Fight against domestic abuse faces new challenges
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Even among the people prepared to believe, the woman was met with doubt.
She was being stalked, she said. Her ex-boyfriend showed up everywhere she went.
But the boyfriend claimed innocence. She was calling and texting constantly, he said. How else would he know where she was?
“The man had put a GPS tracking device on her car,” said Dale Brown, program director for the Women’s Center at SSTAR. “Someone suggested we look and we found it.
“This is all new to us. Even some of the judges are shocked by what we are seeing. But we are learning.”
Learning is one of the things domestic violence advocates have had to get good at. They have been on a learning curve for all of the 40 years since the movement began.
October is domestic violence awareness month. There is a national push to make people think about the issue and draw attention to the programs available to people in need.
For Brown, who was a pioneer in the issue in the mid-1970s, what has been interesting has been how behavior and responses have changed while the underlying problem remains.
Wireless technology and social media is a new battlefield, Brown said. Counselors in women’s shelters and in therapy programs have a whole new set of warnings to issue to men and women who are trying to escape an abuser.
“Social media is a problem,” Brown said. “People can take your profile and your image and do what they want with it.”
Then there are cellphones — a controlling person can easily check all numbers a partner has been calling and where they called from. GPS trackers are cheap and easy to hide on a car. Devices can be hidden on computer keyboards that will let someone record every keystroke.
“It is a lot to keep up with,” Brown said.
Brown started in a single room at the YMCA in Newport, Rhode Island, back when domestic violence was seen as a feminist issue that did not affect men, families or employers.
“It started to change when we started looking at domestic violence and its health costs,” Brown said. “Employers started looking at the costs to them.”
Police and prosecutors began to wonder, too, if they were following the right path with waiting for a victim of domestic violence to swear out a complaint before taking action. Even in court, judges rarely issued restraining orders until the late 1970s.
Now police make arrests at the scene if there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. A civilian outreach worker is in place in the police station. She met with more than 1,200 victims last year, Brown said. The District Attorney has a team to prosecute domestic violence cases.
“It used to be a social movement,” Brown said. “Now there is legislation. The efforts against this are more concerted. All the disciplines have weighed in.
“We’ve gone from a grass roots women’s movement to a viable force in health care, criminal justice, mental health, housing. We are able to offer a lot more support for victims.”
And they can track trends better. They know that the rise in substance abuse, especially opioids, sparked an accompanying rise in violence among couples. They also see more abuse of grandparents.
“With families not being able to get affordable housing or employment, you are seeing grandchildren moving in with grandparents, adult children moving in with older parents,” Brown said.
“A lot of grandparents want relief, but they don’t want to press charges against a grandson or a granddaughter. That is an issue we have to deal with.”
It is another challenge, another wrinkle. The social workers, psychologists and clinicians in the field will deal with the new problems, just as they have dealt with countless other challenges and wrinkles since the movement began, Brown said.
After 40 years in the field, she feels it is a good time to leave, she added.
“I’m very optimistic,” she said. “When I retire, I think I’ll retire when we are right on top of this.”
Information from: The (Fall River, Mass.) Herald News, http://www.heraldnews.com