A Silent Crime: Domestic Violence in West Virginia

Domestic violence is one of the most common of violent crimes, it is also, arguably, among the more sinister given its nature. Imagine a person approaching you and demanding you come with them, they want your money, or worse. Then imagine that person assaults you regardless of how you respond and there is no one to call for help.

Would you feel weak? shaken? intimidated? Now imagine this person lives with you. Not only do you share space with them, but they are someone you care about, someone you sleep next to every night.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some level of violence from a domestic partner at some point in their lives. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the demographic at the highest risk nationally, however data shows ages 25 to 59 are the most frequent cases locally.

In West Virginia 1 in 3 homicides is directly tied to domestic battery and 2 of every 3 female murder victims were related to the perpetrator.

One of the inherent problems with domestic violence is victims’ emotional ties to their attackers, which often result in indecision and a delayed response. Even when a victim is willing to find support or report attacks, the response can take months, even years, and the failure to act quickly can have tragic consequences.

Because the victims are intimately familiar with their attackers and reluctant to report the crimes the damage inflicted can occur perpetually and typically escalates over time.

Dr. Walter Dekeseredy, the director of the Research Center on Violence at West Virginia University,  said in the majority of cases, aggressors are male and victims are females. However, it is important to avoid broad over-simplifications. Even the very definition of what makes a person a victim relies on subjective and personal standards. Perpetrators, however, often share traits.

“Thirty years of research – two factors stand out in abusive men: Abusive men are more likely to have friends that are abusive, and they have patriarchal attitudes,” Dekeseredy said. “So these guys are not loners, they are embedded in a particular network.”

Dekeseredy added that domestic violence is symptomatic of a male-oriented society that has served as the norm of western culture for hundreds of years, and it helps explain why domestic violence has only recently started to gain attention from a much larger audience.

“It’s the greatest risk to women’s health and well-being around the world. And the odd thing is women are so worried about walking alone outside. That’s not the greatest risk to them, the greatest risk to them is the person they know,” Dekeseredy said.

 

 

Kathryn Burnham, a graduate assistant with the sociology program at WVU,  was a victim of domestic violence. Her experiences and the atmosphere of violence, along with the fear and anger it fostered, made her think about the way victims respond to those situations.

Domestic Violence from eyesonWV on Vimeo.

Kathryn Burnham shares her personal account of domestic violence and how it has shaped her future.

Burnham emphasized that victims who take action may eventually, and often, find resolve and even power from their experiences, this process can start by simply talking to someone.

She added for those who encounter a victim, empathy is crucial. A listener should never attempt to qualify what is or is not domestic violence for fear of discouraging the victim from seeking help. Because perpetrators of domestic violence typically escalate stages of abuse, from psychological to physical, victims should be encouraged to seek help as soon as possible.

 

The following report from the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center (RDVIC) are actual numbers from Monongalia, Preston and Taylor Counties.

According to the NCADV Only 25 percent  of all physical assaults, 20 percent of rapes, and 50 percent of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to law enforcement.

Domestic violence may not be easily identifiable to those who haven’t experienced it. Both victims and perpetrators have shown tendencies to hide or ignore their situation. However, the first acknowledgement of it, be it the victim’s word or a friend who shows concern, can be the first step to fixing the problem.

Story, video and graphics by Isaac Zivkovic