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Women's Health

Violence at Home.

How can you defend yourself against domestic violence?
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Mistaken Beliefs Allow It to Continue

Shocking as this report is, shock isn't enough to halt the prevalence of abuse in America, says Stacey Kabat, executive director and founder of the advocacy group Peace at Home. "There are still deeply entrenched myths surrounding domestic violence that allow it to persist. Breaking down these myths is critical to ending the acceptance of violence in our society." Particularly destructive are beliefs that abuse is a private family matter or that the abuser behaves abusively because he (or she) loses control, or that the victim provokes the violence. "Violence is not about a loss of control," says Kabat. "Instead, it's about power and control." People do not abuse in a fit of rage -- they know very well what they are doing, she says. And to say that someone provoked any sort of abuse is to lay blame on the victim, which only serves to increase a sense of isolation and powerlessness.

Linda Marshall, PhD, director of the program in social work at Texas Women's University in Houston, agrees that debunking these beliefs is critical, but does think we're making progress. "At least now these myths aren't automatically accepted as truth like they were 20 or even 10 years ago," she said. "Now we question them, we discuss them as a society. That's progress. But we need to do more."

More Programs Reaching Out to Women

In the last 20 years, more has been done to help women in violent relationships. Outreach programs have sprung up in most cities, and increasing numbers of people are being trained to recognize and help stop abuse when they see it.

Because so many women who have been abused show up at hospitals, it makes sense to have specialized care in place there. Parkland Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, is doing just that. Parkland is one of the first hospitals in the United States to have an on-site center that provides women living in violent situations with support and resources. The center pairs each woman with a social worker who helps her to negotiate the legal system, document the abuse through eyewitness testimony and photographs, develop safety plans for those who decide to leave their relationships, provide emergency shelter, and help get protective orders against abusers. The center also trains staff at other hospitals to implement their own domestic violence programs. "The center is a one-stop, one-shop place where victims of domestic violence can come," says Ellen Taliaferro, founder and medical director of the Violence Intervention and Prevention clinic at Parkland Hospital.

Employers, too, are realizing that they can help, because domestic violence is not isolated to the home. It can spill over into the workplace in the form of violence, threatening phone calls, absenteeism related to injuries, or loss of productivity due to extreme stress. This is especially difficult because when the home is violent, a woman's workplace is often one of the few places where she can be safe and away from her abuser. Many organizations, including Blue Shield of California, are recognizing this and providing workplace training to help educate human resource professionals, managers, and co-workers about what to do if a worker is in a violent relationship.

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