October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month and the Newton County District Attorney’s office wants to make people aware of both the problem and the solutions. Staff members and their children on Wednesday filmed a commercial that will air on Charter cable Oct. 22 to raise awareness.
According to Leslie Smith, Victim Witness Assistance Program Coordinator for the District Attorney’s office, two to 10 people come to their office each day to seek temporary protection orders against their abusers.
"We’re trying to put it out there in the public and let people know that it is happening right here under your nose," said Smith. "It crosses all boundaries and it doesn’t stop at someone’s race or religion or nationality or sex."
Georgia ranks 15th in the nation for domestic violence according to a 2010 report released by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
One in four women experience domestic violence at some point in life, and a third report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend, according to the report. Since 1976, about 30 percent of women murder victims were killed by their partner.
"It could be your mother, your sister," said Smith. "Domestic violence can be physical, verbal, mental… it can be withholding money or food and shelter… And children are victims just as much as their moms and dads because they have to see the abuse."
Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely as adults to abuse their own partners, according to Smith. Girls who deal with domestic violence are more likely to fall into that same pattern in their adult relationships.
"A lot of times people forget that it is not just between the couple," said Smith. "And those kids are scared to death. They’re told not to talk about it and that things will be better tomorrow. They are the silent victims."
The pattern of domestic violence generally begins after the abuser has isolated that person from family and friends.
"Because that’s what the abuser wants," said Smith. "Total control. Victims of domestic violence have already been so isolated and for many of them, their family has disowned them, often because of the abuser, so they feel that they have no place to go... That’s the message we’d like to get out to people," said Smith. "If you’ve never been in that environment, you don’t know what it’s like. We urge family and friends to not judge and to be supportive. Encourage them to seek help but don’t shut them out."
Another reason victims need a strong support system behind them is because the time between when they decided to leave and they time they are safely away from their abuser is dangerous. Smith said it often takes several tries for the victim to make a firm decision that she has had enough.
"For a lot of people they don’t report the abuse because of the embarrassment," she said. "They can’t believe they let themselves get into that trap."
One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that going back into the relationship and participating in couples counseling can make everything better.
"She can’t fix him," said Smith. "She cannot help him get better. The abuser has to decide that he wants help. You can’t go to couples therapy and fix domestic violence issues. If she’s in the room, he’ll still feel like he has to control her."
Someone who is being abused should call police and report every incident. Abuse victims can also apply for a temporary protection order, which prohibits the abuser from contacting them. Smith also suggested coming up with an exit plan, stashing a little money away, and keeping the cell phone charged in the event they have to escape quickly.
Victim assistance personnel are available at the District Attorney’s office to answer questions and to help with the protection order process. They can be reached at (770) 784-2070.