Domestic Violence: Hidden tragedies afflict affluent communities as well, leaving lasting scarsUploaded: Oct 22, 2015
A deeply qualified panel of speakers will explore the often hidden tragedies, and crimes, of domestic violence in affluent communities next week.
The tragedies range from physical violence, almost always against women, to long-lasting psychological scars on both the direct targets and children in "DV" homes, using the shorthand for domestic violence. Children raised in DV-afflicted homes are at vastly greater risk of being victims of physical violence themselves statistically show lifetime psychological and health effects, including becoming abusers themselves, a tragic inheritance.
The panel will be next Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the El Palo Alto Room of the Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road in south Palo Alto. It is free and open to anyone from any community, but its focus will be on the affluent communities, where financial resources can become a screen that can hide and protect abusers from legal consequences.
It is sponsored by the City of Palo Alto's Human Relations Commission, spearheaded by new commissioner Shelly Gordon (see Palo Alto Weekly story at http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2015/10/08/summit-to-spotlight-domestic-violence-in-palo-alto).
The panel is entitled, "Domestic Violence -- It Couldn't Happen Here, Could It?" It will be moderated by Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, head of the Intimate Partner Violence Taskforce, will deliver the keynote address.
This is the first in a series of HRC-sponsored forums "designed to raise awareness about sensitive issues that are not always acknowledged or discussed in the community," according to panel organizer Shelly Gordon, who joined the HRC in June.
The forum "will give residents a safe place to talk openly about this difficult subject. The goal is to connect attendees with local resources that can help them, whether they are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is," Gordon said.
"More importantly, Palo Altans can band together as a community to help each other end domestic violence here at home."
Last January, a center specifically focused on services for abused women in affluent communities moved from Los Altos to Palo Alto. The center was founded by Ruth Patrick, a member of the Oct. 28 panel (see Weekly story at http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2015/01/09/palo-alto-gets-new-center-for-domestic-violence-services).
In addition, the Weekly did a dramatically compelling cover story on Oct. 30, 2009, a collection of articles that included resources for DV victims, as well as a vivid description of one woman's situation (see http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2009/10/30/no-way-out; http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2009/10/30/its-palo-altos-problem-too; http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2009/10/30/how-to-help; http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2009/10/30/where-to-turn-for-help; http://www.paloaltoonline.com/print/story/2009/10/30/do-hard-times-mean-more-domestic-violence).
The cover story, printed almost six years to the day ago, conveys an overriding message:
Help is available!
But fear of physical and/or financial retaliation, and shame, are huge barriers to a victim (almost always a woman) seeking help.
The seriousness of DV is underscored by some extra-grim statistics: There have been five DV-related deaths in Palo Alto alone over the past 20 years, with 10 deaths in neighboring Los Altos Hills -- compared to zero deaths in Mountain View and Menlo Park.
But those are the exception to an almost epidemic level. In 2014, for instance, there were 96 "domestic violence" calls, resulting in 38 calls that resulted in a domestic-violence police report. Many of the calls came from women who reported being subjected to DV for more than two years. And such calls are considered the most dangerous calls to which a police officer needs to respond, including armed robberies.
An added tragedy is that 75 percent of DV-pattern homes have children under 18 in the household, and children in such homes are an estimated 1,500 times more apt to be subjected to violence themselves, according to panel organizer Gordon, who joined the Human Relations commission last June.
While focused on affluent communities, the panel is open free to anyone from any community, regardless of economic status, Gordon emphasized.
Protecting one's children can be a huge motivator in a woman taking action relating to domestic violence, even though many direct victims may not know the lifelong impacts being a witness to the violence can have on children of any age.
A woman I know personally, and have known since she was a teenager, broke from an abusive marriage only after her husband slammed their pre-teen son against a wall. But she was unable to collect court-awarded damages from her well-off husband and suffered economically.
Patrick is founder and director of WomenSV (Silicon Valley), a program serving victims of domestic violence in middle- to upper-income areas. Ruth's program was incubated by the Los Altos Community Foundation and recently moved from Family and Children Services over to another non-profit, the Domestic Violence Intervention Collaborative (DVIC) in San Jose. She trains therapists, law enforcement and medical staff and does public presentations about forms domestic violence and abuse take in more affluent areas, and consults for attorneys and therapists.
In addition to Patrick, panelists include:
* Clarissa Hamilton, supervising deputy district attorney for the Palo Alto Branch Office, where she has held various positions for 15 years prosecuting North County crimes, as well as supervising the Family Justice Center, which coordinates services for domestic violence victims.
* Julie Saffren, an attorney who focuses on domestic violence, and a former staff attorney at Support Network for Battered Women, who trains attorneys, judges and mental health professionals on DV issues statewide. She also chairs the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council, and teaches a seminar on domestic violence and family law at the Santa Clara University School of Law.
* Melissa Luke, program manager of Asian Women's Home, the domestic violence and human-trafficking program of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI). She is a second-generation Chinese-American, and previously served on the the steering committee of the Santa Clara County Collaborative on Affordable Housing and Homeless Issues. She currently serves on leadership teams of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium of Santa Clara County and the YWCA Mid-Peninsula Donor Advised Fund, and is a commissioner on the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council.
* Richard Ferry, a marriage and family therapist with a private practice in San Jose. He co-founded the Men's Counseling Program at the Mid-Peninsula Support Network in Mountain View in 1981, served as men's therapist until 1984 and clinical supervisor until 1991. Since 1992 he has provided expert witness testimony about domestic violence in more than 110 criminal cases and since 2000 he has done psychological assessments of victims of domestic violence in more than 30 civil and criminal cases.
Rarely has a stronger panel been assembled, on any topic, making this forum a powerful investment of one's time and attention.
Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at [email protected] He also writes regular columns for the Weekly's print edition.