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GUEST COLUMN: Cycle of domestic violence and abuse can be stopped

Monday, April 30, 2012 | 9:28 a.m. CDT; updated 4:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 30, 2012

It was nothing out of the ordinary for me. I was 7, and already used to my family being the strong ones. The ones who gave money to my aunts whose husbands controlled the purse strings. The ones who housed my aunt and her kids while she was leaving her emotionally and physically abusive husband. The ones who pretended to respect my aunts' husbands, all the while knowing those husbands were beating our flesh and blood, taking all dignity away from them, taking all hope away from them.

Growing up, seeing the repercussions of domestic violence was just part of my childhood. Hearing the atrocities my mom's father committed against her siblings was normal. Dealing with domestic violence was commonplace.

Crisis intervention resources

Here are some of the crisis intervention resources available in mid-Missouri. Find additional resources through the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence.

Mid-Missouri Crisis Line

573-445-5035

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; housing issues assistance; law enforcement advocacy; legal representation; MO HealthNet assistance; Safe at Home application assistance.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Provides 24-hour support for survivors of sexual and relationship violence. Hotline workers can assist with safety planning, crisis intervention, and referrals for all 50 states.

Safe Passage Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention Services

Hotline: 800-616-3754

Hotline: 660-269-8111

Office: 660-269-8999

Spassage@sbcglobal.net

P.O. Box 456

Moberly, MO 65270

Shelter and motel placement; domestic violence and sexual assault crisis intervention; case management; court advocacy; support groups for women and children; professional therapy for women and children; structured program for children; non-residential services.

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney — Victim Response Team

573-886-4100

705 E. Walnut Street

Columbia, MO 65201

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; law enforcement advocacy.

Mid-Missouri Legal Services Corp.

573-442-0116

800-568-4931

205 E. Forest Ave.

Columbia, MO 65203

www.lsmo.org

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; housing issues assistance; law enforcement advocacy; legal representation; MO HealthNet assistance; Safe at Home application assistance.

The L.E.A.D. Institute

888-761-4357 (hotline)

573-445-5005

2502 W. Ash

Columbia, MO 65203

www.deaflead.org

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; hospital/medical advocacy; law enforcement advocacy; primary prevention; professional therapy for individual children; professional therapy for individual male survivors; professional therapy for individual women.

University of Missouri RSVP (Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention) Center

573-882-6638

MU Student Center

G210

Columbia, MO 65211

www.RSVP.missouri.edu

RSVP@missouri.edu

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; law enforcement advocacy; primary prevention; Safe at Home application assistance.

True North

875-1370 (hotline and shelter)

800-548-2480 (toll-free hotline)

800-380-3323 (hotline for the hearing-impaired)

875-0503 (office)

www.truenorthofcolumbia.org/

Court/legal advocacy; crisis intervention; hospital/medical advocacy; law enforcement advocacy; life skills classes; motel placement; parenting classes; primary prevention; professional therapy for individual male survivors; professional therapy for individual women; Safe at Home application assistance; shelter; structured program for children; support groups for children; support groups for women; transitional housing.


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Not until later did I find out violence in the home is not normal. That not everyone grows up seeing family members stay in violent relationships. Not everyone grows up seeing her aunts wear long sleeves to hide bruises and tons of makeup to hide bags under their eyes, caused by the stress of being constantly in fear. Not everyone sees families broken apart because of violence.

Today, I know more and have experienced more than most of my friends can imagine. For me, and for many other people, violence in the home is a reality.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, more than 40,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in Missouri in 2010. That's about 7,000 more than the total number of students enrolled at MU.

That number is overwhelming in and of itself, but I know without a doubt that the number of reported cases is far below the number of actual incidents. I wouldn't be surprised if the true number of people dealing with domestic violence in Missouri were more than double the total enrollment at MU.

So how is it that not one of my friends has any idea this occurs so frequently? How is it that not one of my friends has any idea what abuse does to a person, how it affects every part of his or her life, how it changes a person?

The answer is simple. We, as a community, as a state, as a nation, have historically locked the issue behind our front doors.

Perhaps if advocates had existed when my aunt fled her husband, she wouldn't have brought her son into my house. Perhaps if she'd known about shelters, the cycle of violence would have been broken then and there. Perhaps if we hadn't tried to keep it a family matter, it wouldn't have continued with me. Perhaps I wouldn't have been sexually abused by her son.

But I was.

Women and children continue to be abused daily. But we are making strides. Shelters have popped up in most communities, including Columbia's True North. Advocates make careers out of helping women survive domestic violence. Coordinated community responses — in which social service organizations work together to create a network for survivors — are becoming the norm in many cities, including Columbia. And public service announcement after public service announcement has been shown across the nation to raise awareness of domestic violence.

My experience taught me violence can come in any form, from anyone, and that it can happen to all of us. No one thinks it's going to be her. No one thinks she will have to deal with it. But the truth is, abuse doesn't discriminate. It can happen to any of us. It did happen to my mom. It did happen to her siblings. It did happen to me. The sad thing is, our situations are not unique.

For every one person who was able to seek shelter last year, two were turned away because shelters were full. Imagine all the people who didn't seek shelter. Instead of asking, "Why doesn't she just leave?" when you think of all the people in violent homes, ask, "What have I done to perpetuate the problem of violence, either directly or indirectly?" or "What can I do to end the cycle of violence in my own family?"

In Columbia, helping put an end to domestic violence is easy. You can contribute money to True North. If you don't have the money, you can volunteer, working hotlines, helping survivors move in and out of shelters or standing with survivors in court so they don't feel alone. If you don't have the time or the money, you can donate items such as shampoo, food, towels or makeup.

As a scared 9-year-old girl sitting on my pastel pink and white bed wondering what I did to deserve this, I made a commitment to end the cycle of violence in my family. As a 20-year-old journalism student affected by violence in more ways than most can imagine, I am making the commitment to show the community how common and detrimental violence is in Columbia.

Cassidy Richardson is an MU student majoring in journalism. She is currently a copy editor at the Missourian.


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