Throughout October an increased number of individuals and organizations work to raise awareness for issues related to domestic violence.
National statistics indicate that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, meaning that when you find yourself in a small or large group setting, the chances are one or more of the females in your company has been affected.
There is a ray of hope – domestic violence can be treated and victims maintain the ability to regain complete control of their health and lives. Preventive measures and intervention methods help to decrease the risk of reoccurrence and increase potential for survival, and adequate treatment will more frequently yield a full recovery.
But the risks and repercussions of domestic violence are not isolated or self containing. Domestic violence creates a ripple effect within an entire family, often causing complete disruption and devastation. The effects of early childhood trauma such as domestic violence can last a lifetime.
While domestic violence may lag behind in terms of the amount of recognition that it receives, organizations are consistently working to shed light on the issue and how it affects young people in our community.
At The Urban Child Institute, the mission includes working to protect the health and well-being of children from conception to age three by building awareness for the rates of domestic violence that exist locally. In Tennessee, the rate is higher than many other states with comparable population size. For example, Georgia reports a rate of 602 incidents per 100,000 and Tennessee's rate is 120 percent higher, with a rate of 1,323 incidents per 100,000.
In Memphis, the domestic violence rate is higher than that of many other Tennessee cities. The Memphis rate is 2,949 incidents per 100,000 compared to 2,015 in Nashville.
Research conducted locally and nationally shows that at least 25,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Shelby County last year, with approximately 50 cent of all incidents occurring while children were present. Of those reported cases, there were two children per household.
A simple calculation brings us back to 25,000 – the number of kids across our community who are affected by varying degrees of domestic violence each year.
Children under the age of six are at higher risk than older children for directly witnessing domestic violence. There is a general belief that infants and young children are less affected than older children by seeing or hearing violent conflict.
The Institute reports that young children who are exposed to domestic violence are often subject to deal with long-term consequences for their brain development and emotional well-being. Some effects can be seen as early as infancy. One year olds who have been exposed to domestic violence are more disturbed than other babies when they hear adults argue.
This finding increases and reinforces the critical need for a collaborative approach to decrease the alarming number of domestic violence cases and ensure that victims' needs are met expediently and thoroughly.
Fortunately, a new organization recently established in our community is on a mission to do just that.
The Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County combines civil, criminal, health and social services in order to serve victims of domestic violence. According to Olliette Drobot, executive director of the Family Safety Center, although children are not always directly affected, they are considered a primary victim.
"Domestic violence can be very traumatic for a child. Hearing the arguments, the punches, or the slaps has a long term impact on children in those situations and they also are at great risk of being or feeling neglected in a violent home," Drobot said.
According to The Urban Child Institute, children under three who witness violence toward a family member are at increased risk for psychological problems. Additionally, stress and trauma can interfere with brain development, and a child's cognitive and social skills can also be affected.
"A child may never see an abuser hit the victim, but the threats or name calling that they hear will instill anxiety and fear, affecting their ability to interact with others or causing the child to 'act out'," said Drobot.
"The incident may also result in lingering feelings of abandonment, isolation, self-blame, anger, depression, low self-esteem, shame and also delinquent behavior."
Although the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County is relatively new, its work to address and reduce domestic violence has been implemented under the umbrella of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center since 2004. The Family Safety Center was created earlier this year to respond to the urgent need for a coordinated initiative to more effectively serve victims of domestic violence in the Greater Memphis area. It is modeled after Family Justice Centers – found in 44 states – that offer rehabilitation services and resources to assist families affected by domestic violence nationwide.
"Our goal is to create a blanket layer of support for those impacted to heal from their wounds. About 56 percent of violent crime in Shelby County is domestic and most adult victims endure at least seven attempts before they will finally leave their abuser for good," Drobot said.
"Kids are more resilient and can overcome the experience through interventions that provide ways to cope. Counseling and sometimes just the presence of other supportive adults can help to deflect their attention and focus to something positive."
As residents, it is incumbent upon us to follow the example that organizations such as The Urban Child Institute and The Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County are setting. We must do our part to ensure that we are giving domestic violence our attention, not only in October, but every month throughout the year.
"Even though current stats are bad, we are excited about partners working together to create social change and individuals and organizations collaborating to work hand in hand with children and families in need," Drobot said.
"The work is challenging but there are success stories. I grew up in a home affected by domestic violence and I overcame it and survived."