This will be a somewhat personal post. I received a telephone call yesterday…out of the blue. The caller was from the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office. He explained to me that a former partner of mine had been charged with domestic violence in Sonoma County, and he wanted to know if I would be willing to testify against this man, who had victimized me back in 2001. Yes, that is correct. In 2001, my partner became violent with me. I was stunned. I was a Registered Nurse who regularly screened patients for signs and symptoms of domestic violence. I was a Family Therapy Intern who had taken training in counseling victims of domestic violence. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. But it did.
The good news back then and still today is that I called 911 and an arrest was made. Now the DA was asking me if the police report from back then was an accurate accounting of the events of that night.
“Yes, I was honest and I did not exaggerate or minimize what happened” is what I told him. He explained that current case-law allows prosecutors to bring past charges as evidence in domestic violence cases to build a case for a pattern of behavior which is dangerous. He asked me to consider testifying in court against my former partner.
This conversation caught me off guard. It did happen out of the blue. I had not given a thought to that event in years .That happened twelve years ago. In the interim, I had met, fallen in love with, and married my husband. I had discovered the joy of a truly healthy and mutually respectful relationship. Now I was face to face with the reality that I had at one time been a victim of domestic violence, and that some stranger in Sonoma County, California had recently suffered at the hands of the same man. How can this be?
The answer to that is not simple. Let me present some facts about domestic violence. DV, or intimate partner violence, happens in all communities, all socio-economic classes, and all cultures. One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. The highest risk age group for DV is 20-24. One in three women who have experienced domestic violence will be murdered. Children who witness domestic violence are 30-60% more likely to suffer neglect or abuse. And children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk for a multitude of health problems, including frequent stomach aches and headaches, and increased rates of infections. And the most frightening statistic of all: most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the authorities. (Statistics provided from www.safehorizon.com).
There is not a simple answer to the question, “Why?” But let me address my experience. Was the event that caused me to call 911 something that happened “Out of the blue”? Most definitely not. I was in a new relationship after being single for 6 years. I had known the person for a few months. There were red flags and warning signs early on. Like many people in new relationships, I ignored those warning signs. The good news is that I knew enough to call 911 the first (and last) time that it happened. I was not a repeat victim.
If you have been a victim of domestic violence or you know someone who has, don’t remain silent.
There is help available. Do not believe the perpetrator when he or she promises that it will never happen again. Do not accept any blame. There is no reason anyone ever deserves to be hit, or kicked, or shoved, or any other type of physical abuse. If there is emotional abuse in your relationship, and or a pattern of chronic substance abuse, be alert because these are often contributors to domestic violence. Do not ignore early warning signs, but more importantly, do not remain silent if this is happening to you now. Seek help. There are resources in most communities in the US.
There is a national Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233, and website: www.ndvh.org. In San Benito County: Community Solutions Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault has a 24 hour crisis hotline: 1-877-363-7238. You can also contact San Benito County’s Victim Witness Program, through the District Attorney’s Office 419 Fourth Street, Hollister, CA 95023. In an emergency always call 911.
Will I testify? I’m not sure. I am still trying to work through that issue. It is a highly personal and private decision, and there are many factors for me to weigh. Aside from the personal turmoil of bringing up unpleasantness from the past, there is the issue of travel and time off from work. Because I feel strongly about the need to speak up regarding this issue, it will not be an easy decision for me to make. I will give it my careful consideration.