Terrorism, domestic violence both threats to personal security

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2001

Since Sept. 11 -- the day now known alternately as the "Day of Terror" and the "Day of Tragedy" -- Americans increasingly have become aware of a faceless enemy that threatens their personal security.

Someone we didn't see coming violated our space, our privacy, our way of life. Those terroristic attacks destroyed a part of what has been a uniquely American characteristic -- an almost childlike naiveness that believed the United States not only was indivisible, but also invincible. It's a terrible thing to have one's innocence stripped away.

The attacks and the anthrax scares of late have caused everyone to think and rethink what they believe about violence, safety, security and freedom. It's unnerving to think all of us are one incident away from having our lives turned completely upside down.

What's even more unnerving is to think that for some people constant fear has been the normalcy of their lives. We're not talking about people who live in the war-ravaged regions of the globe. We're talking about people who live in our neighborhoods, maybe right next door.

Their enemy isn't a faceless terrorist or an envelope of white powder; it is someone they love. And that loved one threatens their personal safety and security on a regular basis.

It's not stretching a point to compare terrorism and domestic violence; they are mirror images of the same problem. Both seek to control with fear; both are life-threatening; both cost the country in terms of its finances and emotional well-being. Like the victims of terrorist attacks, the victims of domestic violence are not confined to any group. Domestic violence crosses all economic, ethnic and social barriers.

The world continues to reel from the shock of the thousands of innocents killed in the attacks of Sept. 11.

Consider these numbers about domestic violence:

n 31,260 women were killed by an intimate -- current or former spouse or boyfriend -- from 1976 to 1996; that's an average of 1,563 each year.

n Estimates range from 960,000 incidents of violence against a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend per year to 4 million women who are physically abused by their husbands or live-in partners every year.

n 30 percent of all female murder victims in the United States in 1996 were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

Statistics provided by the Women's Resource and Crisis Center show domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 -- more than car accidents, muggings and rapes combined.

Domestic violence is not confined to adults; an estimated 70 percent of children living in homes where domestic violence is present also are abused, according to WRCC.

Domestic violence is not a big city or inner city kind of problem. It's a right-in-our-neighborhood crime. During the last fiscal year, WRCC provided 4,042 emergency shelter bed-nights for 183 women and children victims of domestic violence. WRCC's Transitional Living Center helped to house 58 women and children. The center also provided nonresidential services to 357 women and men.

Throughout Alaska, community-based programs similar to WRCC provided more than 49,000 nights of safe shelter to domestic violence victims and their children.

If you are a dollars-and-cents kind of analyzer, maybe this from the American Medical Association will help bring home the magnitude of the problem: Family violence costs the nation from $5 billion to $10 billion annually in medical expenses, police and court costs, shelters and foster care, sick leave, absenteeism and nonproductivity.

October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month on a national and statewide level. On the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it's impossible not to draw comparisons.

As Gov. Tony Knowles noted in a proclamation about the month: "As a society, we must demonstrate with our words and our actions that domestic violence will not be tolerated. As Alaskans, we must continue to build alliances among governments, community associations, businesses and education and religious organizations to strengthen our families and teach alternatives to violence." Isn't that the same solution -- on a broader scale -- that's been proposed for fighting terrorism?

If we need a reason we should be concerned about domestic violence, it is the same reason terrorism should concern us: the future. Studies show that the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next is a child's exposure to violence in the home.

No one deserves to live in constant fear -- from terrorists or a family member.

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