AND THEN AGAIN……by Tamara Pettit

October is Domestic Violence month.  That’s why you see the purple ribbon as well as the pink ribbon. I think the fact that October is breast cancer awareness month often overshadows domestic violence awareness month.  But while breast cancer is predominantly a woman’s issue, domestic violence is every human’s problem.   You see it just doesn’t touch the person being abused, it touches the kids who live in a family where violence is a constant threat, it touches an overburdened human services and educational system that will not only deal with the child, but the teenager and eventually adult who know only violence as the answer to life’s problems.

….Basically, Domestic Violence is everyone’s problem.  I was maybe 11 years old when I realized what a complex issue it was.  As a Justice of the Peace, my Dad issued “Peace Warrants” to order the offender to stay away from the victim.  Charges could also be filed if the victim had been injured.   Domestic violence rarely happens within a traditional workday and Dad had an office in this house where I live now.  The deputies, city police or State police always knew Dad was available 24 hours a day to issue a peace bond.

…….I saw many women (and yes, they were all women) come to that office downstairs. One victim, however is etched in my memory. She lived down the road in a nice house and her husband had a good job in the mill. Her baby sister was one of my best friends. Yet she showed up at our door repeatedly, beaten to a pulp…..her eyes blackened, her lips and nose bleeding and sometimes her bones broken.  Her parents just lived up in New Manchester and Dad would call them.  They would come and get her and take her home with them.

…….And, the next day still bruised and battered she would go back to her husband.  You see, not only did he promise never to do it again, but he also threatened  to kill himself if she ever left him.

……. As my Dad filled out repeated Peace Bonds, he was frustrated and his patience was wearing thin.  But, not as thin as her mom and dad’s patience. They were desperate and at their wits’ end as to how to get their daughter and grandchildren out of rapidly escalating situation.  On their final trip to pick her up at our house, they told her it was the last time they would come to her rescue.  If she went back to him, she would be on her own.  It worked. She didn’t go back.  Problem solved, right?

…..Wrong.  Several days later her parents took her home to pick up her and the kids’ belongings.    But, when they opened the garage door, the husband was hanging from the beam     True to his word, he had killed himself.

…..This was the early sixties and when word emerged about the suicide, public opinion turned against her.  She took her kids and moved away.

……Even as an 11-year-old, I could see Domestic Violence was not a simplistic problem.  The average victim is beaten seven times before leaving and although the ability to support her children is a factor in a lot, domestic violence does not discriminate touching all economic circumstances.

…..When I went into the legislature one of the first bills I sponsored required emergency rooms to report domestic violence even if the victims refuse to do so.  I received two phone calls against the bill from my constituents.   One from a minister who said a man had the right to discipline his wife and children and one from an attorney who said what went on inside a man’s house was not anyone else’s business.  This was in 1990. Evidently in 30 years we had made little progress in some areas.

…..CHANGE, Inc. was successful in obtaining a licensed domestic violence center “The Lighthouse” which provides shelter to both the victim and children. Obtaining the license was a fight because the State funding was divided among the existing shelters and adding one more reduced the funding for those already licensed. The challenges weren’t over. Just as we were ready to open we found the house needed a new roof.  Mountaineer’s then CEO, Ted Arneault, responded immediately with the full amount needed. Since the location of the shelter and the identity of those whose lives may have been saved and whose futures for them and their children started on a new is confidential, the public will never really appreciate the impact of that shelter. But, those of us who worked to make it happen know the impact it had on many.

…. The State of West Virginia has stepped up its fight against Domestic Violence by creating a database against offenders.  The latest data I could access in 2020 found 19 domestic violence homicides by gun.   Probably the most effective billboard campaign against Domestic Violence simply stated that if you commit domestic violence, you lose your gun.

……What can we do?  Be vigilant if you see something amiss.   A 24-hour local hot line is maintained by the Lighthouse at 304-797-7233.  Victims should be aware that, if possible, when you flee, take your insurance card, Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, etc. with you.

……And, remember Domestic Violence is everyone’s problem and the more we can do to prevent it the better society becomes.