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Wednesday, October 17, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 40



    Crimes of Silence

    By Nikki Dowdy
    Daily Cougar Staff

    November is Adoption Awareness Month. August is Immunization Awareness Month. There's even Math Awareness Month in April.

    In the midst of all these more or less worthy causes, what makes National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October important enough to notice?

    When more women are admitted to emergency rooms for domestic violence-related injuries than for rape, muggings and car accidents combined (according to Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse), it's time to start paying attention.

    "Domestic violence affects at least 50 percent of our population -- it's an epidemic," said Dr. Cecilia Sun, a psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services at UH.

    "Many people, especially younger adults, tend to assume that domestic violence doesn't apply to them and couldn't happen to them," she said. "Although most domestic violence survivors are women, and most perpetrators are men, it affects everyone -- and all age groups."

    Between 25 and 40 percent of teenagers have reported being assaulted by a date, Sun said. The U.S. Department of Justice has reported that at least one out of every four women will suffer violence from a boyfriend or husband at some time in their lives. Women of all races are equally affected.

    In fact, 30 percent of all murdered women die at the hands of an intimate partner.

    Domestic Violence Awareness Month is one of many attempts to curb the cycle of violence before it reaches this drastic end. Levels of violence tend to escalate in abusive relationships, so informing women as well as men of warning signs and providing options for early intervention is critical.

    A domestic violence handbook produced by the Department of Justice warns that not all abusive relationships involve physical harm in the beginning.

    Signs of emotional and verbal abuse -- putdowns, name-calling and other manipulative behaviors designed to undermine a person's confidence and self-esteem -- are often the first signals that a partner has dangerous potential.

    Extreme jealousy or possessiveness is another red flag.

    "If your partner always checks up on you, criticizes you, or tries to isolate you from your family and friends, that is harmful behavior," Sun said. "Look at how your partner treats other people and objects, and how he or she handles conflict. If this person always seems to blame others for his or her problems, you need to watch out."

    Those who have friends in abusive relationships need to offer their support, first and foremost, she said. The most common response to abuse ("Why doesn't she just leave?") ignores many of the problems facing victim of abuse. Often, economic, social or personal reasons, renders them unable or too scared to flee immediately.

    "Stand by your friends and make sure they get help," Sun said. "Support them, show them their worth, and show them there are options. Try to get them to talk about it. Admitting the problem is a huge first step in solving it."

    Once a victim is able to acknowledge he or she is in an abusive situation, the Department of Justice recommends developing a plan to ensure his or her safety (and possibly, that of any children) until he or she can leave.

    "We help people figure out where they could go and what they would need to take if a situation escalated quickly," Sun said. "For instance, it's important to know at all times where the keys, IDs and some money can be found. They also need to know where the local shelters, hotels or trusted relatives' houses are."

    Convincing victims to reach out for help -- perhaps the hardest part of domestic violence prevention -- is the only way to end the cycle of violence. As startling as the figures may be, available statistics actually under-represent the true situation because many of these crimes go unreported.

    "These are crimes of silence," Sun said. "Victims are often embarrassed, ashamed and sometimes feel like they deserve the abuse, like they've failed in some way. Many cultures frown on women reporting this violence. Also, when the violence occurs in a same-sex relationship, that additional stigma can keep them from finding a way out."

    If you feel you may be in an abusive relationship, you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE or visit the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at UH, located in the Student Service Center. CAPS offers free counseling and workshops to all UH students, and all services are entirely confidential.

    During October, UH is joining the effort to help domestic violence victims by participating in the "Harvest of Hope" food and clothing drive supporting Houston-area women's shelters. Drop boxes can be found at various locations on campus.

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