October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During the 2004 calendar year, 32 percent of the total arrests made by the Juneau Police Department were related to domestic violence. Of these arrests, 266 were misdemeanors, and 30 were charged with felonies. Similarly, the Juneau city attorney's office prosecuted 183 domestic violence cases, which constitutes about 25 percent of the total workload in the office.
Clearly, this is a serious issue in our community. What do we do about it? How do we stop it? How do we ensure that our community is safe for everyone?
The first step is to be aware of what domestic violence is doing to families in our community, to our friends and neighbors. To be sure, domestic violence affects all of us, and how it affects children living in a home with a batterer is particularly risky.
Battering jeopardizes pregnancy. Studies indicate abused women have a higher rate of miscarriages, stillbirths, premature labor, low-birth-weight babies and injuries to the fetus, including fractures. In addition to this, maternal rates of depression, suicide attempts, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use are significantly higher.
Children exposed to domestic violence may suffer a myriad of problems, including behavioral problems, such as aggression, phobias, insomnia, low self-esteem and depression. Additionally they often have difficulty in school, poor problem solving skills and low levels of empathy.
Domestic violence is also a cyclical problem. A child's exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
This all may sound very discouraging, but the resilience of children when they are cared for positively is astonishing. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, talk to her about it. Be there for her and let her know where she can call for help. In Juneau, AWARE is available 24 hours a day to assist women and children in need of safety and to provide information on options, legal rights and other vital necessities.
If you overhear domestic violence in your neighbor's home, call the police. Don't wait. Don't wonder how bad it will get; every minute counts. If you see domestic violence in the parking lot of the grocery store, call the police. All too often people feel "Oh, I shouldn't get involved," so they don't report what they know is abuse. Turning away from it because you don't want to get involved, makes you a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Each of us can help women and children in unsafe situations.
We need to address this as a community issue; we need to work together to ensure that the women and children in our community are safe. Domestic violence crosses all social, racial and economic lines. It is not a "problem of the poor." The best thing we can do, as a community, is to help each other in our times of need, and to raise young men and women with healthy self-esteem and an understanding that violence is never all right. It will take each of us doing our part, however big or small, to put a stop to domestic violence in our community. But we can do it; it all starts with talking, being aware and having faith that each of us can make a difference.
Juneau resident Jorden Nigro is the residential director for Juneau Youth Services and a member of the Juneau Task Force on Domestic Violence.