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PHILADELPHIA (NNPA)—No one knows how many women suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends and intimate partners, but law enforcement officials and social service experts agree that domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the nation.

LEFT TO GRIEVE—Audra Thornton-Arrington, left, mother of Andrea Arrington, with family friend Carrie Williams as she looks at a collage of pictures of her daughter. PHOTO BY ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER



And as the killings of Andrea Arrington in Ridley Park and Lee Anne Smith in Philadelphia demonstrate, domestic violence becomes lethal all too often.

Research also shows that in many cases the victim accepts domestic violence and that it is always about controlling them.

“We estimate that one in three persons knows someone who has been hurt,” said Peg Dierkers, director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Domestic violence can become accepted for many reasons, cultural, economic or because the victim may have children with the abuser. Keep in mind that intimate partner abuse is about control. The abuser often convinces the woman that it’s their fault. Sometimes the women convince themselves that the abuser will change. The pattern of violence is not about fear, it’s about exercising power and control.”

The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence, which is also called “intimate partner violence,” refers to physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse that takes place in the context of an intimate relationship. Experts say domestic violence is one of the most common forms of gender-based violence and it is often characterized by long-term patterns of abusive behavior and control. They say that once it begins, unless the victim leaves or the abuser seeks help, it doesn’t get better.

Kairis Godwin was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend Marco Rodriguez on Feb. 25, 2007. Teneke Daniels was asphyxiated on May 22, 2005, allegedly by her boyfriend Glenn Hansen, who buried her body in a shallow grave in New Jersey.

Ruth Hayes was murdered in front of her son on Jan. 27, 2007, by her ex-boyfriend Jason Hicks, who this year pleaded guilty to fatally shooting the young mother.

Andrea Arrington, another young mother, was allegedly shot multiple times right behind her house in Ridley Park on July 20 before her ex-boyfriend, Aaron Michael, turned a stolen handgun on himself.

Young mother Lee Anne Smith of the Overbrook section of Philadelphia was gunned down on July 27. The 39-year-old Smith was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Finley, 36, who also took his own life.

These and other past cases only serve to underscore the lethality of domestic violence and the need for the victims to get help before it goes too far, according to law enforcement officials.

Although experts in the field say that domestic violence affects every strata of American society, regardless of ethnicity or economic class, reports show African-American women are most deeply affected and that younger women are more likely to experience domestic violence.

“Research also shows that women between the ages of 16 and 24 are three times more likely to experience violence than women of other ages,” Dierkers said. “This is an important issue for young women. Young people often allow this because they think they might lose the relationship.”

Judy Yupcavage, communications director with PCADV, said that younger women are less likely to see domestic violence as a crime—a perspective reinforced by the violence and disrespect toward women that is often promoted by music industry celebrities.

“Younger women are less experienced and there’s less respect in these relationships due to the violence promoted by rock and rap music stars,” she said. “Violence has become so widespread that younger people don’t see domestic violence as a crime.”

Although precise numbers of victims are difficult to obtain, PCADV reports indicate that at least 10 percent of the homicides in Pennsylvania are the result of domestic abuse.

According to a report released by the Center for Disease Control, most incidents of intimate partner violence are not reported to the police.

“About 20 percent of IPV rapes or sexual assaults, 25 percent of physical assaults and 50 percent of stalkings directed toward women are reported. Even fewer IPV incidents against men are reported,” the report said. “Thus, it is believed that available data greatly underestimates the true magnitude of the problem.”

Experts in the field say that although domestic violence occurs virtually within every ethnic group and every economic level of society, African-American women are the segment most susceptible to femicide. According to the report Intimate Partner Abuse in African American Women, femicide is the leading cause of death among African-American women between the ages of 15 and 44.

“Near-fatal femicide of African-American women also contributes to long-term disabling injuries and conditions,” the report said. “Most often the men who kill or abuse these women are their intimate partners, their husbands, lovers, ex-husbands or ex-lovers. The National Black Women’s Health Project has identified the battering of women as the number one health issue for African-American women.”

The report goes on to say that while these statistics are useful, violence and abuse in African-American women remains a very understudied area, despite calls for greater inclusion of African-Americans in studies of domestic violence.

Heather Keafer, director of Fund Development and Communications at Women Against Abuse, said that the most lethal times for the victims are when they’re trying to leave the abuser or have left.

“That’s what makes it so difficult,” Keafer said. “And the most recent cases show that it does kill women and children who are often the silent victims of lethal action. Often these relationships start out great and then there’s an argument that becomes physical. The abuser will apologize profusely and things might seem OK, for a while. Then it starts up again, gradually escalating. Young people may not even know they’re in an abusive relationship. The partner might be checking their Facebook page or monitoring their text messages. Technology is great, but it can also be used as a means of controlling someone.”

According to Keafer and other experts, the most important thing for the victims to remember is that help is available.

Yupcavage said that the victim should plan their escape.

“Sometimes the abuser may have sabotaged their credit, or confiscated their identification, but we encourage women who want to leave these situations to do just that,” she said. “You need to have a plan, where you can go in the short- term and long-term that is a safe location that is unknown to the abuser. Victims often leave when the abuser is at work or otherwise not at the residence.”

(Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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