Domestic violence (DV) is an issue that affects everyone across all ages, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds. Many people may think that the problem is far off and would never affect their friends or family, especially in a place like Orange County. In fact, the number of DV assistance calls in Mission Viejo is on the rise, more than doubling from 113 calls in 2000 to 250 in 2014. And counter to many of our intuitions, domestic violence calls are also the most lethal for police officers to respond to. The problem is immense and complex, but luckily there are many things we can do—from expanding access to resources to implementing educational programs that break the cycle of violence.
We must first work to reduce the barriers that victims face when trying to safely escape from abusive relationships. For example, financial abuse occurs in 98% of all domestic violence cases, making it overwhelmingly difficult for many victims to gather the resources to safely break free from their abusive relationships. This means that we must invest in more resources that are easily accessibly to victims suffering financial abuse. I worked at the UCI Domestic Violence Clinic as a law student representing DV victims, where we were able to offer legal aid at little or no cost to the victims. Creating more legal clinics will allow victims to gain meaningful access to the justice system and begin the empowering process of gaining legal protection from their abusers.
As great as more free legal clinics would be, they will not be enough. One problem we faced at the UCI DV Clinic was that we could not provide our clients with all of the services they desperately needed. For example, many DV victims desperately need access to mental health services to heal from the trauma they have suffered. Due to the prevalence of financial abuse, many victims also need access to financial education, vocational training, and job placement in order to successfully rebuild their lives. Many DV victims either are children or have children that witnessed or experienced the violence, and those individuals need additional specialized services to recover from the effects of abuse.
That is why we must focus on children if we want to stop DV in the future. Males who are exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to perpetrate domestic violence as adults, according to the World Health Organization. We must help children fully heal from any abuse they have suffered or witnessed in order to prevent them from falling into the same violent cycle as adults. We must also implement educational programs aimed at helping child victims, without forcing them to take all of the responsibility for protecting themselves.
Domestic violence is an issue many people are understandably reluctant to talk about. Victims often feel a great deal of shame and guilt for what happened to them. Those who have never experienced any form of DV may not be aware of the DV epidemic that has been taking place behind closed doors all across America. But if we can recognize the problem, and explore possible solutions with compassion and an open mind, then we will be able to make our families, our friends, and our communities much safer.