Editorial: Domestic violence shocking here and everywhere

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The statistics are a gut punch. In 2016, an American woman has been shot and killed by a spouse, ex-spouse or dating partner every 14 hours.

Every 14 hours.

That’s 513 women killed this year alone at the hand of someone who allegedly loves them.

This data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is shocking — or ought to be.

One in three women and one in four men have experienced some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. If we stand on the street corner and count the first 10 people who pass by, statistically, three or four of them has lived through this horrible situation.

It’s even more sad when we think about the children. The Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in 15 children has seen violence directed toward a parent or a loved one.

At times, the kid is the target of the violence.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It springs from a “Day of Unity” that was held 35 years ago this month. Originally the idea, according to the coalition website, was to mourn those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrate those who have survived it and connect those who work to end it.

But five years before that, in 1976, the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, or NELCWIT, opened its first outreach office in Franklin County. Staffed in the beginning by volunteers, NELCWIT now has professional staff and provides its services free of charge to people of all genders and sexual orientations.

We are fortunate to have NELCWIT in Franklin County. Those needing help are not calling some random 800 number. The number for help, 24/7, is 413-772-0806.

Safe Passage in Northampton offers shelter, counseling and other support for victims of domestic violence in Hampshire County. It also offers a hotline 24/7 at 413-586-5066, or toll-free at 888-345-5282.

And the Center for Women & Community at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers sexual assault prevention and support services to the Five College campuses as well as residents throughout Hampshire County. Its 24-hour hotline is available at 413-545-0800, or toll-free at 888-337-0800.

In September, the Northwestern district attorney’s office hosted a conference attended by about 175 people representing social service programs, the courts and law enforcement which focused on non-fatal strangulation cases. Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said the session in Hadley focused attention on the severity of domestic violence.

“The majority of our domestic violence cases have involved non-fatal strangulation,” Sullivan said.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month does not have the cultural appeal that Breast Cancer Awareness does. While both are held during October, the pink ribbons for breast-cancer awareness far exceed the number of purple ribbons for domestic-violence awareness. There aren’t purple ribbons on cereal boxes or T-shirts, and few high school teams wear purple socks during games to bring attention to the cause.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about. But we have to talk about it.

There are signs in Northampton that proclaim the city to be a domestic-violence-free zone since January 2003. That symbolism is strong. It is an outward and visible sign that we want our neighbors to be safe in their homes and in their relationships. It is a sign that we stand with those who have suffered. It is a sign that here, there is safety in the light, and such behaviors will not be tolerated.

This month of awareness comes to an end on Tuesday, with November’s arrival. If we are to have a chance at helping the victims and preventing future instances of domestic violence, though, we shouldn’t allow our focus to fade with the turn of a calendar page.