[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 29, 2005

Domestic abuse: We won’t tolerate this

Shhhh. Quiet. Can you hear their cries" Look, look closely. Can you see their wounds"

They are all around us. Most of us can’t see them. Many of them don’t want to be seen. They try to fit in, to get by, to remain unnoticed. They are bruised; they are weeping. And we are looking away. We have stopped our ears.

They are battered women.

They are right here in our midst and we are as good at looking away as they are at pretending not to be hurt.

"What are those bruises""

"I’m so clumsy, I fell down the stairs."

Almost weekly, reports of domestic violence occur among the arrests we compile for our blotters column. But the subjects don’t want to talk about it.

They fear they’ll be hurt more. They fear the community will condemn them.

Recently, a brave woman from Guilderland told us her story. She says she has been abused by her husband for years. She finally got the courage to leave him a decade ago.

"I thought, how much worse can it be leaving" I’d rather be dead than live like this," she said.

But the abuse didn’t stop; it took on a different, and unusual, form.

We examined police and court records which bore out her claims — that her ex-husband has been stalking her and making false reports about her to the police. Child Protective Services and local police have used many valuable hours — hours that could have been better spent protecting those who really need it — checking out the unfounded allegations.

The hunted woman told us to use her name, even her picture, to tell her story; she has had enough, she said. We talked to experts who said this could cause her ex-husband to do her even more serious harm. We decided to withhold their names.

But we are running the story — covering our entire front page, and on inside pages besides. Why"

We, as a society, need to wake up. Until we delved into this woman’s story, we didn’t fully understand how prevalent and destructive domestic abuse is. In our country, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 — more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Stories about those tragedies are found all the time in front-page headlines, even when there aren’t fatalities. But where are the stories on domestic abuse"

The majority of incidents are never reported or discussed.

That’s what we need to change. We’re beginning by putting this story in black and white, where the community can see it.

If you are an abused woman reading this now, we want you to know you can get help. You are not alone. A first step can be calling the Equinox hotline at 432-7865; it is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Equinox Inc. on Central Avenue in Albany offers victims of abuse emotional support, legal advice, and a place to stay. It’s the main source for domestic violence help in Albany County.

There are safe havens closer to home, too. In the Hilltowns, a non-profit group runs the Helderberg Interfaith Community Safe Haven, providing temporary housing and appropriate services for those in need; the Safe Haven can be accessed through the State Troopers at 477-9333.

It is important to take that first step.

"If you’re a battered woman and you want abuse to stop and the abuser doesn’t want it to stop, you have to leave," said Kathy Magee, the department director of domestic violence services at Equinox. But she knows it’s not easy. "You have to leave your home, all your things, your relationships."

Years of physical and emotional abuse make it hard for victims to make changes.

As friends and neighbors of victims, we can be alert for signs of abuse and offer support. If you see an arrest on our blotters page from a household you know, why not quietly alert the woman to this story, or share the hotline number" Let her know someone cares.

Too often, battered women have become isolated and feel they have nowhere to turn for help.

Recognizing the problem is a first step, but many more steps are needed.

If a husband wants to beat up his wife, it’s his business — that used to be a prevalent attitude in our society, and still dominates in some places in the world. We are all hurt by such an attitude.

Children learn from their parents, they suffer terribly, and the cycle of violence goes on. Half the men who often abuse their wives also often abuse their children. Men who have witnessed violence between their parents are three times more likely to abuse their own wives and children, and the sons of the most violent parents are a thousand times more likely to become batterers.

"Things shouldn’t be just between the abuser and the victim," said Magee. "The state needs to say, ‘We won’t tolerate this.’"

Since we live in a democracy, we the people are the state.

We won’t tolerate this.

We need to make legislative changes and we need to enforce what is already law.

Orders of protection are fairly easy to obtain but are tough to enforce. Around-the-clock security is not an option for average citizens.

"An order of protection says ‘stay away,’ but that doesn’t mean it will keep the abuser away," said Magee.

It’s particularly discouraging if overcrowded courts allow offenders to plea down charges for violating orders of protection or fail to sentence them. When the police caught the ex-husband of the Guilderland woman violating an order of protection, the charges, heard in Guilderland Town Court, were adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, meaning if he is not arrested again in six months his case will be dismissed.

Also, an entry that ran in our blotters column indicated the ex-husband caused a false report to be made about his ex-wife, yet he was not arrested for this.

And, the woman called and wrote the district attorney’s office, but got no response — not even the courtesy of a phone call. She feels the system has let her down, and we believe it has.

There was a time in our country when drunk drivers could similarly slip through the cracks in the system, but strong campaigns and consistent lobbying, backed by raised public awareness, have made stiff penalties the norm.

The same could happen here.

Albany County’s district attorney, David Soares, told our reporter Nicole Fay Barr that other jurisdictions are light years ahead of Albany County in responding to domestic violence. We hope Soares implements his ideas to coordinate communication among police departments and courts. It could save lives.

Soares also said that victims in Albany County don’t get the support they need. A woman who has been assaulted may cooperate with the district attorney right after the assault, but then, especially if her husband is the sole breadwinner, he said, "When she realizes that she doesn’t have a place to live or rent and food and she’s got a child to support...she’s less inclined to prosecute and work with us."

We need to put that support system in place.

There’s been much discussion and debate in our state legislature about requiring sex offenders to wear monitoring devices once released from prison; batterers are far more likely to repeat their crimes, and on the same victim. Why not require such surveillance of paroled batterers"

As it stands now, the victims are the ones who are penalized — having to uproot their lives and hide for their safety and survival.

The silent suffering is continuing all around us.

"I’m living like a petrified cockroach and he’s trying to stomp me," the Guilderland woman told us.

Let’s act before the next victim is killed.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

[Return to Home Page]