“No,” the mother says emphatically. “He doesn’t hit me.”
“How did you hurt your arm?”
“I fell yesterday. It was wet after the rain.” She looks away.
Good answer, except it didn’t rain yesterday. We sit in silence for a long minute; then she speaks. “My children,” she says, almost whispering. “I worry about my children. He is so mean to them.”
And then her story unfolds—a story like so many others here in Western North Carolina.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Asheville-Buncombe Coalition for the Prevention of Family Violence hopes you’ll take some time to get educated, get angry—and get active about family violence in our community.
* * *
“Has he been arrested before for hurting you?”
“No, just prayer for judgment.”
“No; he never went.”
* * *
Pisgah Legal Services sees this sort of thing all the time. According to their records, the agency completed 813 domestic-violence cases last year, which helped protect and improve the lives of 2,013 people (854 adults and 1,159 children). The agency’s attorneys helped domestic-violence victims secure 259 restraining orders last year.
Also in Buncombe County, Helpmate provided long-term shelter for 83 women and 56 children in 2006-07, and short-term, emergency shelter for 3,191 others, as well as handling 799 crisis calls.
Our VOICE, another Buncombe County agency, provides crisis counseling and support for women who’ve been sexually assaulted. Just imagine what these groups could do with better funding.
Statewide, about 17 percent of sexual-assault victims are under 14 years old, and nearly 50 percent are between 15 and 30 years old, according to the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
I could go on. And on. But after awhile, the statistics don’t mean much; we become numb to the tragedy and pain they represent.
The sad truth is that in this part of North Carolina, there’s little concern about domestic violence or protection for its victims. Too often, the court system taps offenders on the wrist. Too often, law enforcement merely winks at offenders or pats them on the back—and sends them home to do more damage.
Even when there is treatment, there’s often little accountability and rarely any follow-up. Treatment methods tend to focus narrowly on short-term “behavior change,” which barely begins to touch the levels of change needed.
In Charlotte in 2005, only 2 percent of domestic-violence calls resulted in an arrest, according to Coercive Control, a new book by Evan Stark (Oxford University Press, 2007).
“If we assume that 10 percent of the men arrested are prosecuted, that half of this group is convicted of a crime, and that 5 percent of those convicted get jail time (again, many times higher than the conviction and imprisonment rate in Charlotte), this would mean that there is just a bit better than a 1 in 10,000 chance that the perpetrator of any given incident of partner abuse will go to jail.
“And this is the most optimistic scenario. A more realistic estimate is that about 1 incident in 100,000 ends with imprisonment,” Stark writes.
This is an epidemic as surely as AIDS, but there’s no drug to cure this rampaging disease. Instead, we’re left to deal with the aftermath of family violence: broken families, broken psyches, broken children, broken lives. Maiming. Murder.
One area of family violence in Asheville that’s just starting to get attention is sexual slavery. Emily Fitchpatrick, president of On Eagles Wings Ministries/The Hope House Project, is seeking to build a sanctuary here for people sold, kidnapped or coerced into sexual slavery.
“Twelve is the average age of entry into pornography and prostitution,” she notes. Nationwide, “as many as 2.8 million children live on the streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.”
These modern slaves, who are often fleeing family violence, work in strip joints, on street corners and in public spaces such as Pritchard Park. They are for sale: bodies for sale. Meat. Not really human, just cavities for sex.
Tell THEM it’s a victimless crime.
The demeaning, degrading and disgusting behavior of family violence touches us all. And our lack of outrage makes each of us guilty of aiding and abetting these crimes. The victims’ damaged lives are the living expression of our cowardly silence.
* * *
“During the day, we’re fine, me and the children. We get along; they play.
“But as soon as he comes home, they scatter to their rooms and hide. He tells me I’m worth nothing, and I guess now I believe he’s right.”
Stephen Snow, a licensed professional counselor in Asheville, is co-facilitator of the Asheville-Buncombe Coalition for the Prevention of Family Violence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.