Domestic Violence: Private Tragedy and Public Epidemic

Domestic violence has often been called an invisible crime, but all that changed when a professional football star was photographed beating his fiancée and his modest punishment by the National Football League sparked widespread outrage.

The effects of domestic violence on children last a lifetime. Tweet this!

Eventually he was suspended, and in the process domestic abuse was catapulted to front page headlines and breaking news on television broadcasts. It was a wake-up call for the nation about the abuse that is part of too many American families.

Memphis news coverage was no different, and it speaks to the widespread misunderstanding of the price that we pay as a society for our community’s high rate of domestic abuse. Around the same time as the athlete’s suspension, three Memphis women were killed in the space of six days as a result of domestic violence. However, even that failed to attract significant media attention to the epidemic of violence in our midst.

The lack of coverage is an indication of a widespread misperception that domestic violence incidents are isolated outbursts of violence. In fact, that’s far from the truth.

The Rippling Impact of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence crime is like a stone tossed into a pond. The ripples radiate outward in circles and touch everything in their path. In Memphis, this amounts to approximately 60,000 stones a year. That’s the average number of yearly calls to 911 about domestic violence, according to The Commercial Appeal. The ripple effects of such incidents reach children (even babies and toddlers), families, schools, and the entire community.

We see the results in homeless shelters, emergency rooms, courtrooms, and jail cells, but also in family instability, health problems related to stress, and poorer life choices. While the consequences for adults are disturbing, the effects of domestic violence on children last a lifetime.

Our research shows that children exposed to violence are at higher risk for learning problems, poor social skills, and delinquent behavior. Sadly, the greatest risk factor for a child to become a perpetrator of domestic violence in adulthood is for him to grow up in a home where there was domestic violence.

Domestic violence is connected to about 15% of all murders, 40% of all aggravated assaults, and 60% of misdemeanor assaults. Approximately half of the women who are victims of domestic violence in Shelby County have children living with them, and a survey of Memphis domestic violence victims concluded that about 70% of children witnessed physical conflict.

Domestic Violence Victims Need Us

It was once thought that children younger than about six years of age were less affected by domestic violence than older children, but as early as infancy, children can develop psychological problems from being exposed to domestic violence and many studies show that stress can affect brain development. In other words, the consequences of a chaotic home can last a lifetime.

The impact of domestic violence in Memphis is pervasive, because there is greater likelihood for it to be found in low-income families headed by single mothers, and Memphis has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the highest percentages of single-parent households.

This is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There is no better time to reaffirm our commitment as a community to fight domestic violence and the toxic effects that ripple outward from it. The victims and children of victims need us.

In observance of this special month, we should take the opportunities in our neighborhoods, in our faith-based institutions, and in our organizations to consider the impact of this crime on our community, to find ways to support the services available to the victims of domestic abuse, and to call on the news media to portray it as the community epidemic that it is.