Recognizing and Preventing Domestic Violence

By Dfc. Cindy Allen, Public Information Officer, St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office

As we begin to enter the holiday season various changes inevitably occur, including the nature or types of calls for service experienced by the law enforcement profession. Typically during the holidays, deputies respond to an increase in thefts, crisis intervention, alcohol-related and domestic calls for service. Added to the normal stressors of the holidays is this year's economic crisis: jobs lost, homes foreclosed upon and families worried about simply making ends meet.

Over the past several months the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office has noted a steady increase in domestic disturbance calls within St. Mary's County. Approximately thirty percent of the domestic disturbance calls are from individuals or families which have never been involved in a domestic disturbance situation or needed law enforcement intervention in that regard.

Domestic violence is defined as abuse suffered in and among family members or with significant others. The violence encompasses several different forms which include physical battery where the abuser actually attacks the victim; sexual battery, unwanted or forced sexual activity; and psychological torment, where the abuser mentally harms the victim through verbal abuse, deprivation of financial or physical resources, emotional strongholds and/or the destruction of personal property. Domestic violence can also be about control. Violence is an effective method for gaining and maintaining control over the victim.

Domestic violence transcends all socio-economic levels and communities. Most victims of domestic violence are women, and the abuser is typically male. The violence touches all ages and leaves physical and emotional scars for generations to come. Child victims who may not be physically attacked themselves witness the abuse and violence, which leads to its own set of emotional circumstances.

Domestic violence commonly follows a cyclical pattern of three distinct phases. The first phase, tension, builds between the abuser and the victim. In the "tension phase", the abuser may threaten or physically push the victim. The victim will often work hard to try to calm the building tension, believing she/he will be able to quell any escalation of violence. Far too often the victim's efforts fail and the violence escalates to the next phase.

The second phase of violence involves physical assaults where the abuser may beat, sexually attack or use weapons upon the victim. The victim no longer is able to quell the tension and her/his life may be in grave danger during this phase. Once the attack ends, the cycle of violence will transfer into the third phase of domestic violence.

The third phase of violence will bring about an apology from the abuser to the victim, and a promise of no further harm. The abuser may blame the victim for provoking the attack. Unfortunately, the victim's fears of recurring violence will lead her/him to accept the abuser's explanation and apology. Some victims rationalize and accept blame for the attack, apologizing to the abuser for provoking the violence.

There are many theories as to why abusers use violence to mentally or physically harm those they care for. Some theories include: chemical dependency, financial hardships, family dysfunction, lack of sufficient communication skills or inadequate coping mechanisms during stressful situations. Regardless of the reason for the abuse, the end result can be the same: emotional or physical violence and the potential destruction of the family unit.

The holiday season brings an added financial strain during an anxious period: parents wanting to please children or their spouses but lacking the financial resources, children not understanding the financial situation, and the feeling of diminished self-esteem when one is unable to provide even the very basic needs for the family. Add in "holiday cheer" (the over-indulgence of alcoholic beverages) and a heightened irritability and we have a powder keg ready to ignite an already strained family unit.

Sheriff Cameron believes it is important for families to recognize and/or predict the challenges in the coming weeks and months ahead, and prepare an action plan to keep everyone safe. Individuals do not have to wait for an explosive situation to reach out for help. There are a number of resources within St. Mary's County and southern Maryland where families can turn to for help.

Walden Sierra has a 24 hour hotline, 301-863-6661, where individuals can talk with a crisis counselor and arrange emergency shelter. During normal business hours the victims can contact the Southern Maryland Center for Family Advocacy, 301-373-4141, for help in obtaining a Protective Order. Advocates at the Center will help the victim complete the necessary paperwork and provide moral support during court hearings. Another resource is the Community Mediation Center of St. Mary's County, 301-475-9118. The Community Mediation Center brings individuals together in a safe, confidential setting to talk about their differences and concerns.

Senior Deputy First Class Julie Yingling and Domestic Violence Coordinator Heather Bauer are the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office personnel assigned to the Domestic Violence Unit. SDFC. Yingling's telephone number is 301-475-4200 ext 1955 and Ms. Bauer's telephone number is 301-475-4200 ext 1944. Please reach out as necessary and have a safe holiday season.

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