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FOR RELEASE: October 12, 2000  
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month,
Part 1 – The Problem

There is a public health problem occurring in Oklahoma that is hard to understand and even harder to talk about. Most people don't want to “get involved” for fear harm will come to them or their families. Women are most commonly its victims, but the elderly and children may be victims also. Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health say the most common risk factor is being born female.

What is it? It's domestic violence and it occurs somewhere every 15 seconds. Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence indicate:

  • About 33 percent of American women experience domestic violence.
  • Over two-thirds of female victims of violence in 1993 were related to or knew their attacker, according to the US Department of Justice.
  • Sexual abuse against disabled girls and women is roughly twice as high as for non-disabled girls and women.
  • About one out of every 25 elderly persons is a victim of domestic violence annually.
  • More than 50 percent of child abductions result from domestic violence.

Domestic violence affects women from all religious, ethnic, economic, and educational backgrounds. It encompasses all ages, physical abilities, and lifestyles, including rural and urban living. Domestic violence often begins small with behaviors like threats and name-calling. It advances to punching walls and may even involve abusing pets. It progresses to restraining, pushing, slapping, and kicking victims. Eventually, domestic violence can escalate to choking, broken bones, use of weapons, and death.

The reasons women give for staying in a violent relationship are very complex. Some common barriers to women leaving a violent relationship include:

  • The victim fears the batterer will get more violent and even try to kill her if she tries to leave.
  • There may not be support from friends and family to leave the batterer, and she may not know how to access other resources.
  • The victim knows the difficulties of single parenting with reduced financial and economic resources, and social status. She may not own property that is solely hers and may lack access to cash or bank accounts.
  • There is a mix of good times, love and hope along with manipulation, intimidation and fear. These are hard to separate and the victim may blame herself for the abuse.
  • Most women have at least one dependent child. Leaving can mean living in fear, and with constant harassment. Also, the woman may lose custody of her child or children.
  • Many women are not employed outside of the home and may be socially and financially isolated.
  • Most counselors and clergy are trained to “save” marriages, not “stop” the violence.
  • Many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative, or that single parenting is acceptable. If they leave, they may blame themselves for a failed marriage.
  • Some women blame the abuser's behavior on stress, alcohol or drug abuse, unemployment, and other factors.
  • Despite a restraining order, there is little protection to keep the abuser from attacking again.

Health officials stress that domestic violence is more than just a crime – it is also a public health problem. The costs of domestic abuse in terms of broken families, medical treatment and criminal justice costs are paid by society. To break the cycle of violence, communities must address the many different approaches available.

One approach introduces the concept that health care providers can help reduce the prevalence of domestic violence. A new Oklahoma State Department of Health program encourages hospitals to screen female patients who may be victims of domestic abuse. It also sets up a surveillance system for domestic violence injuries to determine who is at risk, what the risk factors are and services needed, and how to prevent domestic violence. For information on this program, call (405) 271-3430 or 1-800-522-0204.

For general information about domestic violence, or to get help, call the National Domestic Violence 24-hour Hotline, 1-800-799-7233.


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