughters. Young girls are impressionable and if they see their mothers being abused by the men in their lives - or maybe I should say the males, because in my opinion, abusers are not real men - then they are more likely to believe that sort of behavior is acceptable. They are more likely, in other words, to become victims themselves.

See the pattern? As I said earlier - the cycle has to be broken.

I promised you statistics. Here are a few to ponder.

One in five teenage girls who have been in a serious relationship have reported being slapped or hit by their partner. One in five - and that's the ones who have reported the abuse. You and I both know that for every incident that is reported there are many others that are not. It is human nature to suffer in silence - for a lot of reasons.

Maybe the girl in question has low self-esteem and feels that she deserved to hit. Maybe that's the type of behavior she has witnessed at home. Maybe she is afraid no one will believe her if she tells. Maybe she is afraid that the brute that is abusing her is the only fish in the sea. There are a lot of reasons victims don't report abusive behavior.

Thirty-three percent of teen girls have said they have feared being seriously hurt by their partner. I didn't get very far in math when I was in school, but I did learn fractions and I am pretty sure that 33 percent is one out of every three, and so when my daughter has a dozen friends over, four of them have been afraid of being hurt by their boyfriends - and that is four too many.

And too many teen girls report that "sex is expected" for people their age and that they have been pressured by their boyfriends to go further than they wanted. Many others have felt pressure to forgo spending time with their family or friends because of jealous boyfriends.

That's the kind of behavior that escalates. That's the kind of behavior that begins in the teen years and carries over into adulthood. That's the kind of behavior that leads to lives of fear and misery - or even murder.

That's the kind of cycle that has to be stopped.

But what can we do - you and I?

For one thing, we can break the silence. If you know people who are being abused, make sure they know that it is OK to tell. If you have knowledge of such incidents, report it yourself. If you have daughters - or sons - make sure they know what acceptable behavior is, and what it isn't.

Break the silence. Break the cycle. Make people aware. Be aware yourself.

We have to start somewhere. Why not with you? Why not now?

It's a good week for it.

Darrell Huckaby