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Family Violence Demands A Community Response

From – Progressive Woman

June, 1999

By: Leigh Joy Carson

Brandishing of guns…broken bones…stab wounds…even death…the stories are gruesome:  These are the stories of family violence that are told to jerk us out of our complacency, our feeling that family violence“ doesn’t happen in my neighborhood,” our indifference to the issues.  Instead of getting our attention, however, sometimes these stories make it easier to ignore the violence, as they seem so preposterous and so unlikely. Moreover, they are so grotesque as to almost demand that we find a way to deny their applicability to our own lives, to our own community.

Hearings on Applications for Orders of Protection in cases involving alleged adult abuse and alleged child abuse are held almost every day, and the stories that these women tell are harder to ignore.  The woman who testifies before the Judge, whispering and trembling, is well dressed and articulate and she is from University City or Florissant or Ballwin or Oakville.  She does not have a broken arm, but she has a broken spirit.  You sit and you listen and you see that it has taken all that she has to appear this day and to tell her story.

The person she has accused of abuse is close enough to touch her, to grab her arm, to call her stupid and lazy and worthless.  She tells of being locked out of the house and threatened and slapped.  She is your neighbor, your son’s teacher, the clerk at the bookstore who always tells you to have a nice day, your accountant, your friend.

Even harder to imagine is the man who has been controlled and abused.  It is far harder for him to ask for help.  Yet he, too, deserves our sympathy and, more importantly, our help.

On April 13, 1999, a Symposium on Family Violence was held at Graham Chapel at the Washington University.  Almost 300 people attended. Nurses, priests, psychologists, rabbis, social workers, attorneys and students gathered to learn about the epidemic of family violence.  This was the first step of a long journey.

Family violence is unpleasant and it is a difficult issue to address.  More police won’t necessarily make the difference, nor will more laws.  It takes more pastors like the one in Florissant who puts folders about ALIVE and the Women’s Self Help Center and the child abuse hotline in the ladies restroom and wipes away a tear when she has to refill the racks almost every month.  It takes a friend who is patient and supportive and non-judgmental.  It takes more attorneys like those who volunteer to work with no pay, representing women who seek orders of protection.  It takes more Judges like Tom Frawley, who inspired a group of family law attorneys to not only lend their financial support, but more importantly to devote their time and their energy to this educational Symposium.  It takes public officials like Dee Joyce Hayes, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis and Colonel Ron Henderson, Chief of Police for the City of St. Louis, who gave their time not only by speaking at the event but talking with the media and the attendees at the program.