Domestic violence is a silent scourge prevalent within all California communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or the sex and age of the victim. Last month, the California legislature released figures stating there were 147 domestic violence-related homicide statewide in 2011, of which 129 fatalities were female and 18 male. These so-called “closed door” crimes are more than just family issues . . . they offend the dignity of the community.
Additionally, between 600,000 and 6 million American women will be a victim of domestic violence this year.
The Antelope Valley is definitely not excluded from the problem.
On Sept. 30, Matthew Albert Worthen, 23, of Palmdale was charged with one count each of murder and assault on a child after fatally beating his girlfriend’s daughter, 2-year-old Zanai Noel, in their apartment on Sept. 22 while she ran errands. In May, a Palmdale couple, Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, were charged with capital murder in the torture and beating death of the woman’s 8-year-old son, Gabriel.
These are examples of the full spectrum of domestic violence.
Although the Antelope Valley is somewhat sparsely populated compared to other regions of Los Angeles County, the Sheriff’s Department reported 41 incidents of “offense against family” crimes in 2009, leading to nine arrests. Lancaster during that period had 154 such cases, leading to 20 adults arrested. Confronting and shedding light on domestic violence is at the forefront today because of heightened awareness by the community and through the efforts of organizations like Valley Oasis.
This organization seeks to eliminate domestic violence through community awareness, intervention, prevention, safe shelter and supportive services. In 2007, their hotline received 2,900 calls requesting assistance and/or guidance regarding domestic violence.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and, although the above numbers may sound shocking, they represent a reduction from decades past when there was less public attention paid to the “family argument,” as well as fewer resources and remedies available to victims. Decades prior, there was less training among law enforcement, the court system and among physicians to recognize and mitigate signs of violence before someone was injured or killed.
The California Women’s Health Survey found in 2009 that approximately 40 percent of California women experience physical “intimate partner” violence in their lifetime. Of those women physically affected by domestic violence, 75 percent of them had children under 18 years living at home. The study also revealed that 113 women died the previous year from domestic violence, representing five percent of all statewide homicides. Law enforcement attests that the domestic violence call is one of the most dangerous they respond to because of confusion, anger, readily available weapons (cutlery, dinnerware, lamps, ash trays, etc.) and, most often, denial that the incident merited a visit by the police.
In 2008, the Criminal Justice Statistics Center, an auspice of the California Department of Justice, reported 174,649 domestic violence-related calls for assistance. Of these calls, 40 percent involved the use of weapons.
Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act 20 years ago, laws have been changed and/or enacted from the federal to local level to improve support services for survivors. Because of an increased awareness of domestic violence, there has been a reported drop in domestic violence homicides and improved training for police, prosecutors and advocates.
Unfortunately, statistics gathered from law enforcement, hospitals and community groups demonstrate that the daily, “private” violence between mates continues amid the cultural shadows of fear, shame and lack of awareness.
California’s Domestic Violence Advisory Council defines domestic violence as a “spectrum” and often a “pattern” of behaviors that includes physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse and/or economic control used by adults or adolescents against their “current or former” intimate partner in an “attempt to exercise power and authority.” These methods of abuse are said to have a had a destructive, harmful effect on individuals, the family and the community.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related assaults and rapes each year. Less than 20 percent of these battered women were believed to have sought medical treatment following the injury.
The Department of Justice, in 2008, reported that young women ages 20-24 years, low-income women and some minorities—particularly Black women of all ages—are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and rape.
Valley Oasis in Palmdale has for 32 years addressed domestic violence with innovative services. They offer a 60-day emergency shelter for victims wishing to immediately flee from the violence; transitional housing is available for women who, often with children, must learn to establish a new, safe household. In this element of the program, residents may live for two years in their own apartments and/or houses and are monitored by trained staff. This aspect of the program has served more than 400 victims of domestic violence; a second transitional housing facility opened in 1999.
Sexual assault services are available as well.
“Kayla’s Place” provides parent-child interactive therapy, while the “Strengthening Young Families” program endeavors to teach life skills to young couples with children.
Valley Oasis will host its fourth annual R.E.V. Ride and Car Show tomorrow, benefiting the center as well as the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station Volunteer Program. Crazy Otto’s restaurant and Antelope Valley Harley Davidson will co-host the event, which will begin at 9 a.m. at the Michael Antonovich Superior Courthouse, 42011 4th Street West, and culminate at Antelope Valley Harley Davidson, 1759 W. Avenue J12 in Lancaster. Food vendors will be present, along with live music, a car raffle and a classic car show.
Valley Oasis offers services to women, men, children, emancipated minors and the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual and Transgender community. Organized in 1981 at the request of Los Angeles County Supervisor Antonovich (Fifth District), Valley Oasis offers a park-like setting consisting of 11 cottages on about two and one-half acres. They serve the entire Antelope Valley as well Bakersfield to the north and the San Fernando Valley to the south.
Other findings from the Domestic Violence Resource Center (2006) found that residents of urban areas demonstrate the highest level of domestic violence. On average, the report stated, more than three women and one man were murdered daily by their intimate or “live-in” partner. The study also suggested that 3.3 to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
According to the National Organization for Women, African American women face higher rates of domestic violence than White women, and American Indian women are victimized at a rate more than double that of women of other races.
The yearly cost of domestic violence, according to a 2006 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approached $10 billion for medical care, mental health services and lost productivity.
Data collected in 2010 by the California Department of Justice (CDOJ) shows that local law enforcement received 166,361 domestic violence calls for assistance.
A 2008 California Women’s Health Survey reported that about six percent of women statewide (641,000) experienced at least one incident of physical or psychological domestic violence during the 12 months prior to its survey.
Nationally, the Department of Justice reported in 2010 that 95 percent of assaults on spouses or ex-spouses were committed by men against women; nearly one-third of the women who seek care from hospital emergency rooms are there for injuries resulting from domestic violence. In 29 percent of the violent crimes against women by lone offenders, the perpetrators were intimates—husbands, former husbands, boyfriends or former boyfriends.
Federal officials reported in 2010 that women from 15 to 44 years were more likely than those of other ages to be victimized by an intimate; this figure includes attacks on women separated from their husbands which was about three times higher than that of divorced women and about 25 times higher than that of married women. Within this scenario, the federal study found that 53 percent of battered women still involved with the perpetrator blamed themselves for causing the violence.
The previous finding lends to the common question of “why do women stay?” According to an August 2013 article published by LiveStrong.com, denial is the most frequent reason. Apparently, after a violent episode, the abusive partner may be extremely apologetic and often swears that the abuse will never happen again. And, for a while, it doesn’t—the perpetrator is on his best behavior. Therefore, women in these types of relationships may convince themselves that the partner “didn’t mean it” and experience denial about their partner’s violent temper.
Then there’s personal history. Some women believe the behavior is normal; in this case, it was explained, many women grew up with an abusive parent (typically the father or male guardian), and had watched their mother endure years of abuse which may lead them to believe that women are expected to tolerate this behavior. Fear is a major factor behind remaining with a violent mate. The abusive spouse sometimes convinces the woman that he will injure or kill her, the children, loved ones or even pets if she finally walks out. The victim may also fear being stalked or harassed at work and, alternately, the abuser may threaten to kill himself if she leaves.
Other factors, the federal study indicated, involved in the reluctance to leave the abuser include, lack of a support system (”Where will I go?”); lack of money—particularly if children are involved—because the woman has become economically dependent on the abuser; feelings of guilt (often the woman believes the abuser simply needs help psychologically and will remain loyal despite the situation); religious beliefs which reinforce the commitment to marriage; and also a disbelief within society concerning battered women. In this last instance, many people are said to turn a “deaf ear” to marital violence, believing that what goes on behind “closed doors” is a private matter.
Convincing the woman that she is in danger, say experts, can be the most difficult aspect of combating domestic violence.
“Many battered women, having been systematically abused by our partners, perceive that there is no way out of the relationship,” said Lenore E. Walker, Ph.D., and considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on “battered women’s syndrome.” In 1979, she authored the book “The Battered Person” where she stated that there are distinct phases within an abusive relationship. “First, there is the tension-building phase, followed by the explosion or an acute battering incident, culminating in a calm, loving respite—often referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ phase.
Walker elaborated that wives/girlfriends often receive positive reinforcement during this “honeymoon” phase, adding that women tend to be the peacekeepers in relationships. Women, she wrote, feel they are ultimately responsible for making the marriage work. Walker said some women simply lack the psychological energy to leave, resulting in a “learned helplessness” or a “mental paralysis.”
Studies conducted in 2008 by the CDOJ found that even if it is a neighbor who reports the incident, the batterer may take it out on the victim. Often when police come, the study found, the victim will not admit the beating. Sometimes the batterer is otherwise a well-respected or mild-mannered person, therefore the woman may not believe her concerns will be taken seriously.
The oft-mentioned “Stockholm” or “Hostage” syndrome occurs when many women feel they are locked into a violent relationship with no escape. These women are said to be intensely grateful for small kindnesses shown by the abuser; they deny their own anger at the abuser; they are hyper-vigilant to the abuser’s needs and dote constantly on the abuser to keep them happy. Sometimes they make an attempt to “get inside” the batterer’s head to understand why they must physically harm their mate. Also, the abused woman will frequently view outside authorities trying to help them as “bad guys” and view the abuser as the protector.
Locally, the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council, and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, have taken steps to provide leadership in the creation and support of victim/survivor services that address intimate partner violence.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the former group in 1979, comprised of members from shelter agencies, community groups, the courts, law enforcement, both the district and city attorney offices, as well as the department of health services to raise awareness of services and to develop strategies within the public and private sectors. The council conducts public awareness campaigns and offers training in spotting domestic violence within the county.
The bar association operates its own Domestic Violence Project (DVP) which, last month, hosted more than 70 volunteers (primarily assistant district attorneys and police and sheriff’s detectives) at Los Angeles and Pasadena superior courts to interview clients and to assist them in completion of legal documents to obtain a restraining order—a necessary step, officials say, in handling domestic violence situations.
A number of female LAPD detectives participated by sharing their experiences while responding to 911 calls for domestic violence victims. They also explained the dangers faced by the families and also the risks to law enforcement.
Vital to this effort are the assistant district attorneys who must prosecute the offender. DVP volunteers commit to a pair of three-hour sessions per month for seven months, and help the victims on a one-to-one basis vent their concerns and instruct them how to file certain court orders, such as “stay away,” “move out,” and child custody directives. A number of paralegals and law students also volunteer with DVP.
“It is a sad sight to see the line of people waiting at the DVP every day of the week,” said Deborah Kelly, directing attorney for the DVP. “I get no greater satisfaction than knowing that when I volunteer at DVP, I am able to help someone stand up and not be a victim.”
Kelly is referring to the lines of women who show up weekly at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown. They often arrive in fear, some injured, many with small children. They are either referred by shelters, by social workers or, sometimes, simply show up on their own seeking safety. Attorney-volunteer Jennifer Jasgur said, “What is accomplished through the clinic is great work. It’s not always easy, but helping even one person makes it worthwhile.”
Domestic violence takes its toll on teenagers, as well. According to a 2011 report issued by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three teenagers and young adults will experience some form of domestic violence/dating abuse. Teen dating violence, according to the California Student Survey conducted in 2008, shows that at least one incident of physical dating violence was reported by 5.2 percent of ninth graders and 8.2 percent of 11th graders. Among the students who had a boy/girlfriend, the rates of dating violence were 8.8 percent in 9th grade, and 12.8 percent in 11th grade. In a study of college students, the report found that 27.5 percent of the women surveyed said that they had suffered rape or attempted rape at least once since age 14. Only five percent of those experiences, the respondents admitted, were reported to police.
The Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which is part of the, Centers for Disease Control has coined the term “hidden rape” because their survey and many other studies found that sexual assaults among teens and young adults are seldom reported to the police.
A rally called “Unmasquerade” will take place Oct. 23 from 8 p.m. to midnight at the club Avalon-Hollywood located at 1735 N. Vine St., Los Angeles, to shed light on a growing trend of youthful battering.
On a national level, purple is the color organizers suggest young people wear on Oct. 25 to demonstrate solidarity in helping to honor victims and support domestic violence survivors. The event will mark the seventh year that the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence has urged adults and young people to become more aware of intimate partner violence.
Additionally, from Oct. 28-30, the Clothesline Project will appear at the National Mall where survivors will tell their stories of abuse and demonstrate empowerment through art on T-shirts that will be displayed on a giant clothesline held by victim advocates and volunteers.
Women’sHealth.gov, operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that an outside party can help end violence against women. The site suggests taking the following actions:
- Call the police, if you see or hear evidence of domestic violence;
- Support a friend or family member who may be in an abusive relationship. Learn more about how to help;
- Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter or other organizations that helps survivors or works to prevent violence;
- Rear children to respect others. Teach them to treat others as they would like to be treated;
- Lead by example. Work to create a culture that rejects violence as a way to deal with problems. Speak up against messages that say violence or mistreating women is okay;
- Become an activist. Participate in an anti-violence event such as “National Night Out;”
- Volunteer in youth programs. Become a mentor and get involved in programs that teach young people to solve problems without violence;
- Ask about anti-violence policies and programs at work and at school.
Most importantly, Women’sHealth.gov stresses that if you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to create a safety plan. Learn a way to leave an abuser. Discuss with trusted friends and loved ones how they can help deal with this emergency. Get suggestions on safe places to go, such as a shelter or the home of a friend or family member where the abuser may not look. Learn more about a court order of protection, which requires that the abuser stay away from you or risk immediate arrest.
For more details about Valley Oasis, call (661) 949-1916. To help obtain a domestic violence restraining order in Los Angeles County, call (213) 243-1525. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233). The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline is (866) 331-9794.