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Take action on domestic violence in OUR community

Letter to the Editor | Monday, March 27, 2006

By the time you are finished reading this column, three people will have been threatened or abused in the one place where we all expect to feel safest – our homes. According to the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, a woman, man or child is victimized by domestic violence every 15 seconds in America. Yet, you won’t find this issue competing for newspaper headlines with strife in Iraq or the latest corruption scandal. But you should.

In St. Joseph County alone, police are asked to respond to approximately 8,000 domestic violence calls a year. However, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that only 54 percent of intimate partner violence is even reported. Thus, the number of incidents of domestic violence in our own county may be over 16,000. The challenges of speaking out for victims are both psychological and physical. In times of crisis, survivors may visit as many as 19 different offices for necessary medical, legal, childcare and social service support. The system is set against the victim.

Last Thursday, over 80 members of St. Joseph County came together for a town hall meeting to discuss a new initiative to respond to this situation. The U.S. Department of Justice and Office on Violence Against Women are piloting The President’s Family Justice Center Initiative, allocating $20 million to help establish 15 comprehensive domestic violence victim support centers. In 2004, St. Joseph County was chosen from 400 applicants and awarded $1.2 million dollars to initiate a Family Justice Center, providing “medical care, counseling, law enforcement, social services, employment assistance, and housing assistance together in one location.” Thursday saw the community come together to turn the tide on domestic violence.

Yet, at this gathering, certain members of the community were visibly missing – Notre Dame students and administrators. I find this deeply disappointing on two fronts. First, this year’s student government committed to improving relations with the community. Does the lack of attendance at key community events help or hurt our image with the community? Second, in the recent debates over “The Vagina Monologues,” both sides have been clear that they are open to explore other ways to address violence against women. Why, then, didn’t members of either side attend this meeting to face the problems of domestic violence? Our absence raises doubts about our sincerity.

Yet, we still have a chance to do better. Tonight at 8 p.m., Pete Morgan, the chair of the Family Justice Center board, will speak at the Center for Social Concerns about the initiative. The center needs volunteers to help organize mailing lists and facilitating publicity. Most of all, the center needs us to personally contact our county council members to ask for their support. Please consider coming to the City Council meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the County City Building at the Corner of Jefferson and Lafayette in downtown South Bend.

Before we die, one in two of us will know someone involved in domestic violence. We have a responsibility to address this crisis of our families and communities. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a race issue or a class issue. This is not an issue of academic freedom. This is about communities coming together to support victims of domestic violence and their families, recognizing their dignity and humanity and as one woman at last Thursday’s meeting put it, standing together to say, “You are not alone, we are all here with you.” I hope members of the Notre Dame family agree.

Jess ColladoseniorPasquerilla East HallMarch 23