BATH — The editor of a local newspaper sought my opinion some time ago on whether arrests for domestic assaults or similar offenses should be printed as such in his paper.

Historically, when someone was charged with an assault or other crime stemming from a domestic situation, only the primary charge was listed. Until a short time ago, the offense of domestic assault did not even exist in Maine statutes. The domestic language was only used as a sentencing enhancement after someone was found guilty of the primary offense.

So, the reporter had to read through the officers’ report to determine whether the victim was in fact a family or household member.

I told the editor back then that by all means, every arrest that is domestic-abuse related should say exactly that.

He replied that some in law enforcement disagreed and felt some women would hesitate in reporting domestic abuse out of fear of embarrassment or being stigmatized. The paper did not print the names of domestic crime victims, but I suspect they could be concerned over possible name recognition through association of their spouse or partner.

My response was that women suffering from domestic abuse should have greater concerns than embarrassment – such as safety, freedom, life and the welfare of those around them.

As far as being stigmatized, Webster’s defines stigma as a social disgrace. The only disgrace in these cases is any tolerance whatsoever of domestic abuse in any shape or form.

Up to this point we have had limited success at combatting domestic abuse. I recently promoted a complete change of tactics in our public relations campaigns by accentuating success stories. One of my comments to the editor was that we need to shock the consciousness of the public. It is too easy to sit back, ignorant of the events around us. In order to achieve public reaction, we first need public attention.

Some time ago, I coined a phrase that I use periodically when the circumstances fit: “The true enemy among us is the enemy within us – apathy and ignorance.”

Failing to acknowledge the problem or tolerating the act simply emboldens those who raise their hands in violence. These individuals, most of whom are nothing more than bullies, count on their victims, neighbors, friends and society itself to remain silent and do nothing. Unfortunately, for a great many, their tactics have succeeded – to the point that nearly half of all homicides in Maine over the past two decades were domestic-related.

We are an event-driven society and there is much going on in the world that draws our attention. There is even greater competition for public activism. The battle against domestic violence, however, is quite simple when you break it down. All that is needed to give us the upper hand is asking of people to “report and support.”

Report incidences of domestic abuse – victims, friends, family member or co-worker, it does not matter who, only that it gets done. The second step is for everyone – particularly employers – to support those who have been victimized by domestic abuse. They shouldn’t go through this alone.

While investigating a recent domestic assault case in Bath, I spoke to the 60-year-old mother of the abuse victim. As I do with every domestic case investigated, I routinely share information with abuse victims about resources available for additional assistance.

This includes contact information for the local domestic violence advocacy agency, the process for obtaining a protection from abuse order, bail conditions on the abuser and what can be expected in the way of future court appearances by the victim.

The mother of the victim was amazed by the aggressiveness of law enforcement, the thoroughness of the investigation and resources available to women suffering from domestic abuse. She went on to say that she had been a longtime sufferer of domestic abuse by her husband in the ’60s and ’70s and wished there had been somewhere to turn for help back then.

We agreed for the need to keep the heat turned up on those that perpetrate domestic abuse. People like the person who assaulted her daughter will probably not change. He and others like him never got the message when they were young that abuse and violence are wrong on so many levels.

If our aggressive stance serves no other purpose than to remove abusers from children’s environment, or remove children from the abusive environment, then so be it. Violence begets violence, violence is cyclical, children are products of their environment; use whatever adage or expression that fits, as long as the job gets done.

This is the lesson: Complacency equals complicity.

 

– Special to The Press Herald