Problem rips apart fabric that binds a family

October 13, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The numbers tell a grim story.

· Almost 4 million American women were battered by their husbands and boyfriends in the last year.

· A woman is physically abused every 9 seconds in the country.

· More than half of marriages in the United States involve at least one incident of battering.

· Six thousand women die each year as a result of domestic violence.

Such statistics, supplied by the Center for Family Solutions of the Imperial Valley and national sources, portray a problem that has torn at the fabric of the family. And the Imperial Valley has far from escaped such crimes.

In July the Center for Family Solutions had 703 people come into its offices in El Centro reporting they were victims of domestic violence.


That number does not include 33 victims staying at the center's emergency shelter last week.

It does not include the cases of domestic violence that go unreported by victims either too afraid to speak up or unsure where to go for help.

Domestic violence, which comes in many forms, from emotional and psychological to physical and sexual, is a crime that occurs in great numbers in the Valley.

On the county Sheriff's Office activity logs on any given day there can be several cases of domestic violence to which local law enforcement agencies have had to respond.

Every Friday in county Superior Court domestic violence cases in which the District Attorney's Office has filed criminal charges are addressed.

On one recent Friday there were 12 such cases heard by Judge Matias Contreras. That does not include the civil matters connected to domestic violence that weigh down the courts.

From July 1, 2000 to June 30 of this year the courts dealt with 316 misdemeanor criminal cases and 517 civil domestic violence cases, according to court officials.

Officials with the Center for Family Solutions, an agency that has a goal of ending domestic violence, say the situation in the Valley is "bad" — perhaps worse than in other areas of the state.

"It is as bad as it anywhere else, if not worse," said Barbara Shaver, the center director who also teachers women's studies at San Diego State University.

She said while 703 victims of domestic abuse coming forward in one month — 632 female and 71 male — is high, the problem likely is not getting worse than it has been.

Shaver said if 703 people are coming forward it is because word is spreading that they can get help and do not have to continue to be victimized.

"The numbers are high because they are learning they have a right to get help," Shaver said.

Still, Shaver said there are conditions in the Imperial Valley that breed such violence and those conditions are not about to change.

The Imperial Valley has the highest unemployment rate in the state, coupled with one of the lowest, if not the lowest, average income.

The Valley each summer must contend with extreme temperatures that can lead people to drink and become violent.

Shaver said there is a language barrier that some in the Imperial Valley face, which keeps them from receiving information about programs that can deal with domestic violence. Such people may continue to be victimized because they have little connection to the world outside their homes.

Hispanics make up the largest ethnic group victimized by such violence in the Imperial Valley, which center officials say is because Hispanics make up the majority of the area's population.

In July 583 Hispanic women and men came forward as victims of domestic violence — the majority of those victims being women, and the largest age group were those ages 26 to 40.

In that month 77 non-Hispanic white men and women came to the center reporting they had been victims of such violence. Again, those ages 26 to 40 made up the largest age group.

There were 17 African-Americans who sought help from the center, one Asian and 23 Native Americans. Two others were listed as an "other" ethnic listing by the center.

Shaver said no ethnic group can be looked upon as suffering more from domestic violence, nor can economics be used to determine what groups suffer more from such violence.

She said all groups and all people, wealthy and poor, become those who perpetrate domestic violence and fall prey to the crime.

Center officials say they have seen cases where three generations of women, from the grandmother to the granddaughter, are victims of the violence.

In driving home the point that anyone can suffer domestic violence, Shaver told a story of a student she had in the late 1990s.

The student, Andrea O'Donnell, was 27 years old, and headed a women's resource center at San Diego State University's main campus.

"She knew about domestic violence," Shaver said, adding O'Donnell was a student in her women's studies course.

Still, O'Donnell was in a relationship with a boyfriend who was addicted to drugs and would take her money to buy drugs.

O'Donnell stayed with him because she loved him and wanted to help him beat his drug problem, but it was a decision that ended up costing O'Donnell her life.

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