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Close to Home: Domestic violence: A 'dirty little secret'

  • Purple flags mark National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October 2001. (The Press Democrat, 2001)

Domestic violence is apparently the dirty little secret that few people want to talk about. Why? The sad answer is that it affects one out of every four families in America. That means many of us know someone for whom domestic violence is reality.

One of the great misconceptions about domestic violence is that it only happens to poor people. Not true. It also happens to wealthy doctors and attorneys, women and men, people of all ages and ethnicities. It happens to straight people and gay people.

In domestic violence cases, everyone loses — the victims and their families and the perpetrators. Often children are involved. If reported, women are fearful that they will have to give up their child. Even without children, the psychological tie to the abuser makes it almost impossible to leave. Experts tell us that it is incredibly difficult to break the cycle of violence.

About five years ago, someone contacted Congregation Shomrei Torah's Social Action Committee to see if we would host a communitywide event on domestic violence. We had more than 300 people in attendance — standing room only. There were many speakers, including members of the Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council, law enforcement, agencies and organizations that assist in helping victims. Literature was handed out. Promises to “do better” were made. And that was that.

Last year, our committee hosted a mini film series about social action and human rights issues. One of the most successful was based on a film called “Crime After Crime: The Fight to Free Debbie Peagler,” a woman in Los Angeles who was involved in a domestic-violence murder case. One of the speakers was Joshua Safran, an attorney who spent years fighting to free her.

It turns out Safran grew up with a hippie mother in California who was a victim of domestic violence. He wrote a book about his experiences: “Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid.”

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