ELIZABETHTOWN — Incidents of domestic violence are almost never one-time events for a family, Essex County lawmakers learned recently.
Violence Intervention Project Director Patricia Harford of Behavioral Health Services North in Plattsburgh talked to the County Board of Supervisors about dealing with domestic violence.
At the front of the Supervisors Chambers in the Old County Courthouse, she displayed photographs of women who had experienced domestic abuse.
“These are traumatic, traumatic events, for the victims and for our community as well,” Harford said. “Stop the behavior, the problem goes away.”
'NEVER OUT OF THE BLUE'
She showed T-shirts painted by children whose parents had experienced domestic violence.
“We start out with screaming and yelling,” Harford said of the sequence of events common to an incident. “None of this happens out of the blue. No one gets up and suddenly strangles someone.”
The Violence Intervention Project she manages is a 33-week educational program designed to teach non-controlling, non-abusive behavior to adult men for the safety of women.
Participation is usually ordered by the courts or social services agencies.
Before the meeting, Harford said perpetrators of domestic violence are the root of the problem.
“We’re focusing on recognizing perpetrators, what to look for and how it affects communities and what we can do to address it,” she said.
“We don’t recognize them for the dangers they are," she said of how society sees abusers. "We tend to pass them off as one-time events.
"They never are one-time events.”
STARTS WITH DISRESPECT
Domestic violence may begin as something minor.
“It usually starts with disrespectful behavior,” Harford said. “Once you disturb that balance of treating people with respect, it starts from there.”
The violence is cultural, Harford said.
“It’s the way we’re socialized, whether we think we can get away with it or not,” she noted.
“We don’t focus enough on roots of the violence. We spend way too much time focusing on the victim’s behavior.”
'NEARLY KILLED ME'
During the meeting, she introduced domestic-abuse victim Meredith King, a registered nurse who is the director of outpatient services at University of Vermont Health Network, Elizabethtown Community Hospital.
“In 2011, my husband nearly killed me,” King told supervisors. “I’m here today as a victim, a survivor. Domestic violence affects all of us in our community.”
King said her husband strangled her unconscious during an argument in their home.
“My ex-husband is in jail,” she said. “As of today, he does not take any responsibility for his actions.”
When it comes to abusive behavior, King said, "the question you want to ask is: Why is he doing that, and why is it OK?”
Harford said people must be held accountable for domestic abuse and won’t change without intervention.
“They’re not going to stop these behaviors. We all have to work together.”
Several members of the Board of Supervisors praised King and Harford for speaking.
“It takes a lot of courage to get up here,” Supervisor James Monty (R-Lewis) said.
“Domestic violence doesn’t just occur overnight," he agreed with Harford. "It’s a control thing.”
Monty said people often say: Why not just leave? But it’s not that simple when someone is in a domestic violence situation.
“Usually, when you decide to leave, that’s when the violence occurs,” he said.
Board of Supervisors Chair William Ferebee (R-Keene) said he was moved by the display.
“It was a great presentation,” he said.
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